Members of the small band of volunteers who lead the Trevilian Station Battlefield Foundation marked its 25th anniversary with an open house last weekend behind the K&B Store.
The focus of attention was the Trevilian House, where Union Army Gen. George Custer and his troops camped in the front yard during the first day of the Battle of Trevilian Station in June 1864. The battle was one of the largest fought entirely with cavalry during the Civil War. Slowly, the foundation is working to make the battlefield more of a destination for visitors and residents.
The house itself has received extensive renovations over the past few years and has a much more polished look these days.
“A lot of folks who had seen the house before were really surprised,” said Katherine Sheridan-Stiles, the foundation’s vice-president.
The foundation has scoured auctions for period furniture and other pieces. Among the items on display is a piano that foundation President Gerald Harlow says was in the house where Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant stayed the night before Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. Upstairs is a crib that was used by a young ancestor of Ed Crebbs, foundation secretary, around the time of the war.
For its 25th anniversary, the foundation brought in men on horseback to represent both armies, the blue and the gray. The house’s interior decoration features Confederate leaders more than Union ones, with images of Lee and his colleagues and memorabilia from the war and the Lost Cause era of the late 1800s and turn of the 20th century.
Interestingly, one display includes a fundraising call from when money was raised to erect the Lee Monument in Richmond. The monument was recently removed by state officials, a year after street protests that followed the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
During the summer, foundation volunteers opened the house for visitors on Thursdays and one Sunday each month.
“It’s kind of a labor of love,” said Bernard Martin, who has volunteered with the foundation for more than a decade and serves as treasurer. “We’ve tried to make everything in the house as original as we could.”
Among the guests at Sunday’s open house was David Childs, who is the commander of the United States Volunteers, composed of Union Army reenactors. Childs, a native of upstate New York, retired to a home in Gordonsville; he participates not only as a Union officer but also sometimes dons a Confederate uniform to ride with the 4th Virginia Cavalry.
“Most of us have to do that now,” he said of his dual service. “It takes an awful lot to be [in this role], and it’s getting tougher to do it because of what’s happened with the monuments.
“Being a Union [reenactor] is easier, unless you’re in Virginia, where they burned everything out,” he continued. “Total war was invented in the Civil War.”
Childs’ great-great-grandfather joined the Union Army and fought in the Peninsula campaign in Virginia in 1862. He wasn’t seriously injured, but contracted malaria before he went back to his home near Rochester, New York after the conflict.
That helps explain how Childs caught the reenactor bug, which he’s been indulging for more than 30 years.
“It’s not any more expensive than a fishing boat,” he said with a laugh.