FORT LEE, Va. (Nov. 26, 2014) -- It marked the end of the American Civil War and the start of a unified United States on Palm Sunday, April 9, 1865. The Battle at Appomattox Court House, on a site located less than two hours from Fort Lee, is where Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered and the confederate states admitted defeat.
Appomattox represents the closing chapter of a brutal war that claimed more than 600,000 American lives.
“This is where the nation reunited,” said Patrick Schroeder, historian at the Appomattox Courthouse National Park. “All previous battles simply led to another battle. Not here. There were no Army-level battles after Lee’s surrender.”
Having just taken Petersburg after months under siege, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant commanded the evacuation of the Confederates and their president Jefferson Davis out of the capital – Richmond. He then chased down Lee’s dwindling army across Virginia and intercepted them three miles east of Appomattox. A battle ensued, but outnumbered and without proper rations, Lee was forced to surrender.
“Most people know Appomattox as the place where General Lee met with General Grant and ended the Civil War,” said curator Joseph Williams. “But they do not realize there are 27 historic structures, 1,700 acres, and a large museum collection. Our living history programs and rural Virginia landscape give people a real sense of the past, and once here, many realize they have not budgeted sufficient time to see all that they wish to see.”
The national park is a campus comprised of original and restored buildings that not only chronicle the battle that led to the end of the war, but also highlight the way in which people lived in the mid-to-late 19th century. When visitors walk through Appomattox, they can envision how the town stood during the Civil War battle.
The main building is a large visitor’s center – the restored Court House – where guests can learn more about the battle through numerous exhibits. The center also has artifacts from the war, photos of soldiers and interactive displays showing how Appomattox became the place where the war ended.
“There are many great soldier and human interest stories in the museum exhibit here like the ‘Silent Witness Doll,’ which was present in the room during the meeting and taken as a souvenir by a federal officer.” Williams said. “There is a sketch of the meeting done by Grant’s military secretary, Col. Ely Parker, chief of the Seneca Nation, along with uniforms, photographs, diary accounts and more. This exhibit includes the final copy of the surrender terms done by Parker and uniforms worn at the surrender.”
A popular stop is the reconstructed McLean House – the site of the surrender where Grant and Lee sat in the parlor at a marble-topped table to sign the document. The park also has a tavern that dates to 1819, stables, a general store, a jailhouse and more.
What keeps people coming back? “There is a stillness at Appomattox – the peacefulness – and our living history programs help bring this period to life,” said Schroeder.
April 2015 marks the sesquicentennial of the surrender and a number of special events, ceremonies and reenactments are scheduled.
The park is located about 3 miles northeast of the town of Appomattox off of VA Route 24. The visitor center is open daily, 8:30 a.m. - 5 p.m., except for closures on Winter federal holidays. The fees from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend are $4 per person or $10 a vehicle. The fees from Labor Day weekend through Memorial Day weekend are $3 per person or $5 per vehicle. Those 15 and under are admitted free all year. Visitors should allow at least two hours to tour the historic village.
For more information, call (434) 352-8987 ext. 245 or visit www.nps.gov/apco/planyourvisit/hours.htm.