Photo above, the house of Wilmer McLean in 1865. This is the site chosen by General Lee for the surrender meeting in Appomattox Court House.
Civil War Appomattox 150th Anniversary
This is a story of sacrifice. A story told in the toll that 750,000 men paid with ultimate sacrifice. The 150th anniversary of the surrender of General Robert E. Lee to General Ulysses S. Grant was the culmination of all that treasure. There were two battles here before Lee decided there was no choice, that any escape route was blocked. And now, the meetings that Grant had had with President Abraham Lincoln on the River Queen a scant time before would come into practice. There would be no prison for combatants; Lee had wondered whether that would be so. They told the men to lay down their arms and go home. And they did. Photo above: Confederate cavalry waiting to charge during the April 9 Battle of Appomattox Court House reenactment on the grounds of the park.
- Then and Now
- Great Moments from the 150th
The commemoration of the surrender at Appomattox was a moving experience. Held in the town of Appomattox as well as the town of Appomattox Court House where the National Park site is located, the Park Service and their partners, including the Museum of the Confederacy, put on a program of events, from reenactments of the battles on the fields to tours and talks at both ends of the village. Some of those could make a grown man cry. From special Lantern Tours at night to the reenactment of the surrender scene with General Robert E. Lee riding off on horseback, the events held the visitors at rapt attention during the entire five days of activities. This is no easy task for a park like Appomattox Court House, smaller in size and normal visitation than a park like Gettysburg, and we want to thank the entire staff, as well as those from other parks, who came together to put on a spectacular event.
The event began on April 8 with talks on how the campaign began, of the village itself, and the Battle of Appomattox Station (the town several miles away). On April 9, the date of the actual surrender, Lee had still not decided whether to capitulate, but an early morning battle that shut the door to escape, convinced him it was so. After the park showed that battle in an early morning display, the site turned to commemoration. Through the weekend, that commemoration continued. Soldiers were paroled, stacked their arms, and began what would be for most, a long walk back to their southern homes.
How Many Participated
April 8-12, 2015 - For the five days of commemoration at Appomattox Court House National Historical Park, estimates range between 23,000 and 35,000 visitors. Four thousand cars were parked in the shuttle lot on April 9 alone, which does not take into account the folks who were shuttled in from their hotels and motels in Lynchburg, so those estimates of the total number may be low. No matter where that number stood, it's a great credit to the staff at Appomattox for their hospitality to that many folks. Congratulations, APCO. Much appreciated.
Appomattox Station - Appomattox Station was the spot on a rail line (photo below) where General Lee sent rations and supplies to collect as he tried to retreat from Richmond and head south to North Carolina. However, General Custer had a different plan, capturing several of those railroad cars and starting a battle one mile from the station.
Appomattox Court House - This town, several miles further away, was a bucolic little berg of one hundred citizens that had never seen war during the four years of civil conflict. In fact, the McLean family had moved here from their home in Manassas after the first battle of Bull Run. Now it would come again and their home the unlikely location for the surrender meeting between Grant and Lee.
Appomattox and Appomattox Court House - Both locations are awash with Civil war history with more on the way. The Civil War Trust and Foundation 1865 have partnered to interpret land recently purchased where the original battle of Appomattox Station was fought on April 8. For the first time, during the 150th commemoration, visitors got the chance to view this land thanks to the sale by the Jamerson family. Not only was there a chance to view the site itself, but a chance to witness the first reenactment there. The Museum of the Confederacy is a modern building between both towns that holds memorabilia and exhibits about the battle. If you like soldier coats and swords, don't miss it.
At the National Park Historical Park, the town that was there for the second battle and subsequent surrender are remarkably restored. With clay stone streets and buildings with exhibits, it's a step back in time treat, no matter whether you were there for the 150th anniversary or any other time. The Visitor Center is located in the old Court House building. The McLean House is just to your left as you come up the lane from the parking lot.
1. Okay, we're going to note this and try not to shed water. The most moving moment for us was a talk in the Triangle where the men from the Confederate army had stacked their arms before going home. Park Ranger Chris Calkins, now the superintendent of the Sailor's Creek Battlefield State Park, and formerly the head at Appomattox and other Civil War parks in Virginia for his entire career, spoke with a large audience about that task. He told the story of former visitors to the park, who wondered why the Confederate flag wasn't flying above the Isbell House. And with a few tears flowing and lip in a quiver, he stated with clear conviction the reason. Because over seven hundred thousand soldiers had died to make sure that the United States would only have one. Several times during his speech about the ceremony to stack arms, that quiver returned. These rangers have such a passion for the history that they impart. Walk up to them some day, and thank them.
2. The race to learn about the Battle of Appomattox Station. The park, who had set up a shuttle system to ferry folks to the park, required visitors to drive to three spots on the first day, two of which were outside the area. The first section was held in Liberty Baptist Church to a standing room only audience, followed by that reenactment on the new saved battlefield land. Nearing the end of that, a thunderstorm brewed, chasing visitors to part number three. Lines of cars had followed between stops, likely many more than previously planned for, and now they approached the park. Sensibly, although with much disappointment, the third part was cancelled due to the weather. But, in order not to disappoint those that had pushed their way to the park and gotten wet from a rush from the parking lot to the restored town, an impromptu talk was held by ranger Patrick Schroeder inside the visitor center. Okay, we were wet and cold from the prior dash, but glad for the change of plans, and appreciative of the talk, discussion, and q and a that followed.
3. The Surrender Ceremony. Bells rang out from descendents of the actual participants, with particular gusto from a Grant, after the accounts of the meeting had been relayed. The men could go home, keep their horses, as long as they laid down those arms. Reenactors playing General Grant rode to the McLean house, climbed the steps, and made an acceptable gesture of surrender to General Lee, who was already inside. When the meeting was over, Robert E. Lee departed, climbing onto his horse Traveler, and rode back to the Confederate camp to await the next days of parole and going home. Whoa!