ECW Weekender: Cold Harbor Battlefield Park

(Hanover County Parks & Recreation)

Many visitors to the Cold Harbor battlefield expect to see the infamous ground of the failed Union assault on June 3, 1864. Unfortunately much of that land is publicly inaccessibly, though the National Park Service interprets a portion where the Eighteenth Corps attacked and the American Battlefield Trust is actively working to preserve additional battlefield parcels further to the south. The story of Cold Harbor is more than just that one bloody morning. Richmond National Battlefield Park does preserve much of the land where portions of the Union and Confederate armies battled on June 1st, setting the stage for the failed assaults less than thirty-six hours later. The soldier experience in the trenches for nearly two weeks is also featured, particularly at Cold Harbor Battlefield Park–a county park on Cold Harbor Road just half a mile further east from the NPS Visitor Center.

Hanover County owns fifty acres of mostly forested land south of Cold Harbor Road, Highway 156. The county parcel surrounds the NPS-preserved Garthright House on three sides. (Cold Harbor National Cemetery, operated by the United States Department of Veteran Affairs, is just to the north across Route 156). In partnership with Richmond National Battlefield Park and the Cold Harbor Ruritans, the county designed and maintains a paved mile-long interpretive walking trail.

Fifteen wayside exhibits dot the trail in addition to several on the grounds of the Garthright House. The structure’s interior is not open to the public. The exhibits focus primarily on the staging of the June 3rd attack, the close proximity of the front lines, and the development of a complicated trench network. A very well preserved artillery redoubt is the highlight along the trail. The site also offers the only picnic tables in the area for battlefield tourists.

Visitors to Cold Harbor, whether on the 154th anniversary this weekend or another time, would be wise to visit the NPS Visitor Center first and then extend their tour of the battlefield at Hanover County’s Cold Harbor Battlefield Park, 6005 Cold Harbor Road, Mechanicsville, VA 23111.

Cold Harbor Battlefield Park Hiking Trail Guide (map by author)

2 Responses to ECW Weekender: Cold Harbor Battlefield Park

  1. The 8th NYHA would have charged over this ground on June 3, 1864 and suffered greatly in that attack. Colonel Peter Porter of the 8th NYHA probably fell just west of the park, in the vicinity of Star Lane on the map provided. The CWT is in the process of gaining a parcel of land in this area, the first attempt to expand the preserved portion of the battlefield on the south side of Rt. 156.

    I am not recommending trespassing, but I have used this county park to access the area of Gibbon’s division’s attack. The 164th NY’s attack–in the same brigade as the 8th NYHA–landed south of Boatswain’s Creek where its commander Colonel James P. McMahon was killed and the regiment suffered 157 casualties.

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