Day 6: Friday, October 9, 2015
The Civil War raged for four long years – longer than most people, from the North or the South, believed it would last. Both sides were tired and worn down from the constant of war. But despite all the deprivation and bloodshed on both sides, when it ended, two men were able to come together and see eye to eye, letting go of their egos to create the best outcome for a shattered nation.
We were heading to one of the places I most wanted to visit on this trip. A sleepy little village in the heart of Virginia, which turned out to be one of the most important locations in U.S. history. Appomattox Court House – the tiny little town where Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia to General U.S. Grant.
Interestingly, the surrender took place in the parlor of Wilmer McLean’s home, who lived on the site of the battle of First Manassas at the beginning of the war. McLean moved south after the battle to someplace he thought would be more peaceful!
The Appomattox Court House National Historical Park is a collection of various structures that existed in the town; some are original, many are reconstructions. The park was originally established August 3, 1935, made into a national monument in 1940 and changed to a national historical park in 1954. It occupies the site of the original county seat of Appomattox Court House, which was along the line of the Richmond-Lynchburg stage road. Visitation to the park was approximately 176,040 (in 2011).
The McLean house where the surrender took place was taken apart in 1893 to move it to Washington, D.C. for a display. However, the organizers ran out of the money, and the home was left dismantled and crated in the front yard for the next 40 years. A lot of the materials deteriorated in the elements, and much of it was carted off as souvenirs. After the Historical Park was created, the home was reconstructed in the 1940s, using what remained of the original materials. When I talked to the ranger, he said that the foundation bricks are original, but most of the rest is not. It was rebuilt using historic photographs and they tried to stay faithful to the original.
The oldest original building in the park is the Clover Hill Tavern, which was built approximately 1819. It was a stagecoach stop where travelers could get meals and a room for the night, and where the stage line could get fresh horses. It is also where the printing presses were set up after the surrender was signed, to create parole passes for the Confederate soldiers who would be returning home. The presses ran for three days straight to print enough passes for all those men – over 30,000 in all.
The original court house in town was built in 1846, a year after it was declared the county seat, but burned down in 1892. A new court house was built in 1893, and that’s the one that stands there today. It serves as the Visitor’s Center for the park and houses a museum and movie theater. In reality, neither of the court houses played a role in the surrender, as it took place on Palm Sunday and the court house was closed.
The jail that is currently there was built right after the Civil War – although not pleasant, it certainly seemed nicer than many of the earlier period prisons that we’ve toured. The site also has an original general store, two law offices, and a couple of homes. And I got to spend a glorious couple of hours checking it all out. I enjoyed walking around, savoring the peace of the site on a quiet morning.
Jon tired of it all before I did, so he went to go read in the car, while I continued exploring. I snapped a few photos of some teenagers near the court house – I think they are Mennonite. I love how their simple clothing fits in with the history of this place!