This is not the complete battlefield

To be honest, my Fourth of July weekend was weird. I’m choosing to remember and be grateful for the good parts. Buying fireworks for the first time. Ordering donuts for pick up at my favorite shop. Watching Hamilton for the very first time! And taking a trip to Cold Harbor and Gaines Mill battlefields near Richmond.

One of my colleagues at Emerging Civil War offered to meet at a Richmond battlefield and hit some trails. He’s an expert on those battlefields and a volunteer at Richmond National Battlefields. Anyway, I had Friday off, and we decided to go battlefielding early in the day.

We started at Cold Harbor and drove almost the entire length of the Union battlelines. Approximately 9 miles, if I remember correctly. (I wasn’t taking detailed notes). That’s a vast difference from the area that has been preserved and is open for exploration. It was fascinating to have driven the lines, found the river crossings, noted the historic crossroads, and then get out to hike the trails because it really helped me realize the scale of the battle and how where we could walk was just a fraction of the actual battlefield.

It’s a concept I’ve been learning over the last few years, but it snapped into focus last Friday. I know the first times I went to Civil War battlefields, I tried to picture all the troops squished into the portion of land that the signs said was battlefield. I kind of understood that more action happened outside of the preserved tracts, but I was still stuck on the idea that the land that said “battlefield” and had the cannons was the most important area. That’s not always true… (Sorry. And that’s why preservation matters.)

Driving back midday from the morning adventure, I started thinking about perspective. How often we are impressed (or frightened) by what we can see immediately around us. How often we forget that there is a bigger picture, a longer battleline, a more expansive panorama just beyond the treeline that we can immediately see.

I guess that’s something that I’ve been struggling with. In life. Away from the battlefields. I get so focused on my little “acreage” of problems that I forget to see the bigger picture. I get selfish and think what I can see is the full story. How happy I am to remember that it’s not!

The trench lines within Cold Harbor National Battlefield’s driving and walking tour are literally just a snapshot of the miles and miles of trenches extending to either side of that area. And I’m going to try to take this lesson from the battlefield back home with me…

Your Historian,


4 thoughts on “This is not the complete battlefield

  1. 1. Wonderful insight. It’s amazing how much battlefields can teach us about everyday life.
    2. I happen to watch Hamilton for the first time this weekend as well! I’d love to hear your thoughts. I’m negligent of my Rev. War history, so I don’t know how much is accurate, but the disses they were throwing out during the Congress “sessions” were epic!

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