Thursday, September 16, 2010

Exploring SW Virginia - Appomattox and Natural Bridge

We have wanted for some time to see Appomattox, where General Lee surrendered to General Grant, which was the beginning of the end of the Civil War.  As we planned the trip to SW Virginia, Appomattox was a high priority on our itinerary.  On Sunday, September 5, (happy birthday, Dad!) we finally made it.  It has been so long since our high school class in US history, so we couldn't remember why the Confederacy picked this site to surrender.  Then, we learned the answer.

During the winter of 1864-65, the Union army held camp just outside Richmond, VA, the capitol of the south, and nearby Petersburg, a significant rail hub.  As spring broke, the Union army cut off the remaining supply lines and the Lee's army had to retreat.  They headed west to evade Grant's army, hoping to re-supply and turn south to safety.  Grant split his troops - some followed in direct pursuit, and some looped south and west to cut them off.  Several days later, in April, 1865, Lee found his escape route cut off to the west while being pursued from the east.  This happened just outside the small town of Appomattox Court House.  Lee put up one final battle before realizing all was lost.  He asked to meet Grant in town to discuss terms of surrender.

The charming entrance to present-day Appomattox (l) and the sign for the Appomattox Court House National Historical Park (r).

On the outskirts of Appomattox Court House there is a cemetery with the remains of 18 Confederate soldiers who died in the last skirmish.  One Union soldier was added some time later. (Click on the picture to enlarge.)

 Note the southern perspective on the memorial stone in the bottom picture, which says "Dedicated to the memory of those who served in the defense of the Confederate States of America" . 

The sign below shows how the town was laid out in 1865.  Some of the structures that we saw are original, and some were reconstructed as close as possible to the original plans.  The courthouse (top right) is a reconstruction.

They had several people in period pieces acting as if in the fall of 1865 who told the story of the final battle and the surrender.

The final battle was waged in and around the small town lanes.  In the end, it was evident to Lee that his retreat was cut off and he had no hope.  A sign shown below indicates the place from where the final cannon shots were fired, in the front yard of some poor townsperson.

When Lee sent word asking to meet with Grant, the house of a local private citizen was selected for the meeting (McLean House).

McLean House was dismantled some years later to be moved to Washington as an historic site but was never moved.  This is an authentic reconstruction built from original plans, sketches and photos. 

A well-know illustration depicted the Grant-Lee meeting in the parlor (l), and the parlor itself (r).

Final orders and parole papers were printed to allow the men of Lee's army to return home.  Some 30,000 of these were printed overnight in the Clover Hill Tavern shown below.  This is an original building. 

 Above (l) are printing presses of the same type that were used to print 30,000 parole papers for the Confederate soldiers.  An actual parole paper is shown on the right.

As usual, we really enjoyed learning more about this important event in our nation's history, to stand where they stood and envision the events as the unfolded.

On to The Natural Bridge.

The Natural Bridge is just that ... a natural bridge.  Over twenty stories worth.

It was quite stunning to stand underneath this awesome geologic structure.  Trivia for the day:  Thomas Jefferson bought 157 acres including the natural bridge from King George III in 1774.  At sundown, they have a creation story with a recorded reading of the Genesis creation story a light show on the bridge.

Not a great picture, but it was really fascinating.

All in all, it was a long but great day. 

Next and last, Acorn Inn and the Blue Ridge Parkway.

1 comment:

CallinaP said...

How cool that they read from Genesis! I bet the lighting ceremony is awesome :) loved the pics and the history re-lesson!