Appomattox Court House: Beginning Peace and Reunion

A national historical park reveals the consequences of a divided country and the importance of reconciliation

On April 9, 1865, in the small Virginia village of Appomattox Court House, Gen. Robert E. Lee, leader of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, surrendered his army to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. It was the beginning of the end of the “war between the states” which tore the country apart for more than four years. During the conflict, at least 620,000 Americans died, more than in all of the country’s wars before and since. Another million were wounded.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Appomattox Court House located east of Lynchburg was little more than a cluster of buildings that spread across the Virginia Piedmont region. Like some other county seats at that time it was named after its courthouse.

The National Park Service has put together an impressive facility that includes indoor displays as well as a re-created town full of original buildings. The town appears very similar to what it looked like in 1865. The property pays tribute to both sides in the final days of the conflict.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the center of the town is the rebuilt courthouse (the original burned down in 1892) which serves as the visitor’s center. A 15-minute film shown upstairs in the courthouse explains the final days of the war from both the Confederate and Union points of view.

War’s End in Sight

Historians remind us that Lee was not the only Confederate general leading troops and he did not represent the entire Confederacy when he surrendered. It wasn’t until May 5, 1865 that Confederate President Jefferson Davis dissolved his government. The official declaration that the war was won by the Union came more than a year later in August 1866.

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But by late March 1865, Grant had put Lee’s army already plagued by desertion at a great disadvantage. Grant had cut off railroad lines that supplied food. The Battle of Five Forks which some call the Waterloo of the Confederacy was fought near Petersburg, Virginia, on April 1, 1865. Lee’s army was defeated and nearly a third of his men captured. After abandoning Petersburg, Lee’s men retreated to Amelia Court House where they hoped to meet a Confederate supply train. But no train arrived. By that point, the men had not eaten for 36 hours.

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The Battle of Sailor’s Creek on April 6 cost Lee another 7,700 men. Lee headed west to another supply train stop outside Appomattox Court House. But the train had been captured by Union forces led by Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan and Maj. Gen. George Custer.

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Yet another battle took place that evening near this site. Lee saw his supply lines cut off from the south, the James River to his north, and an army of starving men. He sent Grant a message requesting a meeting in the small village of Appomattox Court House.

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The Meeting

On the second floor of the courthouse, a copy of a famous painting by Tom Lovell depicts the meeting between the two generals that took place at the McLean House just a short walk down the gravel road. In the home’s parlor on April 9, 1865, Lee and Grant met to discuss and sign surrender terms for the Army of Northern Virginia.

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On that day, Lee arrived at the McLean home shortly after 1:00 p.m.; Grant followed 30 minutes later. Once they were in the parlor, Grant and Lee sat across from each other. Today, visitors can see authentic reproductions of the two small tables and chairs that sit about 10 feet apart.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It was decided that the terms of the surrender should be put in writing. Grant wrote out his terms in pencil and handed the paper to Lee for review. After reading the document, Lee made a few minor requests. Grant agreed to the changes. The final draft was put to ink and duplicates were made for each side. Once completed, each man signed the documents. Afterward, they shook hands and Lee left. The meeting lasted approximately an hour and a half.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A formal surrender ceremony, the stacking of the arms, took place on April 12. That gave the Union army time to print more than 28,000 parole passes that were distributed to the Confederate soldiers. Lee was concerned that his army would reject the surrender and engage in guerrilla warfare. As part of Grant’s terms, passes were printed to allow the men to return home, free from detention.

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On that day, the Confederate soldiers walked up the hill between two lines of Union soldiers to lay down their arms for the last time. The place where guns were stacked, in front of what was then the Peers house was called “Surrender Triangle.”

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The Park

On April 10, 1940, Appomattox Court House National Historical Monument was created by Park Service opened the McLean House to the public. The entire site which encompasses approximately 1,800 acres became a national historical park in 1954.

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An interesting fact is that homeowner Wilmer McLean became wealthy as a sugar smuggler during the war selling the commodity to the Confederates. All of his gain was in Confederate currency; when the war ended, McLean lost everything.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Several other historic buildings on the expansive park grounds can be seen via a self-guided walking tour. Overall, more than two dozen structures have been restored and 31 others are awaiting restoration.

Inside the restored 1819 Clover Hill Tavern, you see a replica of the printing press used to create the parole passes for the Confederate soldiers. Built in 1819, it’s the oldest original structure in the museum.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Details

Appomattox Court House National Historical Park is 25 miles east of Lynchburg, Virginia. Parking and admission are free. RV parking is available (no overnight parking). The visitor’s center is open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Worth Pondering…

The war is over — the rebels are our countrymen again.

―Ulysses S. Grant, after stopping his men from cheering Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park: The War Is Over

The stories of Appomattox Court House go far beyond the final significant battles of the Civil War

The Appomattox Court House National Historical Park commemorates the heroic acts which took place in April of 1865 in this, the original village, to bring about the end of the Civil War. Walk the old country lanes where Robert E. Lee, Commanding General of the Army of Northern Virginia, surrendered his men to Ulysses Grant, General-in-Chief of all United States forces, on April 9, 1865. Imagine the events that signaled the end of the Southern States’ attempt to create a separate nation.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Appomattox Court House National Historical Park encompasses approximately 1,800 acres of rolling hills in rural central Virginia. The site includes the McLean home—where Lee made his formal surrender—and the village of Appomattox Court House, the former county seat for Appomattox County.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Thanks to the fact that it was all but deserted after the Civil War, it looks a lot like it must have when Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Ulysses S. Grant.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The walking tour allows you to see all buildings which are original to the site, and have been restored to their original condition. The highlight of the Park is the McLean house where Generals Lee and Grant crafted and signed the terms of surrender, bringing an end to the bloodiest chapter of U.S. history.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many people think that the meeting between the two generals took place in the courthouse, which is now the park’s Visitor Center, but the historic rendezvous really happened in the parlor of the McLean house nearby. The reason for the confusion is that the town’s name was Appomattox Court House. If you spell courthouse as two words, it means the town. Many county seats in this area had Court House as part of their names, and some still do, like Amelia Court House. But if you spell courthouse as one word, then you’re talking about the building.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Approximately 9,000 men under Gordon and Fitzhugh Lee deployed in the fields west of the village before dawn and waited. The attack, launched before 8:00 a.m. and led by General Bryan Grimes of North Carolina, was initially successful. 

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The outnumbered Union cavalry fell back, temporarily opening the road. But it was not to be.  Union infantry began arriving from the west and south, completing Lee’s encirclement.  Meanwhile, Longstreet’s troops were being pressed from the rear near New Hope Church, three miles to the east. General Ulysses S. Grant’s goal of cutting off and destroying Lee’s army was close at hand.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bowing to the inevitable, Lee ordered his troops to retreat through the village and back across the Appomattox River. Small pockets of resistance continued until flags of truce were sent out from the Confederate lines between 10:00 and 11:00 a.m. Rather than destroy his army and sacrifice the lives of his soldiers to no purpose, Lee decided to surrender the Army of Northern Virginia.

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Although not the end of the war, the surrender of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia set the stage for its conclusion. Through the lenient terms, Confederate troops were paroled and allowed to return to their homes while Union soldiers were ordered to refrain from overt celebration or taunting. 

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These measures served as a blueprint for the surrender of the remaining Confederate forces throughout the South. Although a formal peace treaty was never signed by the combatants, the submission of the Confederate armies ended the war and began the long and difficult road toward reunification.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visiting Appomattox Court House National Historical Park is largely a self-guiding experience. For this reason it is recommended that you begin your tour at the visitor center and get a map of the park. The visitor center is in the reconstructed courthouse building. 

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Although the park consists of nearly 1700 acres, most visitors focus on the old village. Using your cell phone you can learn more about nine specific sites around the park. There are four cell phone sites in the old village and five sites beyond the village core. These sites can teach about the military activities that occurred here in 1865 and about the people and county that played host to these events.

Visitors will not be charged an admission fee to visit the park.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

The war is over — the rebels are our countrymen again.

―Ulysses S. Grant, after stopping his men from cheering Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse

Memorial Day: Honoring Those Who Served Their Country

Memorial Day is a time to revisit the stories of those who gave their life for freedom and remember the significance of their actions

Each May, America commemorates those who have died while serving in the armed forces by organizing parades, picnics, and visits to cemeteries and national memorials across the country.

This Memorial Day, honor those brave men and women by exploring the country’s national parks, many of which are home to preserved historic sites, monuments, and memorials dedicated to celebrating military history.

Gettysburg National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

In an earlier post we commemorated the sacrifices made for a revolutionary idea by exploring some of the significant landmarks that witnessed the beginning of the new nation.

In today’s post we’ll dig a little deeper into American history and find a wealth of other national parks and programs throughout the U. S. that are equally exciting. This Memorial Day, take a moment to learn more about the incredible men and women who have fought for and supported America throughout its history.

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From the soldiers that fought in the Civil War to the men and women who sacrificed their lives during the Cold War, Memorial Day is a time to revisit the stories of those who gave their life for freedom and remember the significance of their actions. 

The American Civil War

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From 1861 to 1865, the American union was broken in a Civil War that remains a defining moment in America’s history. Its causes and consequences, including the continuing struggle for civil rights for all Americans, reverberate to this day. From the war’s outbreak at Fort Sumter, to the largest battle fought at Gettysburg, to the closing chapter at Appomattox Court House, more than 40 Civil War battlefields are preserved by the National Park Service.

Gettysburg National Military Park, Pennsylvania

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The bloodiest battle of the civil war, which served as inspiration for Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, was fought on the beautiful grassy knolls of this Pennsylvania battlefield.

Start at the National Park Service Museum and walk the trails on foot or experience them on horseback. Complete your visit with a stop at Soldiers National Cemetery, the resting place for many Union soldiers as well as those who perished in all American wars since 1865.

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, Georgia and Tennessee

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

In 1863, Union and Confederate forces fought for control of Chattanooga, known as the “Gateway to the Deep South.” The Confederates were victorious at nearby Chickamauga in September. However, renewed fighting in Chattanooga that November provided Union troops victory and control of the city.

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park, Virginia

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Walk the old country lanes where Robert E. Lee, Commanding General of the Army of Northern Virginia, surrendered his men to Ulysses Grant, General-in-Chief of all United States forces, on April 9, 1865. Imagine the events that signaled the end of the Southern States’ attempt to create a separate nation.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The American Indian Wars

During the late 19th century, as the United States sought to expand its territory further west, a policy of removing the American Indians from tribal lands was adopted. The resulting distrust and broken promises ultimately led to violence, and more than 1,500 armed conflicts were fought during the Indian wars. Today, the National Park Service preserves several of the battlefield sites of the Indian War and interprets its effect on native peoples and their cultures.

Fort Davis National Historic Site, Texas

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Set in the rugged beauty of the Davis Mountains of West Texas, Fort Davis is the best surviving example of an Indian Wars frontier military post and one of the best preserved Buffalo Soldier forts in the Southwest. Fort Davis is important in understanding the presence of African Americans in the West and in the frontier military.

Fort Davis National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The Cold War

The nearly 50-year period of political and military tension between the Western world and communist countries known as the Cold War led to the development and proliferation of nuclear weapons by both sides. Minuteman Missile National Historic Site tells the story of these weapons that not only held the power to destroy civilization, but also served as a nuclear deterrent which maintained peace and prevented war.

Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, South Dakota

Minuteman Missile National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve


During the Cold War, a vast arsenal of nuclear missiles were placed in the Great Plains. Hidden in plain sight, for thirty years 1,000 missiles were kept on constant alert; hundreds remain today. The Minuteman Missile remains an iconic weapon in the American nuclear arsenal. It holds the power to destroy civilization, but is meant as a deterrent to maintain peace and prevent war.

This Memorial Day weekend take time to thank those who have served and protected America.

Worth Pondering…

Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.

—John F. Kennedy