We had really been looking forward to our November road trip. The marriage of the son of Bill’s college friend in Bethlehem, PA was the reason for this trip, along with visiting family and friends and some sightseeing along the way.
I have always had an interest in American history and my mother often spent her summer vacation time encouraging this love of history. I remember visiting Appomattox Court House with her when I was around fifteen. Bill had never been there and I wanted to return because my memories of this historic site had faded over time. Located in the center of the state, it was somewhat on our route to Charlottesville, my hometown.
Appomattox Court House National Historical Park, a preserved 19th century village, was the site of the April 9, 1865 surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, signaling the end of the Civil War. In essence, a new nation was born here. The park was established in 1935, made a national monument in 1940 and a national park in 1954. I am so glad our government over the years had the foresight to preserve and protect these historic sites. Bill and I have visited and enjoyed so many of them over the years. In some cases the government stepped in just in time as people ravaged areas stealing artifacts, spraying graffiti, etc. But I digress.
General Robert E Lee’s decision to surrender was after The Battle of Appomattox Court House, one of the last battles of The Civil War. Lee had abandoned Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy after a nine and a half month siege of Petersburg. He hoped to join his army with remaining Confederate forces in North Carolina. Union forces pursued Lee and cornered his army at Appomattox Court House. Lee made the decision to surrender and consider the terms that Grant offered. A white linen dish towel was used as a Confederate flag of truce, carried by a staff officer. Lee requested the surrender take place at Appomattox and Grant agreed. The McLean House was selected as the location for the meeting and signing.
We took a tour of the McLean house and surrounding buildings which included much more than just the parlor where the surrender occurred.
In back of the home was a building where slaves lived.
Also on the property was a traditional “out house”.
Lee arrived first and waited for Grant in the parlor. It was the first time the men had met face to face in almost two decades. Lee was relieved at the terms of the surrender. His men would not be imprisoned or prosecuted for treason and the officers were allowed to keep their sidearm, horses and personal baggage. The men were allowed to take home their horses and mules for spring planting and Lee was given a supply of food rations for his starving army.
Captain Robert Todd Lincoln , son of President Lincoln and a junior member of Grant’s military team, stands directly behind his general.
Grant’s only request was that the Confederates pledge not to take up arms against the United States. As Lee left the house and rode away, Grant’s men began cheering in celebration. Grant immediately told them to stop, saying, “the Confederates were now our countrymen”. Three days later, at surrender ceremonies, 28,000 Confederate soldiers came to Appomattox to turn over their flags, stack their weapons and begin the journey home. And with that, the country began the long healing process. In less than a week, President Lincoln would be assassinated by a Southern sympathizer who believed the Confederacy could be restored.
Nearby was Clover Hill Tavern, where printing presses produced 30,000 blank paroles. These paroles were required for the Confederates en route to their homes.
After finishing at Appomattox we drove to Charlottesville for a quick two night stay. It had been six years since I last visited my hometown and my thoughts were, how could some things have not changed at all and some things changed so much??? Time was spent visiting with family and friends and involved a lot of eating! What hadn’t changed in six years was the love I felt and experienced during the time spent with family and friends. It was as if time had stood still and we picked up as if it had only been yesterday since we last saw each other. A deeply personal and heart wrenching change was that in the past six years my much beloved Uncle Donald had passed away. I was grateful for the time I spent with Aunt Barbara, his wife. An important part of this visit was visiting his grave and those of other family members. Barbara definitely spoiled us with ham biscuits, chocolate chess pie and a big bag of snacks and treats to take on the trip. Thank you so much, Aunt Barbara!!
Now for the changes. The Charlottesville I knew no longer exists, and the changes in six years shook me to the core. Gone is the statue of Stonewall Jackson. This statue once sat next to the County Office Building where my mother worked for over 35 years. She looked out her office window at this statue everyday and often sat on a bench at the base of the statue and ate her lunch.
Gone is the statue of Robert E Lee in Lee Park. This park is across the street from the church I attended as a child. I walked through this park and past Lee’s statue countless times on my way to the public library. As a child there was once a live Nativity there every Christmas. That hasn’t occurred for many many years.
Gone is the statue of Lewis, Clark and Sacajawea, once located on a major thoroughfare in downtown Charlottesville. All that is left is an ugly base with no statues.
Gone is Jack Jouett Middle School in Albemarle County. It is now called Journey Middle School. Jack Jouett?? Really?
I heard that next to go is Meriwether Lewis Elementary School, also in Albemarle County. That name change will sting should it happen, and it probably will. My mother and her siblings attended that school as did many of their children. I did my student teaching there and a cousin taught there.
Rumor has it that they want to take any reference to Thomas Jefferson from the University of Virginia. Jefferson is the father of the University of Virginia. It is there because of him. I certainly hope historians and alumni fight any attempts at this.
Growth has exploded in Charlottesville and Albemarle County with new roads and new construction crammed onto every spot of available space. We drove to my last house in Albemarle County. The area, called Dunlora, once had a beautiful impressive brick entrance . The entrance is now gone due to widening of the road and changes in traffic patterns. It didn’t even look like the same place.
I drove through the neighborhood where I Iived as a child, not far from the University of Virginia. A few of the homes once had huge yards once full of majestic old magnolia, pine and holly trees. The original owners have died and the homes sold. Because of the large lots, the homes have been rezoned to multi family lots. Huge apartments, townhouses and duplexes have been built, grazing or overshadowing the old, once beautiful homes around them.
Charlottesville, I hardly knew you.
NOTES: Legally, the war did not end until August 20, 1866, when President Andrew Johnson issued a proclamation that declared “that the said insurrection is at an end and that peace, order, tranquility, and civil authority now exist in and throughout the whole of the United States of America”.
[from: Trudeau, Noah Andre (1994). Out of the Storm: The End of the Civil War, April-June 1865. Boston: Little, Brown and Company. p. 397. ISBN 978-0-316-85328-6. The Supreme Court decided that the “legal end of the American Civil War had been decided by Congress to be August 20, 1866 — the date of Andrew Johnson’s final proclamation on the conclusion of the Rebellion.” Page 397.]
Next up: 3 days touring DC