Appomattox Court House is the site of Robert E. Lee’s April 9, 1865 surrender of the North Virginia army to Ulysses S. Grant signaled the end the Civil War. The reconstructed courthouse at which the surrender was executed is the centerpiece of the National Historic Park and the site of the museum. The park also includes 27 neighboring restored buildings and markers and plaques designating the two commanders’ headquarters and the site from which the last shot was fired.
The museum (in the reconstructed Courthouse building) provides an overview of the path to Appomattox, from the fall of Richmond, through Lee’s retreat to the west with Grant in close pursuit. Grant’s army not only blocked Lee’s attempt to head south to join another of his armies, but it also cut Lee’s supply lines, depriving the Confederates of food and forcing them to forage, including in some cases, eating rats!
It explained the correspondence between the generals that led to the surrender and the incredibly generous terms that Grant (as directed by Lincoln) offered. He, for example, granted full pardons to all soldiers in return for surrendering their arms and agreeing not to again raise arms against the government. He also allowed soldiers to keep their horses and officers to retain their sidearms. When the Union army, after learning of the surrender, began to celebrate, he ordered them to stop, in honor of the Confederates, many of whom wept. (It also explained how that although Lee had surrendered, it took until June 2 before his other remote armies learned of the surrender and stopped fighting.
The museum also displayed many mementos of the Appomattox phase of the war and personal stories of and by some of its participants. And in honor of the 150th anniversary of the surrender, it also had a few other special artifacts–the original terms of surrender that Grant drafted and Lee signed, and the flag that draped the coffin of Abraham Lincoln, who was assassinated six days after the surrender.
Other original and reconstructed buildings included houses, the town’s general store, the Clover Hill Tavern (at which soldiers’ pardons were printed) and the McLean House (in which the agreement was drafted and executed.
A fascinating stop, especially since our trip began in Charleston, whose Fort Sumter was the site of the first shot of the war. (And, as we learned at Appomattox, Danville VA, where we spend the previous night, was the last, very temporary capital of the Confederacy.