RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced Thursday that a Civil War battlefield where Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee saw his first major victory has been granted federal protection.
Jewell toured the 285 acres on the Gaines Mill Battlefield in suburban Richmond and announced the transfer of the hallowed ground to the Richmond National Battlefield Park.
The property was initially purchased by the Civil War Trust in 2012 following a $3.2 million fundraising campaign, with the intent of transferring the site to the park for long-term stewardship. The state provided a matching grant to secure the property.
The trust's president, James Lighthizer, said the preservation of the so-called McDougle Tract had long been a priority for the nonprofit because of its historic significance and the threat of development.
"In just one transaction, we were able to quintuple the amount of land — from 65 acres to 350 acres — protected at the site of Gen. Robert E. Lee's first major victory as commander of the Army of Northern Virginia," Lighthizer said in prepared remarks.
The preserved land is linked to some of the most dramatic fighting that occurred during the June 27, 1862, Battle of Gaines' Mill. Historians believe it may have been the largest frontal attack of the Civil War.
The battle was the second of the Seven Days' Battles in which the Confederates sought to blunt federal forces that moved up the Virginia Peninsula with Union forces aiming to capture the Confederate capital of Richmond. With 15,500 deaths and injuries, the battle was the second bloodiest of the war to that point.
Lee fielded nearly 32,000 men against federal lines, which dwarfed Gettysburg's more famous 12,500-man Pickett's Charge.
Besides Lee's powerful assault against Union lines just outside the capital of the Confederacy, Gaines' Mill also saw the use of observation balloons by both sides, a first in U.S. history.
Jewell used the visit to promote the 50th anniversary of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which provided $400,000 to acquire the Gaines' Mill site from the trust. The program invests part of the revenue from oil and gas leases on federal lands to support conservation, outdoor recreation and to preserve historic sites.
The fund is set to expire without action from Congress.
"The permanent protection of this important Civil War battlefield is an example of how the Land and Water Conservation Fund has helped state and local governments to fund more than 40,000 close-to-home projects over the past half century, including the preservation of more than 20,000 acres of Civil War battlefields," Jewell said in a statement.
Steve Szkotak can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sszkotakap .
Civil War Trust: www.civil.org