Activity at the future site of the Rice Center during the early 19th century was primarily agricultural, much the same as it had been during the 18th century.
In the spring of 1862, Union Gen. George McClellan launched the Peninsula Campaign, an ambitious and daring movement of massive numbers of Union troops through the center of Virginia. His efforts culminated in a series of battles (known collectively as the “Seven Days Battles”) in late May and early June of that year. At the end of the last of these battles at Malvern Hill, McClellan failed to recognize his troops’ numerical superiority and strategic advantage. Consequently, in the first days of July he withdrew from the theater of battle and retreated to a large encampment centered around Berkeley Plantation and Harrison’s Landing, as well as the land that is now the eastern half of the Rice Center.
He stayed there with some 100,000 troops until mid-August, when the army fully abandoned the Peninsula Campaign. While there, his troops created an enormous camp, occupied not only by the soldiers themselves, but by thousands of pack and feed animals as well. They lived in tents and hastily constructed cabins, spending their days drilling and keeping guard along the extensive line of earthworks ringing the camp. Abraham Lincoln visited the troops on July 8, perhaps hoping his presence would spur McClellan on to action.
“The Union army sallied out on a reconnaissance from that position on at least one occasion, but there was no fighting at the fortifications overlooking Kimmage’s (sic) Creek. That area did come under long range Confederate fire from across the James on Aug. 1, 1862, but that episode was nothing more than a brief interlude of excitement during an otherwise dull month. July 8, 1862 probably was the highlight for most Union soldiers. President Lincoln toured the site and reviewed his army there on that day. Eventually, by mid-August, McClellan’s forces had left the area entirely, shifting their operations to Northern Virginia. Their departure marked the end of the Peninsula Campaign, the largest and costliest campaign of the entire Civil War.”
Robert E.L. Krick
National Park Service
Richmond National Battlefield Park
Excerpt from a letter dated April 16, 2002
Photograph by Alexander Gardner, Library of Congress
Archaeological excavations at the center have included the southern-most section of the Civil War earthworks, which constituted McClellan's left flank and which are in remarkably good condition, as well as areas behind the earthworks that likely were included within the 1862 Union camp. This section of earthworks faced the river and included double rows of trenches and constructed earthen barricades. The camp also included trash pits, latrines, small buildings and fence lines, evidence of which is still being uncovered by archaeologists working at the Rice Center.
This image shows much of the southern half of the contemporary Rice Center on both sides of Kimages Creek as seen from the Union fortifications surrounding Harrison’s Landing. The drawing was produced to accompany a war correspondent’s report from the Army of the Potomac’s encampment at the end of the Peninsular Campaign published in Harpers Weekly August 1862. The image shows the near complete deforestation of the area undertaken to enhance the Union defensive position. (Egghart, C. 2008.)