Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Surrender at Last!

When I started this trip one of the top reasons for doing it was to learn and to feel the history of my country--on the spot.  I did not expect the experience to become so inspiring or disturbing.  It has been both and much, much more.  But it was with great relief that I finally reached the town of Appomattox Court House (Yes, it's the name of the entire town--not just the courthouse building) where the surrender of the Confederate army took place.

It has been over 150 years since the start of the Civil War and everywhere I have gone in the south there has been recognition of that war with pageants, memorials, historical markers, and battle re-enactments.

But no where has there been a need for celebration and retrospection more than in this tiny little town that is preserved as a reminder of the end of a war that split this nation in two.

The McLean House was the best house in this tiny town and for that reason it was chosen for the special event--the signing of the surrender papers.
From the Historical marker:  At midday on April 9, 1865, General Robert E. Lee rode into this yard, dismounted and disappeared into the McLean house.  Grant, surrounded by generals and staff officers soon followed.  Dozens of officers, horses and onlookers waited outside.  After 90 minutes Lee and Grant emerged.  To the silent salutes of Union officers, Lee  then rode back through the village--to his defeated army.

Grant sat at the small desk to the right of the fireplace..

and Lee sat to the left.  Most of the furnishings in the room are reproduced from the originals.

The Tavern was the location for setting up a printing press and printing 'paroles' for the Confederate Army so the soldiers could return home to their families.  Grant elected not to take any prisoners but allowed the defeated army to disperse. But they needed proof that they were not deserters should they be stopped along the way--hence the paper that each would carry.


There are walls of photos of soldiers, both Confederate and Union lost in the war and it is especially moving to see how young they were.

From one of the historical markers:  On April 12, 1865, Union Brigadier General Joshua Chamberlain watched the distant ridge as the confederates prepared for the surrender.  They formed into column, marched into the valley then up the Richmond-Lynchburg Stage Road toward the village.  As the column approached this knoll, Chamberlain ordered his men to honor them.  The Federals snapped to "Carry Arms"--the 'marching salute.'  A surprised Major General John B. Gordon (Confederate Army) instantly ordered his men to return the salute.  Until now the drama at Appomattox had been played out by major figures.  But here was a profound expression of respect by the armies common soldiers.

The town is well preserved--the shop, the houses, the jail, an ice house, even an outhouse.

PS...I expect to come across only one more scene of this war--at Gettysburg.  And then this blog will get back to more cheerful stuff--I promise.



  2. We toured some of the battlefields a few years ago. It's hard to stand there and think of the lives lost, families broken and not weep for them all. I am enjoying your blog tremendously.

  3. I have just read your blog from April thru May to catch up with your travels. you are traveling in the area that we plan for later in the summer. As I have been working diligently on, I have discovered my relatives who came to Virginia in the 1600s so I want to follow in their footsteps. George Washington was a 2nd cousin 9 times removed so Waymon wanted to know if I found any interesting relatives for him and I told him that his family was standing on the shores when mine came as Pocahantas is his great aunt 9 times removed. Barbara from Florida