Hello all! I’m sitting in my cozy little office on the third floor of my house (i.e. a nook in the attic) watching the rain come pouring down…I hope it’s sunny where you are. I’m beginning a new series today called “Wednesday Wanderings”, which will include posts about day trips and fun outings! I’m in central North Carolina, so let me know if there are any destinations in this area about which you’d like to read.
My son went back to college for spring semester later than most of his friends, so we had him to ourselves for a couple of weeks at the end of January. One of my goals this year is to support our National Parks by visiting as many as I can, so we decided to take a day trip to Appomattox Court House National Historical Park, where General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Lt. General Ulysses S. Grant on April 9, 1865.
On the way, we stopped for lunch at El Jefe Taqueria Garaje (a Dia de los Muertos-themed taqueria and tequila bar) in historic downtown Lynchburg, VA. The tacos were delicious and we fueled up for our excursion (we did not try any of their 85 varieties of tequila, but if you like tequila, I’d imagine that this is your kind of place)!
After lunch, we drove 25 minutes east on Rt. 24 towards Appomattox Court House. You know when you have an image in your head of a place, and sometimes it matches perfectly when you see it, and others time it doesn’t? I don’t know why I was expecting a bigger, more urban place, but I was surprised by the small size of the village (there were only about 100 residents in 1865) and it’s out of the way location. The village sits on the old Richmond-Lynchburg Stage Road, and it really is a tiny little place. Standing in the center of the village, it’s easy to picture the village deserted (most residents had fled before the Battle of Appomattox) and then teeming with soldiers stacking their weapons along this stretch of road after the surrender.
Despite the small size, there are several other historic sites nearby, so you could easily fill most of a day if you are excited about Civil War history. We only had about 90 minutes before the park closed, so we had to prioritize and began at the Visitor’s Center.
**When in doubt at a U.S. National Park, ALWAYS begin at the Visitor Center – the Park Rangers are a font of knowledge and you can pick up a Junior Ranger booklet if you have kids!**
We saw a short film and viewed the exhibits, then joined a brief guided tour of the McLean house (the Park Rangers at the Visitor’s Center kindly announce when one is about to start so visitors can join the fun).
Some fun facts I learned that day:
- Appomattox Court House is the name of the town; Appomattox courthouse (one word, lowercase) denotes the actual courthouse building.
- Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant never stepped foot inside the actual courthouse; the surrender took place in the parlor of the McLean House.
- Lee’s aide, Lt. Col. Charles Marshall, was sent to town to find a location for the meeting. He chose the McLean House at random because Wilmer McLean was the first man he saw upon entering the town. The McLeans had no nearby family with whom to stay, so hunkered down in their home during the Battle of Appomattox.
- Grant wrote the surrender terms to be merciful, in accordance with President Lincoln’s wishes; Confederate soldiers were given parole, protected from prosecution for treason, allowed safe passage back to their homes, and allowed to keep their horses.
- Grant also provided 25,000 rations for the Army of Northern Virginia, as the men were famished due to lack of food during their march from Richmond.
- 30,000 parole certificates were printed in two days at Clover Hill Tavern and 28,231 were given to the soldiers in the Army of Northern Virginia.
- Robert E. Lee was under orders NOT to surrender; he was supposed to fight to the death or let his troops scatter and become guerrilla soldiers, but he knew that would drag the conflict out indefinitely so he disobeyed orders and surrendered.
- Lee only surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia; he believed that each General had the right to personally decide whether to surrender his own army.
- There were about 15-20 soldiers in the room when the surrender took place; after it was over, the soldiers were looking for souvenirs and one of them took the doll that McLean’s daughter had left on the sofa!
We thoroughly enjoyed our day at Appomattox Court House National Historic Park. If you’re in the area, or passing close by on your way to somewhere else, I highly recommend stopping in! They have several special events throughout the year; most are during the anniversary week (April 6-12 in 2018) but they also host community and Ranger-led events from spring through early fall.
**The Junior Ranger Program is at most U. S. National Parks – kids can explore, learn, and earn a Junior Ranger badge for participating. Designed for ages 5-13 but anyone can participate – my kids LOVED these programs when they were younger! You can view the details for the Junior Ranger program at Appomattox Court House National Historic Park here**
Have you been to Appomattox Court House? Do you have any tips to add or nearby places that I should explore? What are your favorite National Park sites in the Southeast U. S.?