Statement of Significance
“First Contact” property at Trevilian Station
By Eric J. Wittenberg
Historian Eric J. Wittenberg, an authority on cavalry operations in the Eastern Theatre of the Civil War, weighs in on the significance of the property at Trevilian Station that the Civil War Trust is now working to save.
The June 1864 Battle of Trevilian Station covered thousands of acres. The first day’s fight, June 11, occurred in several different phases: the opening phases and the push toward Netherland Tavern, Custer’s charge into a Confederate wagon train and the resulting “Custer’s First Last Stand”, and the final phase of the fighting, which featured intense fighting.
The two-acre parcel of land the Civil War Trust is working to save is core battlefield land from the June 11 fighting representing the opening shots of the largest all-cavalry battle of the Civil War.
At about 3 A.M. on June 11, Gen. Williams C. Wickham's Virginia cavalry brigade left camp and rode up the Marquis Road (Rte. 669). The troopers captured a scouting party of the 7th Michigan Cavalry about a mile north of town and then continued north toward Clayton's Store. At daybreak, they encountered the 7th Michigan's pickets arrayed on the opposite bank of Nunn’s Creek.
The Virginians attacked, firing the first shots of the Battle of Trevilian Station, and skirmished for about 45 minutes in what a member of the 4th Virginia Cavalry later described as “a considerable fight.” Gen. George A. Custer, camped a short distance to the north, heard the engagement and ordered the 1st Michigan to reinforce the 7th, causing the Virginians to break off the engagement and withdraw to Louisa Court House. By 8:45 A.M., Custer's entire Michigan Brigade and Pennington’s Battery of horse artillery were in motion, headed down Nunn's Creek Road to its junction with the Gordonsville Road west of Louisa Court House.
The 2-acre “First Contact” tract sits just to the east of the Marquis Road, and was fought over by Wickham’s troopers in their “considerable fight” with Custer’s Michiganders. The Virginians charged over this ground and retreated across it in the very first action of the Battle of Trevilian Station. This is core first day battlefield land.
Acquiring the “First Contact” tract represents an excellent opportunity to preserve a portion of the first day’s battlefield where no previous preservation has taken place.
About the Author
Eric J. Wittenberg, a native of southeastern Pennsylvania, was educated at Dickinson College and the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. He manages the litigation practice at Cook, Sladoje & Wittenberg Co., L.P.A. Wittenberg is the author of 18 published books on the Civil War, and has won several awards for his work. His specialty is cavalry operations, with a particular emphasis on mounted operations in the Gettysburg Campaign. He frequently works with the Civil War Trust on various preservation projects, was a member of the Governor of Ohio’s Advisory Commission on the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War, and is a past president of the Central Ohio Civil War Roundtable. He, his wife Susan, and their three golden retrievers live in Columbus, Ohio.