Blue & Grey Campaign Day 8: Appomattox Courthouse
On the penultimate day of the Blue & Grey Campaign, it was only fitting that we concluded our Civil War battlefield tour at the site of the end of the war: Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia. On April 9, 1865, almost four years to the day after the opening shots of the war were fired at Ft. Sumter, General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Lt. General Ulysses S. Grant, Confederate arms were stacked, colors were furled and exhausted troops began their long walk home to families and farms.
From Lynchburg, we had only a 30 minute ride to the National Parks battlefield site, and we arrived to a nearly empty park just as it opened at 8:30 a.m. Nine motorcycles pulled up to the entrance kiosk and the park ranger on duty asked, “Are you all together?” “Why yes. Yes, we are,” I replied, looking back at nine bikers on nine Harley Davidsons and wondering what his first clue was. We dutifully showed our Senior Passes, and proceeded, “all together” to the historic site. The sky was blue, the temperature was about 70 degrees and the site of the final battle of the Civil War had a remarkably peaceful feeling on this perfect fall day.
The site consisted of some original buildings from the small village known in 1865 as Appomattox Court House, a rebuilt courthouse that served as the visitor center, and an historic reconstruction of the McLean House where the meeting between the two generals took place in the parlor.
We watched a couple of short videos and wandered through the exhibit area, learning about the final Appomattox Campaign that occurred when Union forces drove the battered and starving rebels out of Petersburg and Richmond and dogged them westward across central Virginia until the denouement near Appomattox Courthouse.
As we walked around the site we also visited some of the historic structures that witnessed the final actions of the war, including the Clover Hill Tavern where paroles were printed for the 30,000 Confederate soldiers who surrendered and were allowed to return to their homes after they stacked their arms. On the porch of the tavern was a young woman named Emma, who was the daughter of the tavern keeper and provided a wealth of information about the area in the days after the surrender. Later, the re-enactor spoke in character with large groups of tourists as they sat on the porch of the tavern.
The McLean House had actually been torn down in the 1890s and then rebuilt in the 1940s using some of the same materials and on the same site. But it was close enough to the actual structure that it felt as if we were standing in one of the important buildings of the Civil War and all of American History. After more than 600,000 deaths, the actions of two gentlemen generals brought the war to a simple and undramatic close.
One final look around the park and we returned to the bikes and left the final site of our eight-day tour behind us.
The ride the rest of the day took us south through Virginia and into North Carolina. The group was kind enough to follow me through Chapel Hill, home of the University of North Carolina, where Marilyn and I reminisced briefly as we rolled slowly through the downtown and past parts of the University. It had been nearly 35 years since we were last there.
Lunch had been planned at a quaint sandwich shop in Chatham, Virginia, but the planner (me) didn’t realize they would be closed on Saturday. So we opted instead for a pretty good lunch at a Mexican eatery just down the nearly deserted Main Street.
The longest part of the day came as we rode through the area near Ft. Bragg, N.C., where there seemed to be a traffic light every quarter of a mile and we seemed to stop at nearly all of them. Finally, ten hours after leaving our motel in Lynchburg, we arrived at our final motel of the campaign in Lumberton, N. C. Tomorrow we make the final ride home. Tomorrow night I’ll post the final entry for the Blue & Grey Campaign blog, and the nine-day, nearly 2,000-mile Orange Park Harley Owners Group ride will, like the Civil War, be history.