Williamsburg Battlefield: Making Good On A Promise

Form the Battle Line! Attendees at the 2018 American Battlefield Trust conference form ranks in the “bloody ravine.” This was the scene of intense hand-to-hand combat during the May 5, 1862 battle. Today, a preservation effort is underway to save these few remaining acres of the Williamsburg Battlefield.

For three days during the early summer of 2018, I had the honor to deliver a set of tours during the American Battlefield Trust’s (ABT) annual conference. Held in Newport News this event brought together the most dedicated and knowledgeable preservationists together under one roof. Needless to say, the questions and comments that a tour guide receives during an ABT program isn’t even in the same league as those you receive from the general public. After the conference my mind and body were exhausted but I could not stop smiling. 

Although held in Newport News, over the course of three days my tours traversed what little remained of the battlefield in Williamsburg. We had received permission from several private and public land owners to visit sites associated with the Battle of Williamsburg which are normally off limits. My goal was simple. Show off these sites now to some of the most motivated preservationists in the Country. Continued threats of development, unregulated metal detecting, and the pressures of Hampton Roads real estate prices had left us with only a handful untouched, pristine, parcels left in James City County, and in fact only a dozen in the entire Williamsburg area. 

While forming them into ranks to recreate the charge of Pickett’s brigade one attendee said, “Lets do this.” I glanced back with a quizzical look expecting them to have mentally teleported back to 1862 and hyping themselves up to crack the imaginary Union. “Preserve it,” more than one responded. Nods from the rest of the recreated infantry company agreed and we stepped off with an impressive ‘Rebel Yell.’

And so two years later the American Battlefield Trust and its members are making good on this promise. Today they announced a $220 to $1 match for 29 acres of undeveloped battlefield in Williamsburg. While this might be one of, if not the worst time to fundraise in recent memory that leverage makes even a $5 donation especially effective. 

Williamsburg is in Virginia’s “Historic Triangle.” An area touted for its rich history and yet to-date less than a half dozen acres of core battlefield acres have been preserved. Now is the time. 


8 Responses to Williamsburg Battlefield: Making Good On A Promise

  1. I explored these woods and ravine years ago, which is behind hotels and an industrial park, so gaining access was not easy. It is some very bloody ground where hundreds of US and CS fell in the most vicious part of the battle. The New York regiments in particular suffered very high casualties. I just assumed that the CWT/ABT would not be interested given its less than ideal location, but I am VERY happy to see that something is being done to save it was gobbled up by development. Unfortunately, I notice that a new housing development (Aura at Quarterpath) has gone in recently just north of Rt 199. Too bad that had to happen since that is important ground too. Thank you ABT!!!

    1. Todd, Thanks for your comment. Although the property is currently off limits the 29 acres are very accessible by car or by foot and adjacent to other trail projects either underway or already established. Once ownership is transferred to the American Battlefield Trust the local Williamsburg Battlefield Association hopes to offer public programming, archaeology, and obviously interpretation and trails. Speaking of the New Yorkers if you consult the ABT map you’ll see a tiny parcel on the east end of the map and this is where the New York line stood to the best of our knowledge. To you point about the Aura at Quarterpath, time is of the essence here so every donation helps. Sadly that neighborhood went in as a result of limited artifacts being found during the archeaological search to justify its significance. We hope to see you join the fight to save these 29 acres of Civil, er…um… Rev War property!

  2. Thanks Drew. The Excelsior Brigade suffered terribly in that little ravine. For example, the 70th New York suffered 330 casualties on that spot, including 105 killed or died of wounds and the 72nd New York lost 195 men, including 84 killed and died of wounds. These are very high numbers for any major battle, and sadly Williamsburg does not get remembered as a significant engagement. The 70th NY was a large regiment at the time, with about 700 men, and appears to have held the small rise on the left flank during the battle (according to the Stanley map) alongside the 7th NJ, but were pushed back. This action appears to be just south of the target property.

    1. Todd, It would appear that when the Excelsior Brigade pulls up to the ravine they tend to stay up along the ridge itself. So if you take a peek at the map there is a small sliver which is part of these 29 acres and this is as close as we can get to standing in their footsteps. We agree that the battle does not get remember appropriately and the Williamsburg Battlefield Association is trying to change that. Come on down and visit us. Kick in a few bucks now and when you visit we might be able to bring you to the battlefield -finally!

  3. Here are the total casualties for the other regiments in the Excelsior brigade:

    70th NY: 330 (110 KIA and MWIA) — correction in KIA to my previous post.*
    72nd NY: 195 (84 KIA and MWIA)
    73rd NY: 104 (27 KIA and MWIA)
    74th NY: 143 (50 KIA an MWIA)
    Total: 772 killed, wounded, and missing

  4. Drew: Thanks for posting this important information. Recently the Trust sent out its maps of Chantilly with an overlay of a modern aerial photo. That national disgrace should convince anyone to support this effort.

Please leave a comment and join the discussion!