RICHMOND, NOV. 17 -- The families of Brig. Gen. John R. Chambliss Jr. and Lt. Samuel E. Cormany came together today to let bygones be bygones.

Since the last time they met, 126 years have gone by.

An earlier encounter between their ancestors proved ill-fated. Cormany, a Union officer fighting outside Richmond, ordered the shots that killed the Rebel Chambliss on Aug. 16, 1864.

Today, dozens of their decendants met under more amicable circumstances near the battlefield to remember the moment of bloodshed that links their families and to draw attention to the campaign to preserve Civil War sites.

In a moment that spanned the ages, two great-grandchildren of Chambliss and Cormany met for the first time at the reunion and posed for photographs by crossing two Civil War swords in front of them.

"I think this is bringing history alive for people," said Tottie Kieffer, 62, Cormany's great-grandaughter, who traveled from Pennsylvania for the reunion. "You begin to realize what war was -- that history was lived by people like us."

Kieffer said she was thrilled to meet the Chambliss family and believes she has found "new friends."

Cormany, leading a company of about 20 men, came upon Chambliss during skirmishing in what became known as the Second Battle of Deep Bottom, part of the Union siege of Richmond and Petersburg in the summer of 1864.

Cormany, according to his diary, ordered Chambliss to surrender. Instead, the Confederate turned his horse and attempted to gallop away.

Cormany ordered his men to fire. He wrote in his diary: "He reeled to the left of the road -- fell from his horse . . . . His right hand was over his bosom as he lay on his back. Close to his fingertips -- near the middle of his breast -- were two bullet holes showing where two of the four shots had come through him from the rear as he vainly tried to get away. Dead!"

This afternoon's ceremony, which featured a reading from Cormany's diary and a tour of the battlefield where Chambliss was killed, was organized by Bryce Suderow, a Washington writer who is researching a book about the fighting at Deep Bottom. The novelty of the reunion, Suderow hoped, would "call attention to the plight of the battlefields."

Like many Civil War battlefields in Virginia, those east of Richmond are threatened by the push of suburban development. The completion of an expressway outside the city will make the land more attractive for development, Suderow fears, turning many battlefields into subdivisions or industrial parks.

Instead, he and other preservationists hope several tracts can be purchased by preservation groups. The land eventually could be donated to Richmond National Battlefield Park, which includes several historic sites around the area.

Chambliss's great-grandson, John Chambliss, a retired physician from Rocky Mount, N.C., endorsed Suderow's call for preservation. "We are all concerned with our heritage," he said. "Our futures depend on how we react to the past."