Visiting Appomattox Court House is a bittersweet experience. This is now a beautiful and peaceful place in the Virginia countryside where the Civil War finally ended. But it is also a place to remember the awful bloodshed this country suffered for four years. When I heard that the Civil War officially ended at Appomattox Court House, I assumed that it was an actual court house where surrender of the Confederate Army occurred. But Appomattox Court House is actually a village where these events happened. The village has been maintained much the same as it was during the final days of the Civil War and is managed by the National Park Service. The settlement was first called Clover Hill but when it was named the county seat with the court house built in 1846, it became a larger community with new homes, stores and offices. The name was then changed to Appomattox Court House. Several homes, a tavern, store and law office still survive from the 1800’s. The courthouse has been reconstructed and is now the National Park Visitor Center which has information, a film and museum. Above is a picture of the town with the visitor center to the right.
At this park we were able to see sites where the last fighting occurred, meeting locations of Generals Lee and Grant negotiating terms of surrender and the field where Confederates laid down their arms. We walked along the Richmond-Lynchburg Stage Road, an important road to General Robert E. Lee in April 1865. Along this road he planned to escape west and then turn South towards North Carolina to join another Confederate Army. But when the Federals blocked this route at Appomattox, he had no choice but to surrender. Above is a picture of the road leading to the village.
It was here on April 9, 1865 that after four years of battle, Lee surrendered 9,000 men, the remnant of the Confederate Army to General Grant. Grant and Lee met on two occasions to work out the terms of the surrender. We learned that their meetings were cordial and without conflict. The War was to be officially over and both generals wanted to resolve the details in a cooperative spirit. Grant acted generously towards the Confederate Army by providing the soldiers with much needed food rations. When Lee requested that the soldiers be allowed to keep their horses, Grant was in agreement with this. In the picture above, a marker commemorates the surrender.
The Confederate soldiers were allowed parole to return to their homes without being detained. They could also use railroad, ship or any other public transportation that was available to reach their homes. The only stipulation was that they would not raise up arms against the United States again. Above is a picture of the Clover Hill Tavern, built in 1819 and the oldest structure in the village. Printing presses were set up in the Tavern to print out 30,000 paroles or passes for the soldiers in two days. Below is a picture of the printing room with “passes” drying on the line.
The details of the surrender took place at the McLean House in the parlor. The McLean family volunteered their home for the meeting. The house was originally built in 1848 and survived until 1893 when it was dismantled. In the 1940’s, using plans, specifications and archaeological evidence, the National Park Service rebuilt the house on the original foundation.
We were able to tour inside and see the small parlor where Lee, Grant and a number of officers all gathered for their meeting. The two tables are reproductions of the tables used by Lee and Grant as they worked here outlining the documents of surrender.
In the visitor center’s museum, is displayed the original table where the final documents of surrender were signed with Lee and Grant’s generals present. The meeting of the six generals occurred in the same room (above) as Lee and Grant had met in the previous day. For some reason there was little furniture in the room the day they met, so Union Officer Gibbon provided his folding camp table and in doing so created his own souvenir. After the meeting he had it inscribed with the names of all those who had signed the terms.
One of the most touching moments for me in visiting this historic site was the place on the Richmond-Lynchburg Stage Road where on April 12, 1865, Union General Chamberlain ordered the Union soldiers to salute the downtrodden Confederates as they made their way up the road to surrender their arms. Chamberlain was my favorite officer from the Gettysburg battlefield, a fair minded person that I can imagine doing this. The fact that Union soldiers were willing to salute their Southern brethren went a long way to heal the rift between the states.
Perhaps the saddest aspect of visiting Appomattox was learning about the men from both sides that were killed just hours before the surrender. Fighting was still going on as the details to end the War were being worked out with some soldiers unlucky enough to not live through those final days. How sad to come so close. At the Confederate Cemetary at Appomattox we read about one soldier from Alabama who enlisted from the beginning of the War and after surviving 1,454 days of service, died in the War’s last 24 hours. He was killed battling Union cavalry just a few yards from the courthouse on April 8, 1865.
I would like to close my last post on Virginia with a few pictures of our camping site at Misty Mountain RV park in the Blue Ridge foothills above Charlottesville. We stayed here for two weeks and it was a really nice and fairly large campground. The best part was the fast moving stream that ran through the park and next to our site. This was our first camping spot next to a stream. I took the picture above looking out from our trailer door towards the water.
Misty Mountain hosts regular events for campers and one Saturday we were there for Earth Day celebration. A great band played, there were games of cornhole (a popular game in Virginia I was told) and a big bonfire with wood stacked to look like Jenga blocks.
Thanks for following along with us. In the next post we move on to the state of Maryland!