Camp Martin Travels

These entries will be a combination of historical day trips, graduate level travel courses, and just little stops along the way. I have been teaching 8th grade American History for over 25 years. I am also a Civil War Reenactor and have traveled to Germany and Austria with several groups of exchange students and written about our adventures. Please check all my posts by using the monthly Blog Archive tabs shown below. I have posted over 150 Blog Episodes since 2009... Please explore them all!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Appomattox Court House / Part # 3

Appomattox Court House
-------------- Part # 3 --------------
Surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia
 Retreat toward Appomattox
Several messages were sent back and forth between the two generals attempting to find common ground.  Lee continued to suggest a proposal of peace rather than surrender, but Grant continued to reply that only an act of surrender could result in peace.  When the infantry blocked his only real escape route, Lee met with his War Council one final time to say he was ready to submit to Grant’s request for surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia.  His officers suggested that Lee should allow his subordinates to attend the meeting and outline the terms to spare him the humiliation of defeat, but Lee refused to allow others to take his place. He remembered the words of his father, Lieutenant Colonel “Light Horse” Harry Lee, who attended the British surrender at Yorktown that ended the American Revolution.  His father chastised the British leader, General Lord Charles Cornwallis, for not attending the surrender, and sending a subordinate to submit his sword in surrender to General George Washington. 

The Wilmer McLean House
Lee sent out Lt. Col. Charles Marshall from the Confederate camp to seek out a suitable residence to discuss terms with Grant within the nearby village of Appomattox Court House.  He returned shortly, selecting one of the nicest homes in the town, located a short distance from the courthouse.  The home belonged to Wilmer McLean who saw his previous residence engulfed in battle twice before during the battles of First and Second Manassas.  The successful businessman had relocated his family to the small village of Appomattox far away from any strategically important site that would interest opposing armies.  However, once again, he somehow managed to find himself right in the middle of the war.  Around noon on April 9, 1865, General Lee and Lt. Col. Charles Marshall rode alone to the McLean residence, entered the parlor, and waited for General Grant’s arrival.

Surrender in the McLean Parlor
General Grant met up with several of his key staff members on the road including Sheridan, Ord, and Captain Robert Todd Lincoln, the president’s son, who was a junior officer of Grant’s inner circle of leadership.  By the time Grant reached the McLean House, he was accompanied by a small army of Union officers who all wanted to take part in the event.  Lee was dressed in a sharp new uniform of pressed grey wool and appeared as dignified as his legend suggested.  Grant, in contrast, was dressed in a soiled, worn coat of blue, void of sword and decoration of his high rank.  The two men briefly exchanged small talk and then went straight to the business at hand.  Grant represented Lincoln’s generous attitude toward the submission of Confederate surrender.  The terms were simple and without humiliation or punishment.  Lee’s men would have to forfeit their weapons, pledge to be loyal to the Union, and promise not take up arms against it at any time in the future.  They would then receive a certificate of parole and were free to go home to rediscover their lives as civilians. 

Grant's Gesture of Kindness
Lee asked if the men who owned a horse or mule in service could take it home to help work the soil of their farms in the coming spring.  He also humbly requested food rations for the men of his long deprived army.  Grant agreed to both and promised 25,000 rations for Lee’s men upon surrender.  The drawn up paperwork was signed and with the stroke of a pencil stub, the Army of Northern Virginia ceased to exist.  The two men shook hands and Lee and Marshall departed the crowded house to return to camp with the news Lee dreaded to deliver.  Grant and his fellow officers saluted the beloved southern general who remained dignified in defeat and Lee returned the gesture with respect.  The two gray clad men slowly rode up the hill out of town as slowly as they had descended it a few hours earlier as the men in blue watched in respectful silence.

The Road Out of Appomattox
Back to the future… We were now on the march and ascended the same hill out of town that Lee and Marshall had taken 145 years earlier.  Due to the fact that I was late to join my company, I had no idea of our purpose or destination.  The sun was hot and the climb steep in the uncomfortable, period correct footwear called “brogans”.  In the rush to get in line I had failed to fill my canteen, which was now bone dry and a major concern.  I was already thirsty and now knew we were about to reenact the Battle of Appomattox Court House for the growing crowd of spectators.  

Treeline Above Appomattox
We marched at least a half mile up hill and finally reached the top by the woods’ edge.  It’s a workout marching any distance with all that heavy gear.  The Enfield musket weighs at least 10 pounds and all the leather belts, cartridge box, canteen, bayonet, etc. can add up to about 50 pounds of gear.  We were finally dismissed for rest and many of us took refuge in the shade of the woods.  I was dying of thirst and several of my brothers in arms came to my aid by pouring a share of their precious water into my canteen to get me through the battle.  I imagined that back in the day, many a young man was wide eyed with a mix of excitement and nervous stomachs awaiting the call to reform ranks.  I’m sure many looked behind them in the dense woods and considered sitting this one out, but many units were formed up in individual small towns and anyone who played coward would never be able to go home again.  The label coward was a fate worse than death and a powerful motivator to face the enemy despite mounting fear and anxiety.

 Last Cannon Fired By Lee's Artillery
The battle reenactment was brief, showing the crowd an example of battle maneuvers with all soldiers instructed not to take a hit and fall.  We covered quite a bit of ground, but at least this time we were going downhill toward the enemy.  A cannon fired over our heads to symbolize the final canon shot fired by the Army of Northern Virginia south of town.  Loud outbursts of rebel yells were replied back with Union volleys of rifle fire at the confederate forces that began to back up.  Soon the Confederates surrendered and both sides prepared for the official surrender ceremony in town.  I would sit out the ceremony so I could capture some pictures for the unit. 

Surrender on Lynchburg Stage Road
The official surrender ceremony took place on the morning of April 12th, four days after Grant and Lee’s meeting in the McLean house parlor.  The Confederate cavalry and artillery units disbanded on April 10th and Lee left for Richmond before the surrender ceremony began.  General Grant also left to board a train bound for Petersburg.  General Chamberlain officiated for the Union and General Gordon for the Confederacy.  Long columns of the Confederate infantry shuffled in line on the Lynchburg Stage Road into Appomattox Court House.  Union infantry lined the road’s edge as the Army of Northern Virginia marched with solemn dignity down the center.  Each unit stacked their arms and dropped their leather ammunition and cap boxes on neat piles between the stacks of rifles.  The flag bearer filed down the line of men and each man reached up to touch the Confederate flag they defended for four long years.  The flag was then rolled shut on its staff and placed on top of the stacks of retired weapons.  

Army of Northern Virginia Disbanded
Even today, the ceremony was solemn and acted out with respect.  It was an emotional scene with some spectators shedding tears making the event somewhat uncomfortable to witness.  Without doubt, geography continues to impact the interpretation and feelings people experience surrounding the surrender ritual, which is played out annually.  The sudden civilian men from the south were then given rations shared by their previous foes in blue.  Next, they headed to the Clover Hill Tavern where over 30,000 parole certificates were printed to guarantee them safe passage home.  The process was repeated again and again throughout the day until the last man had been processed through the system. Now began the tedious process of reuniting the two nations forced to merge back together as one country.  Reconstruction would proceed without the guidance of Lincoln’s visionary mindset.  He would be assassinated by John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s Theater a short two days following the surrender ceremony at Appomattox.  He was killed on Good Friday, April 14th, 1865.

 The Remains of the Day
The evening gave way to light hearts and cheer around the campfires.  The Union and Confederate reenactment camps rarely intermingle and are often a wide distance apart.  Old friends joined together to sing the traditional infantry songs that probably once filled the night air 145 years earlier.  It was Man Time 1865 style!  It was the camaraderie that held up the men’s spirits and made the absence of family bearable for yet another long night away from home.  I was beginning to miss my own family and was anxious to begin the long journey back home.  I crept back to my concrete tent and departed at first light the next morning.  This time my GPS system took me home along the well-traveled route of the highway.  The winding roads eventually climbed the mountainside and gave me an incredible view of the valley far below.  Six hours later, I was home again with the weekly routine grind scheduled to pick up where it left off the following day.  It was an incredible adventure, seeing places and sites I have never witnessed before and one I will always remember.  A big thank you to my brothers of the Pa 30th Co. E. for another weekend of history, friendship, and fellowship.

 Farewell to Camp Martin Travels 2009-10
This will bring and end to Camp Martin Travels for the 2009-2010 season.  I look forward to many new summer adventures that will provide fresh material for new blog postings.  Hey Katelyn, get ready for some quality time with dear, old Dad! I appreciate all the positive feedback, interest and encouragement you have provided me all year long.  This is the 53rd posting of my first year of blogging.  Hopefully I can keep up the pace next year!

Please See All My Photo Albums of Appomattox at...

Appomattox Court House Part # 2

 Ulysses S. Martin

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