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The visitor center was located in this older building, a long line waiting to get in.
Photo Credit: guyonthego

Appomattox Court House NHP

113 National Park Drive Appomattox, VA 24522
Park is open 8:30am-5:00pm.
434-352-8987 Half day
April 2015 Summer, Fall, Spring
$0-9 Appomattox Virginia
Website Historical Historic Sites
First review
 
Appomattox Court House National Historical Park is a 1,700 acre historical site where Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Union General Ulysses S. Grant in April 1865. The park was established in 1935 and incorporates various homes and buildings in the historic village of Appomattox, including a rebuilt home in which the surrender took place and a renovated courthouse that now serves as the park’s visitor center/museum. There are also several interpretive signs and battlefield monuments.

For approximately 9 months from June 1864 till April 1865 the Confederate army led by General Lee defended Richmond and Petersburg from Union forces under General Grant. The siege essentially ended when the Union Army won the Battle of Five Forks and cut off Lee’s remaining supply lines. This event and a subsequent Union attack caused Lee to evacuate Richmond and Petersburg and retreat west in a determined but somewhat futile attempt to escape and join Confederate forces operating in North Carolina. From April 2 until April 9, the two armies fought a series of engagements until Union troops trapped the Confederates at Appomattox Courthouse. Lee ordered an attack against what he thought were just Union cavalry at Appomattox but turned out to be several corps of Union infantry. When he realized that his way forward was blocked, Lee’s only options were to surrender or to breakup his forces into smaller units and pursue a guerrilla warfare strategy. Although a terrible disappointment and an affront to his sense of honor and duty, Lee chose to surrender to alleviate further suffering for a lost cause. The bitterness of the decision is reflected in his famous quote, “Then there is nothing left for me to do but to go and see General Grant and I would rather die a thousand deaths."

This visit took place during the 150th anniversary events in 2015. Needless to say, the park was packed. Unless you visit during a significant anniversary, your visit likely will be far quieter and much less crowded. From a park perspective, Appomattox was better than average. The main park museum had a number of impressive artifacts, and an insightful interpretive film. While the displays were not as modern or as detailed as those at the excellent park museum at Gettysburg Battlefield, the exhibits still provided a good historical perspective. The rebuilt McLean House where the surrender took place is also worth a visit. Even though it’s a reconstruction and most of the furniture are replacements, the house offers a good sense of how the famous meeting between Lee and Grant may have taken place. Also, there are some interesting historical displays about the house and village in outbuildings behind the McLean House. The village itself also has been nicely restored to its historical appearance so that when walking around, one feels transported back to 1865. Although some fighting took place on park grounds and in nearby areas, the park and related interpretive information are mainly geared to the surrender events rather than those military engagements. As such, you won’t experience a traditional national park battlefield experience here, but there were a few interpretive signs. The park is sizable and there is a decent trail that parallels Route 24 for several miles if you are interested in a hike. The trail passes by some historical sites like Lee’s headquarters and a North Carolina Monument, or you can drive to these locations.

While Appomattox will be of greatest interest to Civil War enthusiasts, it should also have some appeal to a general audience given its significance in American history. It’s a moving experience to walk the grounds where so much sacrifice and hardship came to an end. Appomattox reflects a sense of poignancy in that regard which still resonates today. The park layout also is amendable for a quick visit to see just the McLean House or for a longer stay to explore the museum, check out additional historical buildings, and stroll the grounds. When in the greater Richmond area, this park makes for a good day excursion and a learning opportunity to better understand and appreciate the final chapter in the Civil War.
Author:
guyonthego
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