I recently had the opportunity to talk to Bernie Fisher, president of the RBA about the history and accomplishments of the local preservation organization.
The RBA was established in 2001. Julie and Bob Krick provided the spark as a small group got together to protect battlefields in the Richmond area from rapidly encroaching commercial and residential development. The original group contained members such as Claude Foster, Robert K. Krick, Hobson Goddin, William Miller, Don Pierce ad the late Brian Pohanka. An advisory committee was established and included an amazing group: Ed Bearss, Gordon Rhea, Peter Carmichael, Ernest Furgurson, Richard Sommers, Gary Gallagher and others!
The team got right to work. In 2002 they collected donations and were able to purchase 10 acres at Fort Harrison. As the RBA says on its website, this was “poetic justice,” because Douglas Southall Freeman and his friends saved the first Richmond battlefield there in the 1920’s. The pressure to save more land was growing. In the 1990’s the National Park Service owned one acre of land at Glendale, and housing developments were pressing in. In 2006 and 2007 RBA collected $257,000 and purchased a key portion of the battlefield. For this effort the CWPT (now the Civil War Trust) named them the 2007 Preservation Organization of the Year. The CWT joined in a big way and virtually the entire battlefield has now been saved. As Bob Krick said, this was unprecedented… an entire Civil War battlefield saved from scratch!
After his passing, the late Brian Pohanka’s estate donated $500,000 to the RBA, and his donation became the seed money for some great efforts. With matching funds, private donations and grants, the organization moved to Second Deep Bottom, where it has now saved 57 acres. Once again the CWT joined in, and now 200 acres of this battlefield have been preserved. At Beaver Dam Creek a parcel over which part of A.P. Hill’s attack took place was saved. Other small pieces of land were purchased at Ware Bottom Church and at West Point.
In 2011 the RBA saved the first piece of land at Gaines’s Mill to be preserved in over 80 years. The parcel was part of the ground over which John Bell Hood and his Texas Brigade made their famous charge that helped to break the Federal lines. A monument to the brigade now stands on the site, which has since been transferred to the Richmond National Battlefield Park. Momentum began to build, and the Civil War Trust has stepped in and purchased several hundred key acres. This is another battlefield that has grown exponentially over the past few years.
The group cultivates good relations with local landowners and governments; a key to their success. In 2008 they received a call from a friend who noticed that a house was being sold on Beulah Church Road, the site of heavy action at Cold Harbor on June 1st and 3rd, 1864. The RBA was able to secure a loan from the Civil War Trust, augmented by matching funds from the Commonwealth of Virginia, and has saved 18 acres on the site. In recent years the CWT has joined in and the Cold Harbor Battlefield, like Gaines’s Mill, has grown from a small preserved area to one significantly larger, allowing for greatly enhanced interpretation.
At Fort Harrison, Glendale, Second Deep Bottom, Gaines’s Mill and Cold Harbor, the RBA has demonstrated that a small local group can be the kick-starter for spectacular preservation efforts. Like other local groups around the country, their eyes and ears are close to the ground, and with their relationships, they can spot opportunities quickly. This is absolutely essential if available lands are to be saved from development. If you are interested in learning more about the RBA, or have an interest in joining them, check out their website at saverichmondbattlefields.org. You are encouraged to get involved with a local organization, no matter where you might live. Their work is important, and future generations will be grateful.
The picture above shows another preservation opportunity; it’s Haw’s Shop, the location of a large cavalry battle in 1864. It would great to save this land before it’s lost forever!