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As the first day of June dawned in 1862, a mighty Northern army shouldered its muskets within sight of the spires of Richmond. A few weeks later the invaders had been driven back to the outskirts of Washington. The Seven Days’ campaign had stood the war in Virginia squarely on its ear and launched the career of Robert E. Lee’s legendary Army of Northern Virginia. Unfortunately, most of the scenes of that pivotal campaign remain unprotected today, and vulnerable to steady destruction. Historian Douglas South all Freeman marshaled a group of friends to buy pieces of the battlefields in the 1920s with their own money. Their foresight saved almost everything that had been preserved until recently. For decades, the National Park Service (NPS) administrators at Richmond never counted among their number anyone who actually cared about the battlefields. Predictably, that left the small, isolated battle sites orphaned.

In an almost unbelievable document, the NPS proclaimed in 1957 that “the program of land acquisition for Richmond National Battlefield Park has been purposely kept to a minimum.” Caring for historic sites would simply be too much trouble. The anti-preservation manifesto stipulated that if interested parties raised money and bought battlefield tracts to donate, they should be rejected in order to avoid “maintenance costs.”

Across three decades starting in 1970, battlefield preservation made dramatic strides almost everywhere in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. Nearly 6,000 acres around Fredericksburg were saved during that period, and crucial land at Antietam, Gettysburg and elsewhere came under protection. During the same span, the NPS acquired precisely nothing around Richmond. Recent legislation revising that park’s boundaries makes possible a reversal of that odious record, if determined efforts exploit the opportunity.

The long-term impact of indifferent NPS officials is frightening for future prospects. The agency’s current political correctness frenzy generates as a corollary the same distaste for military history that afflicts most of academe. The recent mammoth road project at the Stone House intersection on Manassas battlefield, done with the connivance of an NPS manager there, bodes ill for the future.

Fortunately, millions of Americans are eager to see their Civil War heritage protected. Their numbers and energy, if directed toward their elected representatives, constitute the best bulwark against destruction of the battlefields, including destruction by, or with the concurrence of, the NPS.

The fragments protected today at Seven Days’ sites represent the least successful preservation enjoyed by any major Civil War locale in Virginia. At Mechanicsville, the NPS owns 16 acres—about the extent of a mall’s parking lot. Preserved land at Gaines’ Mill, where Lee won his first victory in the campaign’s biggest battle, covers a mere 60 acres. The battlefield at Savage’s Station has been irretrievably destroyed; nothing whatsoever survives.

The best news involving the Seven Days’ fields has resulted from private efforts. In recent years, the Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites, and the successor Civil War Preservation Trust, acquired 200 acres at Frayser’s Farm and 750 at Malvern Hill.

The absence of NPS work on behalf of the battlefields for so many decades means that much will be lost. Count on hearing sad stories to that end, but some reason for optimism exists. Hanover County has done good work in its own way with two county parks and through modest planning ordinances. The new NPS boundary affords hope that something will be done by the current administration to fulfill that promise. Luck has bought some time— development booms west and south from Richmond, and the battlefields lie north and east. Important tracts remain in large blocks, offering the chance to save (or lose) sizable properties in a single coup. The nonprofit Richmond Battlefields Association hopes to acquire key land.

Frayser’s Farm appears on a 2004 national list of the Ten Most Endangered Battlefields. Most of us engaged in saving battlefields would put several Seven Days’ sites in our personal top 10 of individual tracts of surpassing importance. When those key properties become available, all of us must be ready to go to work to effect their preservation.