WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (AP) — The National Park Service announced Tuesday that it has awarded the largest single grant in the history of its American Battlefield Protection Program to help preserve one of the nation's lesser-known Civil War battlefields.
The $4.6 million grant will be used to purchase and preserve 250 acres (100 hectares) of the Williamsburg Battlefield in York County, Virginia, which has sat on private land outside the city and former colonial capital.
The battle was part of what's known as the Peninsula Campaign of 1862, when Union forces tried to capture Richmond from the southeast.
Fighting began after enslaved Americans provided vital intelligence to the Union Army about unoccupied Confederate entrenchments. There were 72,000 troops engaged in the battle, which ended with 3,800 killed, wounded or captured, said Jim Campi, chief policy and communications officer with the American Battlefield Trust.
The nonprofit is partnering with Virginia’s Departments of Conservation and Recreation and Historic Resources to preserve the battlefield.
“It was fought in the mud and rain —- it was a messy struggle,” Campi said.
Campi added that the Peninsula Campaign was an opportunity for Union forces to “catch and swallow a considerable amount of the retreating Confederate Army.”
“The fact that the Confederates were ultimately able to hold the Union Army off at Williamsburg and continue their retreat towards Richmond was important,” Campi said. “If (the Confederates) had failed to do that, the war would have been considerably shortened.”
From the 1690s to the mid 1800s, a series of owners operated the land as a plantation that used the labor of enslaved Americans. In its news release, the National Park Service said that archaeological investigations will “expand and enrich our understanding of the people — enslaved and free —who toiled on this land.”
Campi said that other parts of the battlefield are already protected. But he said the purchase of the additional land preserves a key part of the battlefield that will help tell its story.
“This is one of those sites that has really just been forgotten,” Campi said. “But it definitely played an important role in preventing the Union capture of Richmond in 1862. And there are some fascinating stories related to it.”