The Bugler

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A Trip to Remember: Appomattox Court House

Virginia Federal soldiers at the Appomattox Court House, April 1865. Photo by Timothy O'Sullivan. Public domain.

During a recent trip to Virginia I was lucky enough to visit one of the places I have always wanted to visit as a history buff: Appomattox Court House. Most of us think of Appomattox Court House as just a courthouse wherein it is actually the name of the town. I was lucky enough to visit on a late winter day when the weather was starting to turn, but the tourists were not there yet. We had a wonderful guide from the National Park Service who really made the place come alive. Appomattox, Virginia is like many small towns in the United States, fast food joints and gas stations competing with the historical inns and old taverns. A couple of miles outside of town one comes across the fields where the troops of the Confederacy would surrender. On a knoll is a beautiful graveyard looking down on the Court House and the McLean home. The McLean home, which faces the Richmond-Lynchburg Stage Road, is beautifully restored and contains replicas of the desks and furnishings that were used on the historic day.

Although the buildings are not original, the charm and effect is still there. The original courthouse suffered the fate of many buildings; it burned. The home where the actual surrender occurred, the home of Wilmer McLean, was torn down with the thought that it would be moved to Chicago for the World's Fair but that investor went broke. Years later an adventurous businessman planned to move the home to Washington DC as a tourist attraction but he too ran out of funds. When the National Park Service acquired the property, the rotten timber and the bricks were still there so some of the original bricks are in the rebuilt McLean home.

Appomattox Court House came to be the site of the surrender not because of a great battle there, but because of the events of three days in early April 3, 5 and 6th. General Lee had withdrawn his Army of Northern Virginia from the trenches protecting Petersburg and Richmond to try and meet up with General Joe Johnston in North Carolina. Unfortunately, low on food and moving equipment through muddy fields, delayed the beleaguered confederates and allowed three of Lieutenant General Grant's armies to surround them. Several very famous men participated in these battles, including General George Custer and General George Washington Custis Lee, General Robert E. Lee's eldest son, who was captured. To learn more about Sailors Creek, visit CivilWar.org. When Grant sent word to Lee about surrender, Lee wanted to know on what terms. To read the transcript of these exchanges, please visit EyeWitnessHistory.com.

One of the most poignant highlights of the visit is the Confederate Cemetery at Appomattox Court House National Historic Park. The cemetery holds the graves of 18 Confederate soldiers who were killed in the fighting on April 8th and 9th. A single Federal solider is buried alongside.

General Lee surrendered on April 9, 1865.

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