Major General Ben Butler and thirty-five thousand men of the Army of the James landed at Bermuda Hundred on May 5, 1864. They advanced towards Petersburg, where battles were fought at Port Walthall Junction on May 6 and 7, then on May 9 at Swift Creek.
After being defeated all three times, General Butler changed direction and headed toward Richmond. He was stopped at the Battle of Chester Station on May 10 where he destroyed the railroad.
He moved again towards Richmond on May 13, turning the flank of the Confederate defenders at the Battle of Woolridge Hill and was able to advance to face the defenses at Drewry’s Bluff. Confederates under the command of General P. G. T. Beauregard on May 16, counter attacked the Army of the James and forced them back towards their defensive lines across Bermuda Hundred. The Battle of Ware Bottom Church was fought on May 20, 1864.
Confederate forces under Beauregard attacked the Union army and moved them back over a mile closer to their main lines. Confederate General Evans of South Carolina was wounded and captured during this action. The action cost about 1,600 casualties total. The Confederates then dug in and their line became known as the Howlett Line. It stayed occupied until April 2 when it was abandoned with the fall of Petersburg.
Fast forward to the late 1980s, George Fickett with the Chesterfield Historical Society and the former Civil War Sites committee began talks with G. E. “Buddy” Miles (deceased) and Courtney Wells about acquiring 60 acres of the Ware Bottom Church Battlefield.
“These talks went on for years,” Fickett said dropping his shoulders. “Finally in 2002, Fickett, Miles and Wells were able to strike a deal for ten acres where the Howlett Line bisects the property.”
Miles and Wells would donate half the value of the property as a charitable donation and George Fickett applied for an American Battlefield Protection Grant. The property was appraised at $350,000.
Being Mr. Fickett’s first time at applying for a Federal grant, he had no idea how to do it. He asked the National Park Service who administers the grants for a sample grant for a guideline, but was told just to use the four requirements and show how this property qualifies for the grant. Fickett sent in a two-page request for $175,000, which opened their eyes.
Later Fickett was told his request was at least unique. Most grant applications are fifty pages or more. After checking with David Ruth at the Richmond National Battlefield Park of American Battlefield Protection, the grant was approved.
Chesterfield County has five Civil War battlefield sites that qualify for Federal funding under this program. The paperwork got underway; Mr. Fickett began to go thru all the Federal requirements to receive the grant. To complete a grant for $175,000, what would have taken a few months, took close to a year. Another year went by to finish up the project.
Mr. Fickett would not give up and kept plugging away to get the grant. The National Park Service worked with him to accomplish his goal.
In December of 2003, the funds were transferred to Chesterfield County to purchase the property. Since that time the park site has remained closed as the Historical Society’s committee did not have funds to develop the site. In the past the county would accept the property but the Historical Society committee was responsible to develop the sites.
Four years ago the 150th anniversary of the Civil War began and the County stepped up to open all of its Civil War sites or to improve them for the 150th.
Chesterfield’s first action in the Civil War was in 1862 at Fort Darling which is owned by the National Park Service and the Bermuda Hundred Campaign from May 1864 to the end of the war. Funds were approved and improvements began. The Military History Committee also began fund raising and was able to contribute forty-three new markers for the parks which are being installed. This project in itself was $20,000 and was supported by the Blue & Gray Education Society. Without their help this project would have never been accomplished. Sponsors for the markers came from seventeen states.
“Last month, the Ware Bottom Church Battlefield site was quietly opened,” Fickett said. “There is a new entrance sign, paved parking, about one-half mile of trail and markers explaining the battle of May 20, 1864 and the construction of the Howlett Line. For Fickett, this has been eleven years in the making.”
Because of his efforts, preserving Bermuda Hundred sites over the last twenty-five years, Blue & Gray Magazine visited in June to assess the Bermuda Hundred Campaign battlefields. The magazine will be putting together a twenty-five year revisited issue comparing what there was to see in 1989 and today.
Today, there are nine county Civil War sites to visit, or under construction, and new additions being added to existing sites in addition to the two National Park sites at Drewry’s Bluff and Parkers Battery.
“Most people don’t know, but seven of the county Civil War sites were either donated outright or with donations equaling the value of land,” Fickett said. “With matching grants and no county taxpayer money they are a great value for the County.”
Two sites were purchased for other uses and just happen to have Civil War historic resources on them. These Civil War sites are the work of a lot of long hours of volunteer work and dedication of preserving and telling the story of Chesterfield county’s part in the great conflict of 1864-65.