The Civil War (1861-1865) remains the central, most defining event in American history. Richmond, Virginia, was at the heart of the conflict. As the industrial and political capital of the Confederacy, Richmond was the physical and psychological prize over which two mighty American armies contended in bloody battle from 1861 to 1865. At stake were some of the founding principles of the United States as the growing nation divided over the existence and expansion of slavery. Only after the new Confederacy fired on a federal fort in Charleston harbor and Lincoln had called for troops to preserve the Union, did Virginia join the Confederacy. As war began, neither side anticipated the brutal clashes and home front destruction that brought death or injury to more than one million Americans and devastation to a broad landscape, much of it in Virginia.
Cannon boomed within earshot of Richmond. All of its residents saw their lives transformed. Wartime Richmond, swollen by government, the military, refugees, prisoners, and the wounded, lived with anxiety and hope. Martial law and rationing were routine. Disease claimed thousands.
Landowners outside Richmond saw their farms converted into battlefields. Previously unknown place-names like Cold Harbor, Gaines’ Mill, Malvern Hill, and New Market Heights attained national significance for the key battles that were fought in the vicinity of Richmond. Naval military history was made at the battle of Drewry’s Bluff. Robert E. Lee fought his first battle as commander of the Army of Northern Virginia at Beaver Dam Creek in 1862; Ulysses S. Grant’s army experienced unprecedented futility on the bloody fields of Cold Harbor. Titans tangled repeatedly here. Earthworks scarred miles of farmland. Wheat fields became killing fields. Cemeteries started dotting the landscape.
On April 4 and 5, 1865, President Lincoln made a remarkable visit to Richmond as he pressed to conclude the war that had cost over 620,000 lives “with malice toward none, with charity for all…” His assassination days later portended a less charitable course for the aftermath.
Today, the park preserves more than 1,400 acres of Civil War resources in nine units plus the main visitor center at the famous Tredegar Iron Works. The Chimborazo Visitor Center houses a medical museum.
Chimborazo Medical Museum - The museum contains exhibits on medical equipment and hospital life, including information on the men and women who staffed Chimborazo hospital. This building is also the Headquarters for Richmond National Battlefield
Park/Maggie L. Walker National Historic
Site. The Museum is located at 3215 East Broad Street, Richmond. (804) 226-1981.
Civil War Visitor Center at Tredegar Iron Works - This is the main visitor center for Richmond National Battlefield Park. Three floors of exhibits and artifacts are on display. Orientation film is shown throughout the day. The visitor center is located at Fifth and Tredegar Streets on the Richmond Canal Walk. (804) 771-2145.
Cold Harbor Battlefield Visitor Center - Exhibits and artifacts on display. Electric map programs describe the 1862 Battle of Gaines' Mill and the 1864 battle of Cold Harbor. Located five miles southeast of Mechanicsville on route 156. (804) 226-1981.
Fort Harrison Visitor Center - On September 29, 1864, a dawn assault by 3000 Union infantry captured Fort Harrison. Self-guided historical walking trail begins at the visitor center. Located on Battlefield Park Road off of Route 5, Richmond. (804) 226-1981.
Glendale/Malvern Hill Battlefields Visitor Center - A five-minute electric battle map describes the last two battles of the 1862 Seven Days campaign. (804) 226-1981.
Traveling north on I-95: take exit 74C west then follow signs to Civil War Visitor Center located at 490 Tredegar Street. Park Rangers will provide maps for touring the battlefields.
Traveling South on I-95: use exit 75 for Civil War Visitor Center.
Traveling east on I-64: follow to intersection with I-95 south. Follow directions for I-95.
Traveling west on I-64, use the 5th Street (downtown) exit for the Richmond Civil War Visitor Center at Tredegar Iron Works. Take 5th Street to end, turn right onto Tredegar Street, then right into parking lot.