Traveling Tidbits

Walking the Surrender at Appomattox Court House

Visiting the site of Appomattox Court House today is a treat of mid-nineteenth century and Civil War living history interpretation. It’s not just a museum or a single house that’s been set up to rebuild the surrender scene. It’s a recreation of the sleepy town of Appomattox Court House, complete with homes, shops, and streets as they would have looked in April of 1865.

Visitor Center, Appomattox (author photo, 2018)

Your first stop should be the visitor’s center for Appomattox Court House National Historical Park, where you can pick up a map and get times for any presentations that may be schedule for that day. During my visit (2018 and 2019) there were presentations put on by first-person living history reenactors to tell the intimate story of individuals who would have witnessed the Civil War and the surrender on April 9. The visitor center also features a 17-minute film about the surrender and its impact on the first steps toward North/South reconciliation. There is also a small exhibit display that feature items that belonged to generals who were present during the surrender, like Joshua Chamberlain.

Clover Hill Tavern, Appomattox (author photo, 2018)

From there, explore the homes and buildings on site like the Kelley House, the Appomattox County Jail (built in 1867), and the Meeks Store. A number of the buildings are not open to the public, but others can be visited or toured through, filled with artifacts and stories that flesh out the experiences of rural life in Virginia. Others are noted on the map you can pick up at the visitor center, but are grayed-out and noted with numbers in the key to show just how populated this town used to be. Many of these homes will also include plaques at their original locations.

Grave of Lafayette Meeks, Appomattox (author photo, 2018)

Two secondary spots of interest are the Tavern Kitchen, which has been refashioned into the site’s bookstore, and the Clover Hill Tavern. The latter building shows how the parole passes would have been produced for the thousands of paroled Confederate prisoners in the days following the surrender. If you’re lucky, someone will be present to print out your own facsimile of the parole passes. In the opposite room, hanging portraits depict at least one Confederate soldier from every regiment that was present during the surrender.

Another point of interest is the grave of Lafayette Meeks, son of Francis and Maria Meeks – owner of the Meeks post office and general store in town. He enlisted in the 2nd Virginia Cavalry, Company H (nicknamed the “Appomattox Rangers”) in 1861 at the age of 18, but died several months later of typhoid fever. His headstone still stands, surrounded by a fence near the Meeks Stables.

Parlor room, McLean House, Appomattox (author photo, 2018)

Of course, no visit to Appomattox Court House would be complete without walking through the McLean House where Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant sat down to negotiate the surrender terms of the Army of Northern Virginia. Behind the home is the kitchen and restored slave quarters, which features a slavery and Emancipation exhibit. Inside the McLean House, one can look upon the staged parlor room where the signing of the surrender took place, according to witness accounts and paintings of the scene. Other rooms are set up as they would have been during the final actions around Appomattox and the surrender for the McLean family.

Appomattox River (author photo, 2018)

To finish out your trip, I highly recommend taking a short walk down the Richmond-Petersburg Stage Road where the stacking of arms took place on the morning of April 12. If you want to get adventurous, keep walking along the trail to the banks of the Appomattox River, cross the bridge, and to the artillery park. At the visitor center, you can also pick up a hiking trail map that color-codes the numerous hikes that can take you to Grant or Lee’s headquarters, house sites, cemeteries, the Sweeney Cabins (Charles or Connor-Sweeney), the North Carolina Monument, or the Sweeney Prizey Building (oldest building on park grounds). Each trail is rated by distance and intensity. Most are easy, and most are one-way instead of loop trails, but they are worth considering if you are spending the day in Appomattox.

View from the Stage Road, Appomattox (author photo, 2018)

As of the writing of this blog, masks are still required inside buildings according to National Park standards. Parking is plentiful and the place is easy to find via GPS. Prepare for all types of weather and wear sensible and comfortable shoes. The streets and pathways are not paved, but many are gravel. Still, if it rains, mud is a real thing.

Inside slave quarters, Appomattox (author photo, 2018)

Admission: FREE
Hours: Visitor Center 9am-5pm. The park may be open from 9:00-2:00 on December 24 and 31. The park will be closed on December 25, January 1, and Thanksgiving Day.
Address: 111 National Park Drive; Appomattox, VA 24522
Phone: 434 352-8987
Website: https://www.nps.gov/apco

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