McLean Farmhouse

McLean Farmhouse

On Friday, 6/13/14, we decided to head into Appomattox Courthouse for the day. Jen had never been there, so it was a good opportunity being so close. The McLean House is significant for being both the beginning and the ending of the Civil War. When the first shots were fired at Manassas Junction (First Bull Run), Wilmer McLean’s house was chosen as Beauregard’s Headquarters. When a cannon ball came down their chimney, he decided it would be better for business to seek lodging elsewhere. He chose the sleepy town of Appomattox Courthouse. Little did he know, the war would end in his parlor.

Visitor Center at Appomattox Courthouse

Visitor Center at Appomattox Courthouse

We started off in the Visitor center. The Visitor center offers movies on the hour and half hour, in addition to a small museum. They also offer a variety of tours, including two character tours: a woman who gives more of the home and civilian side of the story, and a soldier who gives the military perspective. I have been on each of the tours, and they are both excellent, offering very different information.

The Tour Guides

The Tour Guides

We took the tour with the soldier, whom we later learned was a fellow reenactor and not just a reenactor here. He explained the military aspect of the surrender and the way it affected those who were here. At the conclusion of his tour, he took us to the printing office. Here, we were able to get paroles printed on the same printing press as the originals. Very cool! One thing I learned that seemed out of place is that the paroles were actually printed on lined paper–and if you check out the originals in the display cabinet, they really were. I don’t know why I think of lined paper as a fairly new invention, but it apparently wasn’t. The paroles were given to allow these men to get home without being attacked by the enemy or court martialed by their own men.
Printing Paroles

Printing Paroles

It granted them both transportation and provisions. Still, it must have been a hard road to travel.

We also visited the book shop, which in addition to offering an incredible selection of merchandise, also offered a resource in the form of it’s manager. The young man behind the counter was a recent graduate with a degree in history. He was able to discuss with authority a number of books in the store and explain what he loved about certain events. Definitely an added bonus!

Where the last shots were fired before Lee surrendered

Where the last shots were fired before Lee surrendered

Since first discovering the audio tour podcasts at Civil War Traveler, we have thoroughly enjoyed the information they provide. I’ve always liked the “behind the scenes” view, and these podcasts are the golden ticket. At Appomattox, we especially wanted to see the spot where Chamberlain and Gordon saluted one another. This was my third time at Appomattox, and I had yet to see it. The podcast walked us out, not just to the surrender spot, but also to the location where the last shots were fired. Because this is a bit of a haul, most people probably don’t walk out this far, but it is well worth it. We first lingered at Peers Farm–the spot where the the Civil War essentially ended. It was fascinating to read the accounts written in the final days of the war. For many who had survived thus far, their deepest fear was to be killed in the final hours of the conflict. Sadly, there were many who were.

Spot of the Mutual Salute

Spot of the Mutual Salute

From this spot, we continued around the bend to the spot of the mutual salute. Here also, we were able to hear many interesting stories. There aren’t many Northern generals I admire, but Chamberlain is definitely one of them. I had heard the story of him ordering his men to salute the surrendering Confederates while I was in high school, and now, here we were. Chamberlain’s men lined the dirt road while brigade after brigade made the long walk to surrender their arms and, often more emotionally, their colors–the battle flags so many had given their lives to defend. Some burned their own flags rather than surrender them.
Confederate Cemetery

Confederate Cemetery

Perhaps to lighten the mood or solemnize the occasion, Chamberlain’s men called out “Three cheers for the last brigade,” when the last bedraggled group of men came down the road. Throughout the march, Chamberlain (N) had ordered his men to shoulder arms–the way military men saluted one another. Gordon (S) ordered his men to do the same. It was a recognition that the South was outnumbered, not outfought–a way to restore some dignity to men who had given up so much.

We finished our trip with a visit to the Confederate cemetery. This is a peaceful spot where there is a marker erected in honor of those who fought on the Confederate side. Interestingly enough, there is one Union soldier in the small cemetery. It’s definitely a surreal experience to sit in full view of the McLean House and contemplate the struggle that claimed so many lives.

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