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!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Appomattox Court House / Part # 2

Appomattox Court House
-------------- Part # 2 --------------
Lee Runs Out of Options
Appomattox Court House
In April of 1865, General Robert E. Lee was on the run from General Ulysses S. Grant and his well-supplied troops following the fall of Richmond, the capital city of the Confederacy.  Grant had also successfully worn out the defending troops of nearby Petersburg after a six-month siege.  Rebel forces had burned both cities as they vacated their defensive earthworks to deprive the Union Army of provisions.  Lee was trying to make it to Appomattox Station where needed supplies could reach his desperately deprived men.  It was a last ditch effort to escape the strength of Grant’s forces and continue the fight to defend their independence and traditional way of life. Lee made camp in a small town called Appomattox Court House between Grant and his desired target of Appomattox Station and the southern city of Lynchburg beyond.

General Sheridan's Cavalry
 General Lee had sent an artillery unit ahead to secure Appomattox Station to protect the arriving supply train.  However, a Federal Cavalry unit led by General Philip Sheridan, who was closely followed by the Federal Army, had already captured Lee’s supply train.  Sheridan pushed the Confederate Artillery back and Lee now had to ask his exhausted army to take one more stand.  Conferencing with Generals Gordon, Longstreet, and his nephew, General Fitzhugh Lee, a final plan to defend their feeble position came together.  The infantry formed a battle line at Appomattox Court House to intercept Sheridan’s advancing cavalry. 

Gordon's Confederate Line
 The Confederate leadership assembled their 9,000 available men and advanced to intercept Union artillery and cavalry forces.  Gordon’s troops gained ground but were soon surprised to face Grant’s infantry and were forced back into retreat.  During the night, Grant’s troops numbering 120,000 men had surrounded Lee’s 30,000 remaining men of the Army of Northern Virginia.  Grant had Lee blocked on three sides leaving his only escape through barren country, a route where his army would surely starve.  Lee had nowhere to go and reluctantly sent word to Grant requesting a meeting to discuss terms of surrender.   The long Civil War that had divided a nation came to an end in the tiny village of Appomattox Court House in rural western Virginia.

The Final Fallen
The men who died in the brief battles of Appomattox Station and Appomattox Court House were said to be the most truly unlucky souls.  The men of both sides knew the war was about to an end and the 260 Union causalities and the 440 Confederate causalities of the final battle were an especially bitter statistic.  A small cemetery contains the graves of 18 Confederate soldiers and one lone Union soldier who died on the blood stained ground of Appomattox.  A solemn tribute to those who were so close to going home but never lived through the final day of battle to make the journey back home to their previous lives as sons, husbands, and fathers.

The Union Encampment
Back to the future… I entered the Union camp to help mark the 145th anniversary of the Surrender at Appomattox Court House.  The site managed by the National Park Service was like stepping back into a glimpse of time long past.  The restored and preserved village of Appomattox Court House is isolated away from the modern world, nestled several miles away from the highway.  It was about to get dark as I found my way to the tents of the 30th PA Co. E and greeted my comrades who had arrived so far from the distant north. 

Appomattox Sun Set
As the beautiful sunset slowly disappeared from the horizon, the Union Camp fell into abrupt darkness.  We were all taken aback by how pitch black it suddenly became without any sign of modern lighting or Mother Nature’s moon. The endless sky was filled with thousands of bright twinkling stars.  Men huddled around the glow of warm campfires that took the chill from the April night air.  Old friends became reacquainted, favorite stories were retold once again, and Civil War era songs were sung deep into the dark of night.  It was the most authentic place I had ever reenacted to date.  No distant lights of nearby civilization could be seen and the air was void of any sounds of the modern world.  It was quiet and peaceful and for the time being, it really was 1865 again. 

Camp Falls into Darkness
When I could no longer stay awake, I stumbled through the darkness to try and find my car using my period correct lantern for a flashlight.  After a few minutes, I regained my bearings and followed my key chain beeps to locate my ride.  I traveled the deserted pitch-black roads back to the highway to my concrete tent better known as the Super 8 Motel.  Yeah, I felt a little guilty until I was snuggled in my warm bed, glad to have the conveniences of heat and indoor plumbing.  The next morning I took advantage of a hot shower and fresh undergarments before pulling back on my heavy wool Union blue sack coat and trousers.  On my way out I stopped by the hotel's Express Breakfast Bar and found the stale looking donuts and assorted cereal bins unappetizing and headed directly to the car.  I passed by the Burger King and thought about it and then passed the McDonalds and thought about it again but continued on to camp.  Upon arrival I found the cook fire grates empty and the breakfast dishes washed.  How long until lunch?

Smoldering Breakfast Fires
Our morning activity consisted of field drills for the visiting public and the unit was called to attention.  We assembled into two lines of men from tall to small and stood at parade rest attention, waiting for the field commander to lead us onto the field. It is a slow process to bring several companies together and an old saying from my dad and his days in the army came back to me… “Hurry up and wait”! Eventually everyone was ready and we were off marching through the dirt streets of Appomattox Court House.  The town is well preserved with many preserved original buildings and others meticulously reconstructed according to every historical detail.  The day was beautiful and warm for April with a stiff breeze that helped keep us relatively cool despite our wool clothing. 

Call to Arms / Inspection
We numbered about a hundred men and stopped at the courthouse for a mandatory weapon inspection from the National Park officers in charge of the event.  Bayonets were fixed and our rifles were handed to the officer for inspection as he walked down the line just like in the real army.  Rounds and caps were distributed to the ranks and soon the march resumed along the road toward the Confederate camp.  I got my first view of the enemy who seemed friendly enough as we passed within feet of their tents located in a fenced pasture.  We came to an open field and proceeded with our march, obeying commands from the barking officers.  We fired several smart volleys that echoed through the valley that filled with heavy smoke that vacated quickly in the wind.  An officer explained each movement to the crowd along the fence-line.  Later that day, the Confederates would do the same in a field by the Union Camp.  Practice makes perfect, or almost!

The Green of Spring in Virginia
After lunch, which consisted of real Civil War rations of salt-pork, hardtack and other assorted unappetizing eatables that once sustained an army.  I decided to miss lunch and explore the town instead.  Again the day was beautiful, and the surrounding countryside was bright with the green of new spring.  I took in every structure and found a public bathroom hidden in the kitchen house behind one of the larger homes.  I filed that info away for later, trying to avoid port-a-potties at reenactment events whenever possible.  With hundreds of men eating salt-pork, beans, etc… Well, just use your imagination.  I was now getting really hungry and was beginning to crave the stale donuts and cereal I had passed over hours before.  Luckily, I had a bag of pretzels and some granola bars stashed in my haversack for just such an emergency, for now I had missed two meals in a row, which was a record for me!  I was lucky I hadn’t passed out!

Forming up Again
After exploring the town in detail, and finding the bookstore, which was equally disguised within another historic facade, I headed back to camp.  I had lost track of time and was surprised to see the units already formed when I returned.  I quickly grabbed my gear and fell into my rightful place in line wondering where we were headed. Tune into next week's episode for the Surrender Ceremony that ended the Civil War and the 2010 edition of Camp Martin Travels.  It will be my last blog posting until next September.

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


Appomattox Court House Part # 1

Appomattox Court House Part # 3


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