Posted by: bikedave | September 18, 2010

September 17, Mechanicsville, VA to Chickahominy Riverfront Park near Williamsburg, VA

The first half of today’s ride would re-trace the path of Union General George B. McClellan’s withdrawal from Richmond over 7 days in June and July of 1862.  If McClellan had been successful in capturing the confederate capitol, the Civil War might have ended in 1862.  General Robert E. Lee had commanded the confederate army for less than a month, when he drove the Union army from the outskirts of Richmond in spite of being greatly outnumbered.  My starting point, in Mechanicsville, was about a mile from McClellan’s closest approach to Richmond.  After beginning my ride I first passed the site of the battle of Gains’ Mill.  Just down the road from Gaines’ Mill is the site of the Battle of Cold Harbor, which took place much later in the war in June of 1864.

Garthright House was used as a Union field hospital during the battle of Cold Harbor in June of 1864. Almost 100 Union soldiers died at the house and were buried in the front yard. In 1866 the bodies were removed to the Cold Harbor National Cemetery, across the road from the house.

This area was not forest at the time of the battle, but was open farmland with no natural cover. Troops dug trenches in which to take cover. The hole in this picture is one of the many well preserved trenches in this area.

My route next turned south, Crossed the Chickahominy River, and climbed to the top of a hill on the other side.  There stood Trent House, The site of McClellan’s command center for the 1862 siege of Richmond.

Trent House, built in the mid 1700's, is about 7 miles east of downtown Richmond, VA.

It was at Trent House on the night of the battle of Gaines’ Mill that McClellan and his officers decided that their plans to capture Richmond had failed and that they would retreat to the James River.
I continued south past Savage’s Station, then across White Oak Swamp.  It was here that Union soldiers were able to burn the bridge over the creek and delay General “Stonewall” Jackson’s army’s  pursuit by a day.  General Jackson led about a third of Lee’s army.  This delay was one of the factors that helped the Union army to successfully cover their retreat at the battle of Glendale. I continued past the site of the battle of Glendale and the Glendale National Cemetery, then on to the site of the battle of Malvern Hill.

Cannons placed to mark the Union artillery positions at Malvern Hill, southeast of Richmond, VA

Malvern Hill was a great place for the Union to make a stand.  The terrain would funnel the confederates towards them up a hill with no cover.  The battle of Malvern Hill was won by the Union army insuring their escape to the James River and ending the campaign.  Malvern Hill Battlefield, part of Richmond National Battlefield Park,  is said to be one of the most well preserved Civil War battlefields in the nation.  The forests and fields are kept in much the same state as they were at the time of the battle.

Just past Malvern Hill I rode this very lightly traveled road through forest.

On the side of the road there was a 4 foot tall wall of vegatation which hid me and allowed me to photograph this herron and group of egrets.

The last part of the route today took me along the James River on Highway 5.  For about 9 miles, I was able to ride on the Capital Trail.  It is a paved bicycle path which runs next to Highway 5.  It is not yet complete, but when it is it will run from Richmond to Williamsburg.

The Capital Trail west of Charles City.

The section of the trail that I was on ended at Charles City, so I rode most of the rest of the way on Highway 5.  Just before crossing the Chickahominy River, the trail resumed, so I rode the trail over the bridge and into Chickahominy Riverfront Park on the other side.

The Chickahominy River. We camped on the peninsula that can just be seen on the right.

The capital Trail is well seperated from the auto traffic lanes on the Chickahominy River Bridge.

Vicki had left this morning at the same time as I, and had already secured a nice campsite right on the river well before my arrival.

Miles today: 55    Total miles: 4,080

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Responses

  1. Great history lesson Dave. Thanks.


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