Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Appomattox Court House

We stood on a country lane in Virginia, the sound of musket-fire and cannons bringing history to life as reenactors told the tale of the events that took place precisely 152 years previous. I enjoy putting effort into planning our family vacations, but even my attention to detail neglected to notice that our visit to Appomattox Courthouse National Historical Park would coincide with the anniversary of the day in 1865 that General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant in what signaled the end of the Confederacy.

Mikus and General Robert E. Lee on the steps of the McLean House

First of all, Appomattox. It’s pronounced ap-uh-mat-uh ks.

Fanning the flames

A second fact that I learned is that Appomattox Court House is the name of the village. None of the events of the surrender took place in the actual courthouse, but are instead named for the village. What was a stop along the Richmond-Lynchburg Stage Road became the county seat with the formation of Appomattox county in 1845. The county courthouse was built in 1846, burned in 1892, was reconstructed in 1964, and today houses the visitor center and museum.

Appomattox county courthouse center, county jail on right

The Battle of Appomattox Court House was fought on the morning of April 9, 1865 and was the final engagement of Confederate Army general Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. Lee had abandoned the Confederate capital of Richmond after the ten-month Siege of Petersburg. Retreating west, he hoped to join his army with the Confederate forces in North Carolina but instead were pursued and cut off by Union forces.

Meeks stable

The surrender took place in the parlor of the McLean House. The terms asked that the Confederates pledge not to take up arms against the United States; they would not be imprisoned or prosecuted for treason, officers were allowed to keep their sidearms, the men were allowed to take home their horses and mules to carry out the spring planting, and food rations were provided for the starving troops. Custer and other Union officers purchased the furnishings of the room Lee and Grant met in as souvenirs. In 1893 the house was dismantled by a private company in preparation to move it to Washington DC as a war museum, but the piles of bricks and lumber were never moved. In the 1940s the National Park Service used plans and archaeological evidence to rebuild the house on its 1848 foundation, and today the reconstruction is open to the public as it would have looked at the time of the surrender.

Parlor of the McLean house: Lee sat at the marble table on the left, Grant at the wood table on the right

A few of the original village structures have survived, including the Clover Hill Tavern (1819) and its kitchen (now a bookstore). On the morning of April 12, 1865, about 5,000 Federal troops lined the Richmond-Lynchburg State Road to receive the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia. After the Stacking of Arms (weapons, flags and other accoutrements), the Confederates were given passes (paroles) that allowed the soldiers to return home; the Tavern was where these parole passes were printed. At the surrender ceremonies 28,000 Confederate soldiers passed by and stacked their arms. 26,300 of those are listed on the Appomattox Roster lists, while an additional 7,700 who were captured at Sailor's Creek three days earlier were treated as prisoners of war.

view of courthouse through Clover Hill Tavern

The surrender didn’t immediately end the Confederate States of America, but the terms set at Appomattox Court House governed the surrenders of all the other Confederate armies: Johnston’s army in NC, Taylor’s army in Alabama, and Smith’s army in Texas. The end of the war (and of the Confederacy) was final only after Edmund Kirby Smith surrendered on June 2nd.

Nearby Longacre Bed and Breakfast

A few spots associated with the events of the surrender lie outside the village, including Lee and Grant’s headquarters sites, a small Confederate cemetery and the North Carolina monument. Three miles southeast is the town of Appomattox; the closest restaurants, stores and accommodations are located here. We spent the night at Longacre Bed and Breakfast, an English Tudor built in 1933. Located on two ½ acres of secluded gardens, the B&B features 5 guestrooms in the main house and 1 carriage house all with private bathrooms. The breakfast and hospitality couldn’t be beat; I highly recommend booking at Longacre if you’re looking for unique accommodations on the doorstep of Appomattox Court House National Historical Park.

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