Where the Nation Reunited

Saturday, March 24, 2012 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Lynchburg, VA to Richmond, VA 
For the first time in a week, we awoke to rain this morning in Lynchburg. But Appomattox was only 20 miles away, and since we had taken a circuitous route to Richmond for the purpose of visiting this historic spot (and we had our rain gear along), a little precipitation would not deter us from our mission.

The rain abated shortly after our arrival at the excellent Appomattox Court House National Historical Park, and we spent almost three hours exploring this significant site.  Along the way, we found three letterboxes and learned a bit about the event that marked the end of the Civil War, when General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House.
About Appomattox Court House
Built in 1819, Clover Hill Tavern offered lodging as well as a restaurant and bar to travelers along the Richmond-Lynchburg stage route.  The village that grew up around the tavern was later designated as the county seat of Appomattox County by the Virginia legislature.

Clover Hill Tavern (reconstructed)
As the county seat, the village of Clover Hill was renamed Appomattox Court House, in keeping with the naming convention for county seats in Virginia during that period.  The town name was distinguished by the use of two words, Court House, while the government building was the courthouse (compound word).
In the years after the surrender ceremony, the village of Appomattox Court House fell into decline because the railroad line bypassed the town.  After the courthouse building burned in 1892, the county seat was moved to nearby Appomattox, which had thrived because of its rail service.  The former village of Clover Hill eventually crumbled into decay until the 1950s when it was designated Appomattox Court House National Historical Park and the park service rebuilt the village to look much as it did in 1865 at the time of that momentous meeting between the two great generals.
The Surrender
By the time Lee and his once-mighty Army of Northern Virginia had retreated from Richmond and Petersburg to Appomattox in April, 1865, Grant's 60,000 federal forces— twice Lee's ranks— had the Confederates ensnared in a vise. Union troops blocked the southern army on all sides and Lee faced the most difficult decision of his life.  "There is nothing left me to do but to go and see General Grant," he told his final council of war on the evening of April 9, "and I would rather die a thousand deaths."

McLean House (reconstructed)
But with his army exhausted and supplies depleted, with his path to retreat eliminated, surrender or fighting to the death were Lee's only choices. In a series of notes exchanged with Grant, Lee arranged to meet with the Union leader at the home of Wilmer McLean in the village of Appomattox Court House on April 9.
Surrender Ceremony
Lee arrived shortly before Grant and they met alone in a large sitting room on the first floor.  Later the staffs of both generals were invited to join them, and the formal surrender documents were presented and signed.  Then Lee rode off to break the news to what remained of his army.  His farewell orders to his troops were issued on April 10.  An oft-quoted text, the document was written by Lee's adjutant, Lt. Col. Charles Marshall.
Custer's Role at Appomattox
George Armstrong Custer (LOC)
In his career at the U.S. Military Academy, George Armstrong Custer showed no signs of a promising army career.  Teetering on the brink of expulsion for excessive demerits throughout his tenure at West Point, Custer graduated last in his class in 1861.  In times of peace, the army would have relegated him to an obscure post and allowed him to languish until he resigned.  But Custer graduated shortly after Confederate batteries opened fire on Fort Sumter.

Despite his less than stellar record at West Point, Custer was commissioned as a lieutenant and soon entered the fray in the First Battle of Bull Run.  He distinguished himself in the early battles and by 1863, he was made brigadier general at the age of 23.
Custer's division played a significant role at Appomattox, blocking Lee's retreat on its final day and receiving the first flag of truce from the Confederate force. Custer attended the surrender ceremony and, for his gallantry, was presented with the table upon which the surrender was signed.  This historical table now resides in the Smithsonian Institution.
After the Surrender
At the end of the surrender ceremony, Lee asked for his men to be given some type of evidence that they were paroled prisoners to protect them from arrest as they returned to their homes.  Union troops set up printing presses in the local tavern to print parole passes for the surrendered Confederates.
Printing Presses in Clover Hill Tavern
Federals printed more than 30,000 parole documents at the tavern.  In addition to allowing the soldier to avoid interference, the parole pass could be used to obtain free passage on federally operated transportation and an issue of rations at federal installations.

More than Just a Footnote in History
A Native American member of the Iroquois nation, Ely S. Parker (1828-1895) was educated to become a lawyer.  As an Indian, however, he was not allowed to practice law because he was not a citizen.  Subsequently, he studied civil engineering and worked as an engineer for the U.S. Treasury Department.  While supervising the construction of a customhouse in Illinois, Parker met Ulysses S. Grant, a former Army captain who was working in his father's leather goods store, and the two men became friends. 

When war broke out and Grant returned to military service, he made a position for Parker on his staff.  By the time of the surrender at Appomattox, Parker was Grant's military secretary and had risen to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. 

Among Grant's staff, Parker was known for his sense of humor, his knowledge of the law, and his excellent handwriting.  It was Parker who made the formal ink copy of General Grant's letter to Lee spelling out the terms of surrender. 

At the surrender meeting, Robert E. Lee noticed that Parker was a Native American.  "I am glad to see one real American here," Lee remarked.  Parker shook the general's hand and replied, "We are all Americans."

When Grant became President, he appointed Parker as Commissioner of Indian Affairs, the first native to hold that post.
Ely S. Parker
After our moving experience at Appomattox, we pressed on, driving east to Richmond, another Virginia city rich in history, offering us plenty to explore tomorrow.

  • Miles driven:  140
  • Weather:  59° to 73°, rainy to overcast 
  • States today:  1 (VA)
  • States this year:  12
  • Letterboxes found:  3
  • Interpretive signs in park:  53
  • Knowledgeable park rangers:  5
  • Other tourists visiting the park:  32 


Appomattox County Courthouse in Appomattox Court House (reconstruction)