Appomattox Court House National Historic Park is the site “where our nation reunited.” On April 9, 1865, the tiny village served as the meeting place for two great generals of the Civil War —Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee—to work out the conditions of the surrender of Confederate forces. The park preserves some original and some reconstructed buildings as well as the character of the original town. The original dirt road, which was lined with Union troops in a salute to their Confederate adversaries, is also preserved, as is the spot where thousands laid down their arms and flags in the final act of Lee’s once great army.
The original McLean House, where Lee and Grant signed the official surrender, had been dismantled in the late 1890s, with the intent of having it shipped to Washington, D.C. where it would be rebuilt and the owners could charge admission. Due to lack of funding, the project never happened, and the pieces of the house were stolen by souvenir hunters or slowly decayed away into nothing. In addition, the Court House had burned down, and Appomattox Court House was almost a ghost town. Inspired by the preservation efforts going on in the Colonial town of Williamsburg, Virginia, in the 30s and 40s, the National Park Service began collecting archaeological information, original plans, and architectural drawings of the major buildings that made up the town, as well as renovating buildings still in existence.
The result is the national historic park, a model of the village that even Lee and Grant would recognize today. Stroll around the country lanes and check out the lawyer’s office, the original general store, and the tavern where Grant set up printing presses to make parole notices for the thousands of Confederate soldiers who surrendered. Be sure to go into the Court House, which is the visitor center for the park, and view the walls of photos of soldiers who were there on that famous day in 1865. Artifacts from the battlefield are also on display. In the summer, you can also check out one of the living history interpreters, who will tell you what it was like to live in the town or fight with Grant’s army.
If You Go
- Don’t miss the McLean House. Although the house is a reconstruction, the look of the parlor where Lee and Grant met was so well-documented that the park service was able to make an exact replica. And the two urns on the mantel are originals from the house.
- Pay a visit to the Confederate Cemetery, located just outside the entrance to the park. The cemetery marks the final resting place of seven Confederate soldiers and one unknown Union soldier who were among the last to die before the surrender. It is a poignant reminder of the terrible cost of this war to both sides.