Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Appomattox, Virginia.

Last week, my parents and I took a day trip to Appomattox. They had both been once on field trips in elementary school, but I had never been before. Which is a bit crazy, considering that it's an important historical place that's only about an hour and a half from us.
It was a lovely day and I learned so much. It's been years since I've taken US History, but if you were like me, you grew up thinking that Lee's surrender to Grant (signaling the end of the Civil War) took place in a court house at Appomattox. Not exactly. {P.S. I love history so this was interesting to me, but if it bores you, feel free to skip down to the pictures of pretty historical buildings. :)}
Everything started off as a little village called Clover Hill. It was later renamed Appomattox Court House (yes, that was the name of the whole settlement, not just the actual courthouse. Confusing). That's where the surrender took place. Not in a courthouse, but in a residential home in the village called Appomattox Court House. More on that later. Years later, the village was moved to be closer to the railroad, and that's where the town of Appomattox, Virginia is today.
Our first stop was at the Appomattox County Historical Museum. {Well, technically it was at the visitor's center because we got a little turned around with our Mapquest directions.} The museum is housed in what used to be the jail.

There were several rooms packed with little things from the 1800s. You could step inside the cells, which was pretty neat. The cell doors were unbelievably heavy!

A family lived here in the jail...I suppose it was the sheriff and his family, though I can't remember. The bedrooms were on the second floor, along with several more cells. I don't think I would have liked sleeping in a room next door to the cells or raising children there. :) Like the guide said, it was a small county and it was probably a very rare day that they had enough prisoners to fill the upstairs cells, but still.

The upstairs was one tiny room, which was the children's playroom.

The next stop, after lunch, was the Museum of the Confederacy, which is outside of the town and close to the historical park.

This is a very new, high tech museum. There are videos you can watch and interactive exhibits and basically tons of information everywhere. You could spend half a day in here, but we had to rush a bit because we wanted to have enough time at the historical park before they closed.

There's a cool blogger connection here...the dress in the display below was made by Atlanta at The Story of a Seamstress. You can read more about it here.

This is General Lee's sword that he had in Appomattox on the day of the surrender...it's also featured in the portrait of him that you can see behind the exhibit.

There was a wall of faces exhibit where you could choose a picture of someone and read about them. There was a picture of an African American lady holding a white infant...I picked it and it turned out that she was from the little town not twenty miles from my home. She was born a slave, but became a successful midwife and nurse to black and white families (she also had quite a few children of her own). I love living in an area so full of history.

We stopped and listened to a man who was talking about medical issues and disease during the Civil War. There were some curved needles on his table exactly like the ones used in Cranford (of course I would see something that reminded me of a BBC mini series :). We also learned that practically two-thirds of the soldier deaths during the war were not from battle wounds but from diseases. I had no idea!

Finally, we headed to the Appomattox Court House National Historical Park. It was such a gorgeous place.


There are beautiful historical buildings everywhere, most of them original ones that are over 150 years old. A store, tavern, lawyer's offices, etc. You can at least step inside most of them (only a few aren't open to the public), and there are several that you can walk all the way through.

This is the McLean House, the spot where the surrender took place. Unfortunately, this is the most famous and important building on the whole site, but it's not original. It's reconstructed, which I didn't realize until nearly the end of the day and which I found disappointing. :) In the 1890s, some bright people had the idea to dismantle the house, carry it to Washington, D.C., and make it into a war museum. It never happened. So the building was reconstructed on the original foundation in the 40s.

{The McLean family had actually moved from Manassas in part to get away from the war. And then the end of it happened in their parlor.}

They've made the room look exactly like it would have, but the furniture and all are replicas, too (the originals are in other museums, I think). Like I said, I was a bit disappointed that I wasn't standing in the exact room that General Lee and General Grant stood in. I'm a nerd like that. :)


Have I mentioned how gorgeous this place is?

Keeping with the terms of the surrender, two portable printing presses were set up in the tavern to print parole passes so the Confederate soldiers could get safely home.

Never thought I'd see my mom in jail. :) {This is the rebuilt jail from the late 1860s- the first one was wooden and burned down.}

On the way out, we stopped at the small Confederate cemetery, which has the graves of nineteen soldiers (one Union and the rest Confederate) killed in the last days of fighting in Appomattox. It was a nice way to end the day.

I'm usually so caught up in the 20s-60s that I don't spend much time thinking about the 1800s. So this trip was really eye-opening for me. I really did learn a lot. And I'm so proud to have been born in a state that is full of fascinating history. Seriously...Virginia is an awesome place. :)

I loved learning things I had never known. I loved seeing places I've only read about in history books. I loved walking on the same ground that Confederate and Union soldiers walked on. And I loved it when the guides refer to the the Confederates as "us" or "we."

I'm not advocating slavery. I never, ever think it's okay to believe you can "own" another human being. But the south was also fighting for good things, like the fact that it's dangerous when the federal government gets too much power. And North or South, Union or Confederate, my day in Appomattox gave me a whole new respect for people who are willing to fight and die for what they believe in.

One other, slightly more trivial, thing that stood out to me from our trip was realizing that there are many other people who want to preserve history. I recently mentioned my tendency to hoard little bits of my life, even though they might seem mundane and won't be historically important. Well, I'm not the only one. :) You wouldn't believe the things that Civil War soldiers kept as "souvenirs." It was one of my favorite parts of the whole day. Some examples:

Lee borrowed a pencil to make a correction to the terms of surrender (Grant had accidentally left out a word or something). Someone kept the stubby pencil- it's on display in one of the museums. There was a rumor going around amongst the soldiers at one point that the surrender had taken place under an apple tree there in the village. Well, the soldiers basically hacked the tree to bits, scrambling to keep a piece of it, a piece of history. They cut pieces from flags of the opposing side. One soldier took a doll from the parlor where the surrender occurred (the doll belonged to Lula McLean, a daughter of the family that lived there) and kept it in his family for over a hundred years (you can read the story about "the Silent Witness" here).

I just think it's fascinating that those men knew they were witnessing history and wanted to keep a little piece of it. And now, a hundred and fifty years later, we go to museums to see those little pieces for ourselves. :)

{Sorry this post was so long. I'm incapable of just posting pictures...I have to tell the stories behind them, too.}

Until next time,

1 comment:

  1. I am so glad you all had a great trip! We want to go soon - maybe next year. You can give us tips. I love the story of the doll. At one of the library book sales I picked up the picture book "The Silent Witness" by Friedman. Wonderful. So much to continue to learn - even as adults.


Please feel free to leave a comment, I love to read them! :) I reply to each one, so be sure to check back, especially if you asked a question.