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Spotsylvania may fill in for Appomattox in re-enactment

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Spotsylvania County may be back in the Civil War re-enactment business come April.

Two experienced re-enactors have proposed an event in Spotsylvania commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Appomattox Station and Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s famed surrender at Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, 1865.

Jake Jennette and David Childs, who helped coordinate Spotsylvania’s last two re-enactments, are asking the county for $20,000 up front to help cover costs. They want to hold the re-enactment on April 10–12 in the historic courthouse area.

The Board of Supervisors voted 7–0 this week to express its initial support for the proposal.

The next step is for the county to draft a memo of understanding with Jennette and Childs. The supervisors must approve that agreement, in addition to any financial support.

“We’re coming in not just as re-enactor coordinators, but as event managers for the county, but for free,” Childs said in an interview. He called the plan a “joint venture” with county officials, who would provide assistance as needed.

He and Jennette helped run the county’s sesquicentennial re-enactments of the battles of Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House this year and the Battle of Chancellorsville in 2013. Spotsylvania officials oversaw registrations and ticket sales for the previous events, but Jennette and Childs would pick up those jobs and more next year with “minimal support from county staff,” according to a county report.

All revenue from the event would go to the county or the Spotsylvania Museum, Jennette said.

“There should not be as big a pull on county resources for this,” Deputy County Administrator Mark Cole said. “It should be significantly scaled down from previous years.”

So why was Spotsylvania chosen to commemorate a historic event that happened more than 100 miles away? “They’re not going to do it anywhere else, and Spotsylvania County meets a critical criteria—we’ve got a period village,” said Jennette, referring to the historic courthouse area, which hosted the past two re-enactments.

The $20,000 from the county is needed in case the event doesn’t collect enough revenue to cover expenses such as county staff overtime, Childs said. Bad weather, for instance, could lower ticket sales.

Staff overtime at this year’s event totaled $21,216.

“The gorilla in the room is risk,” Childs said. “Neither Jake or I are going to put our houses up for this. We need something to cover the risk of rain” and other unforeseen circumstances.

And Jennette told the supervisors that he needed money up front to help cover portable bathroom rentals. “The worst terror in re-enacting is a lady re-enactor whose Porta–John is not clean,” he said.

At this year’s re-enactment May 1–4, the county spent $161,132—about $21,000 more than it collected from ticket sales, re-enactor registrations and merchandise sales.

Childs says he hopes to attract about 3,500 re-enactors and up to 6,000 spectators for the re-enactment of Lee’s surrender to Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant that effectively ended the Civil War.

The re-enactment of the Battle of Appomattox Station, which would take place in the woods, would not be open to spectators, Childs said. That battle is what led to the South’s surrender.

Jennette, who would play Lee during the proposed re-enactment, said the event would give closure to Spotsylvania’s previous re-enactments.

“What we want to do with this is keep Spotsylvania on the Civil War tourism track,” he said. “We can build on what we’ve done.”

Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402