Appomattox Courthouse


Morning mists and layers of beauty!

Morning mists and layers of beauty!

We set out this morning (3/24/15) to visit Cherokee, North Carolina.  Since our previous visit was over Christmastime, we weren’t able to go then, so this was our first time.  As a history teacher, I was hoping to get some first hand information on major events like the Trail of Tears and the Battle of Horseshoe Bend–and I was not disappointed.

We stopped along the way to capture the gorgeous views of the (relatively) early morning mists on the mountains. It was beautiful to see layer after layer of ridges–the sight is breathtaking–in some cases quite literally, as we were a mile in the air. Our first stop was the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, which is a definite “must see.” It boasts and outdoor collection of Mountain cabins and outbuildings that we were interested to see, but we wanted to make sure we had plenty of time in Cherokee, so we vowed to visit on our return trip.

Street view with one of the cultural dancers Photo credit:  Mary Rosalind Brailey

Street view with one of the cultural dancers Photo credit: Mary Rosalind Brailey

A few miles down the road, we entered Cherokee territory. When one hears the word “reservation,” a number of images come to mind. I’m not sure quite what I was expecting, but it was different than what I saw. We drove down a street lined with shops and even a Dairy Queen–I guess I expected it to be more primitive than it was. Not that I think Native Americans should be stuck in the 1800’s, but from reading Chief Seattle’s “If we sell you our land, love it” speech to my class every year, I guess I was hoping in would be more “untouched” by the commercialism that pervades American culture. Having encountered such vast natural beauty on the way into the reservation, I expected it to be more beautiful here. It was not.

The Museum, however, offered a wealth of information on the Cherokee Experience from the beginning of their civilization to the present. There is a wealth of artifacts to see–tools, arrowheads, tomahawks. They also have a variety of interactive displays where visitors can experience tribal stories from the Creation story movie to first hand accounts of different experiences.

The first thing that really captured my attention was the story of Sequoyah. This amazing Native American has about two lines of text in our History book–merely known as a leader who created the Cherokee alphabet. From now on, I will cover him differently.

The Museum of the Cherokee Indian

The Museum of the Cherokee Indian

Sequoyah had so many obstacles to overcome, it is incredible. In today’s world, he would have been labeled an “at risk” kid. Abandoned by his white father and born with an infirm leg, Sequoyah entered life at a disadvantage. Yet, he helped his mother around the farm, and became an artist and a silversmith. He had been exposed to writing but was illiterate himself–the only inventor of a written language (at least in 5,00 years of written history) to not first write another language. And yet, he felt, as I do, that his people had a story to share. So, he set about creating an alphabet for them to record their heritage. He had another obstacle in the creation of the alphabet–this time from closer to home. His wife felt his work was becoming an obsession since he was neglecting their farm. She also felt his work was affecting his mind, so she burned it–I can’t believe what that must have been like. Still Sequoyah pressed on, and two years later he completed his syllabary. Finally, eleven years later, he would receive a silver medal from the Cherokee National Council. He is a true example of overcoming obstacles to achieve a goal.

I also learned more about another interesting Native American: Tecumseh. Being from Indiana, we spend special interest on the conflict between Tecumseh and William Henry Harrison. I knew that Tecumseh had been off raising support from other tribal members when Harrison picked a fight at the Battle of Tippecanoe. At the Museum, we were able to read a portion of his words. Here’s a quote from his speech: “The white race is a wicked race.

Museum Display

Museum Display

The hunting grounds are fast disappearing, and they are driving the red men farther and farther to the West. Let the white race perish whence they came. Upon the trail of blood, they must be driven. Will not the warriors of the Southern tribes unite with the warriors of the Lakes?” While this speech perfectly falls in line with the image we’re traditionally taught in history, an understanding of the Cherokee rule of Blood Revenge casts a new light on history. In Cherokee law, if a member of tribe A kills a member of tribe B, a member of tribe A must be killed in return. The goal was not simply revenge, but balance. The Cherokee followed this same practice with the “white tribes”: the settlers, the British, and the French. Imagine their surprise when these groups returned the blood revenge with military force. This is not to say Native Americans were innocent bystanders, but perhaps they are not quite the savages we have made them out to be.

Museum Display

Museum Display

Finally, we were able to learn of some unexpected people with Native American connections. Even General Andrew Jackson fought in the Battle of Horseshoe Bend alongside the Creeks, the Cherokee, and other Native Americans whom he would eventually expel with the Indian Removal Act. One of them even saved his life during the battle! Another famous American present at that battle was Sam Houston. Sam has quite an extensive experience with the Cherokee. As a 16 year old, Sam ran away from home and lived among the Cherokee. He was adopted by Chief Oo-Loo-Te-Ka and given the Indian name “The Raven.” He lives with the Cherokee for three years at this stint. He’ll then start a school, join the army, and get wounded twice at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. He then turns to politics, representing the Cherokee in Washington, where he will be criticized by Secretary of State John C. Calhoun for wearing Indian dress! After serving as the Governor of Tennessee, he will return to the Cherokee Nation for the Green Corn Dance where he will meet the woman who will become his second wife. He ends up staying with the Cherokee for a while, needing to be nursed back to health with Indian medicine by his Cherokee father after a severe bout with Malaria.

In addition to the notable names, we also learned about the “no names” like William Holland Thomas who essentially made his own Indian Reservation by buying up land on which he allowed the Cherokee to live. He first got to know the Cherokee by working in a trading post as a young man. He will eventually be adopted by Chief Yonaguska, who will name him his successor, making Thomas the only white Chief of the Cherokee. In addition to buying the land that is much of the Cherokee land in North Carolina today, he would negotiate for the Cherokee in court, and represent their interest in the Senate where he was elected in 1848 and would serve until the beginning of the Civil War. He also protected his tribe in the Civil War by forming the Thomas Legion–initially a protective force, but his men would eventually be sent into dangerous battlefields. Yet, his troops hold the distinction of the last shots fired in the Civil War east of the Mississippi.

The Qualla Arts and Crafts Store

The Qualla Arts and Crafts Store

Almost a month after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, Thomas and his men surrounded Waynesville. After a night of war whoops, the garrison surrendered. Just four days later, on the one month anniversary of the Lee’s surrender, Thomas would learn of Appomattox and agree to lay down his arms. Always looking out for his tribe, we will convince the government that the Cherokee had never enlisted in the Confederate army and should therefore be allowed to keep their weapons. He is successful. In decline of health and deeply in debt, Thomas will continue to care for his people. Though he himself was committed to a mental institution, the Cherokee are able to use the treaty he negotiated in 1848 to maintain control of their lands which had been seized due to his debts. Definitely a neat story!

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Mountainside Trees

After leaving the museum, we walked across the street to the Qualla Arts and Crafts store, which the museum had recommended we see. Offering a variety of items for purchase from woven baskets, to pottery, weapons, and wood carvings. The Craft store serves as a kind of museum on its own! We visited a few more shops and headed out to the Blue Ridge Parkway. It was discouraging to see how much of the area consisted of trailers and abandoned or falling down buildings. Again, I desired more of what I had seen of reservations in the West.

The Mountain Farm Museum at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center

The Mountain Farm Museum at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center

The Blue Ridge Parkway was an amazing drive. From the views of layers and layers of mountains, to the roadside waterfalls, to the bare trees, every bend held a piece of beauty!

We concluded our drive back at the visitor center to visit the farms they shared. Much like we had seen driving through Cades Cove, these cabins are incredible pieces of history. Apparently, there is more to see later in the season, as most of the buildings were closed, but the layout of buildings as well as the different trade areas makes me think later in the season, this will be a place buzzing with activity.

Finally, we made our way home, stopping often to enjoy the changes in the mountains from the morning when we set out. From battlelines to ridgelines, it has truly been an amazing day!

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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.

White House of the Confederacy (AKA base camp in Zombie Apocalypse)

We had to move condos today (7/13/12), so since we were making the trek up to Northern Virginia to Massanutten Resort located in McGaheysville, Virginia, we decided to make a few stops along the way. I had managed to pull a muscle in my back the evening before, so was in quite a bit of pain. Still, we decided to stop in Richmond, Virginia, which was not only the Confederate capital, but also boasted both the Museum of the Confederacy and the Confederate White House. After looking around a bit, my back was still hurting, so we decided to save our walking for Appomattox, and headed out, but not before the boys decided the COnfederate White House would be the ideal fortress in the event of a Zombie Apocalypse–too much Abraham Lincoln Vampire Slayer, I think….

Footprint in the brick

From there we headed to Appomattox Courthouse, which I had seen on my previous visit, but hadn’t been able to explore. It is definitely and amazing experience. When we entered the visitor center, we were met by a tour guide who explained that there would be interpreters around to talk with us and to treat them as if it really was in the 1860’s. With that, she took us over to the Clover Hill Tavern (built in 1819 and the oldest structure in the area). We were met by a reenactor who told us about the different people in the area. He especially poked fun at Thomas McLean, calling him arrogant for proclaiming himself the Alpha and Omega of the Civil War because he had lived in Manassas Junction when the war started, then moved to Appomattox Courthouse where it ended.

Table where Lee signed the Surrender

One cool story he told us was the legend of one of the tavern owners. Supposedly, the when the tavern was being built, this man took little girl down to the brick makers (since everything was made on property) and pressed her foot into one of the bricks. If you look under the window, you can see the brick with the little girl’s footprint in it. It is a legend, but whatever the reason, the brick is definitely there. It was also amazing to see the two tables in the McLean House where Lee and Grant signed the surrender of the Army of the Northern Virginia. For me, there is a connection, since one of my ancestors made the table Lee sat at when he signed the surrender. That was a neat experience for me.

Thomas McLean House

The park offers a real sense of scope and was just a peaceful place to sit on the porch with a reenactor or walk around the fields, cemeteries, and various outbuildings. It was a great stop on our road up to Massanutten resort. The resort is quite luxurious, so we are opting to take a free day tomorrow to just enjoy the many things available here before jumping into our crazy last week.