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Appomattox Court House

April 15 , 2007

Written May 17

Dear Friends and Families,


Quiz: What's the difference between Appomattox Court House and the Appomattox Courthouse? For extra points: Where did General Lee surrender his Army of Northern Virginia to General Grant, Commander of All Union Armies?

This weekend I was in Virginia rain while Marianne was out in the California sun. Yesterday I visited Roanoke, and was pleasantly surprised. Today, I decide to expand my understanding of Civil War history, so I drove the 25 miles from Lynchburg to Appomattox. It was pouring down rain and, at my first stop, the Appomattox Tourist Information Center, I found that the main attraction of Appomattox were walking tours of the late 19th Century village buildings, not so interesting in a drenching rain. The other thing I learned at the TI was that Appomattox was NOT where General Lee surrendered. The surrender site, a National Historical Park, was a few miles north of town, in a place called Appomattox Court House.

This is the Appomattox Courthouse and it serves as headquarters for the Appomattox Court House Historical Park. Here is where I learned that General Lee surrendered in the town called A--------Court House. It was here that his retreat was cut off and it became clear that any further fighting was futile.

Still, the Confederate General did not surrender in the courthouse.

On April 9, 1865, General Lee and General Grant signed the act of surrender here, in the McLean house, a short distance from the courthouse in Court House. Today, the house has been restored, complete with replicas of the tables Lee and Grant used.

However, generals signing a piece of paper was not the end of the surrender activity. An important part of the surrender was permission for the Confederate soldiers to go home. To implement that, each soldier had to be given a "parole", which signified that he was not a deserter and that he was under the responsibility of the federal government, until he reached home.

In two days, nearly 30,000 paroles were printed and the Confederate officers filled them out, giving each man free passage on any train or ship that was heading in their direction home.

On April 12th, the Confederate soldiers gave up their arms and battle flags, took their paroles and headed home. The Union soldiers, simply marched from the place, prepared for future battles since General Lee's was only the first for the rebel armies to surrender. The remaining three Southern armies would surrender over the next two month, to the same generous surrender terms negotiated at Appomattox Court House.




After this war history lesson, I continued my tour of the restored McLean house. The upstairs bedrooms looked as if the family had just left, as did the dining room downstairs. The kitchen seemed a bit too clean however!


All together, Appomattox Court House had about 30 buildings, including a half-dozen houses, a tavern, a store, a guest house and assorted small businesses. The National Park has restored or rebuilt most, giving a good sense of the rural village that had its moment of history.

(My favorite building was the "new" jail, constructed after the Civil War but built with so much iron in the walls, floors and ceilings that it required relatively little fixing.)

Finally, one of the highlights of the Park tour, was a conversation with "Mrs. Peers", the wife of the clerk of the Appomattox Court at the time of the Civil War. This young woman, always staying in 19th Century character, described the events of the days before and after Lee's surrender, as viewed from the porch of her house. This is a great way to make history come alive!

So, that was my day of history. The rain never stopped and it was cold to boot, but now I know the difference between a Court House and a courthouse and I have a much better sense of the ending of that war a century ago. A Sunday well spent.


John and Marianne.


ps: Websites

-- Town of Appomattox Tourist Information: http://www.tourappomattox.com

-- Appomattox Court House National Historical Park: http://www.nps.gov/apco/


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