We recently visited The Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House battlefields and the follow up was Cold Harbor battlefield. It is part of the Richmond National Battlefield Parks (there are 13 total) and the park information is located at http://www.nps.gov/rich/historyculture/cold-harbor.htm. The Visitor’s Center is at 5515 Anderson-Wright Drive, near Mechanicsville, VA. My GPS didn’t recognize 5515 so I programmed it to direct me to Anderson-Wright Drive, which is a loop around the Visitor’s Center.
Before we went to Cold Harbor, we watched “Civil War Combat: America’s Bloodiest Battles”, which highlights four battles, one being Cold Harbor. We also watched “Ken Burns Civil War Episode 6 Valley of the Shadow of Death”. It highlights the battles in 1864 that included The Wilderness, Spotsylvania, North Anna River, Cold Harbor and Petersburg. Sometimes Netflix offers these on streaming video and some libraries have the videos for check-out. They gave very good perspective on Cold Harbor.
The Visitors Center is smaller than many, is open at 0900, has a NPS attendant to answer questions, includes a small bookstore and a few displays and you can get a free map of the battlefield sites in the area and a trail map for Cold Harbor. It’s also the Visitors Center for the battle at Gaines Mill. There is no admission fee and there are clean restrooms at the Center.
We walked the trail to see the battlefield. It’s actually two trails, one a mile loop and the other is an extension of the main trail, loops around and is two miles. We took the extended trail. It’s mostly flat, is narrow in the woods, still good for kids, but not ideal for bikes or anything with wheels. For the 80 degree mostly sunny day, we needed sun block and insect repellant to keep the gnats and other small bugs from swarming us.
The extended trail was a great way to see many of the entrenchments and read more about the battle. The drive tour skimmed the battlefield and we wanted to walk the grounds where so many had fought, entrenched and gave their lives; the trail was ideal. It was sobering to actually walk the land, see so many trenches and read the plaques scattered throughout the trail. The experience is worth the hour walk and it starts and ends at the Visitors Center. It’s good to take a trail map on the walk because the road and the smaller trail intersects with the extended trail at several points. The trail signs at the intersections are not that good at indicating which trail is the extended trail, so looking at the map often to maintain bearing is best. Having one of those small compasses on the watchband also helps keep one going in the right direction. It’s not like a person would get lost on the trail; we just didn’t want to inadvertently loop onto the smaller trail.
There may not be a lot of cannons and monuments to see at Cold Harbor, but it’s worth the trip to walk the grounds where intense fighting took place and thousands of Union and Confederate Soldiers gave their lives in such a short period of time. The trenches can still be seen, one can walk the area to see the vantage point of both sides and there is a monument dedicated to the Union troops of 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery soldiers who were pulled from guarding Washington DC to fight in the battle and lost about a fifth of their men including their commander. Cold Harbor is definitely worth the trip.
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