While we were in Williamsburg we had a dinner that is worth mentioning. Someone at the RV park suggested we try Sal's By Victor. It's an unusual name for a restaurant, but they serve excellent Italian food. We got an antipasto tray that was as good as anything we had in the Italian section of St. Louis, and that is as good a recommendation as I have. We followed it with pizza - also fine - and if we were in the area longer, we would try everything on their menu!But we couldn't staying long enough to do that because we need to get to our next stop - Appomattox.
I had always heard that General Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House. It turns out that does not mean he surrendered at a court house; "Appomattox Court House" was the name of the village. He actually surrendered at the McLean House in Appomattox Court House.
A little ways outside the village is a small Confederate graveyard. In it are the remains of 18 Confederate soldiers, who originally had been buried where they died, in places like hospital or battlefields. But in 1866 the Ladies Memorial Association of Appomattox created this little cemetery and had them reinterred here. And they also buried one Union soldier, who was found nearby. It has taken awhile, but by now they know the names of most of them. One of them, Jesse Hutchins, had enlisted 3 days after the shots were fired at Fort Sumter, and he died on the last full day of war, on April 8th. This is why it's important to find the names; each name has a story, and each story is important.
From there, looking from the hill down into the village, the sight is similar to what the Union troops would have seen. And at one point there were a lot of Union troops right here.
But that is the story we heard later in the day. First we went into the village. One of the first buildings is the old jail. I loved the look of this building. Inside we got a good look at how they made a jail secure in those days, with straps of metal across the windows, across the doors, and across the entire walls, under the plaster.There is a tiny building in town that housed the attorney. Randy noticed it looks a lot like the cribs we saw in Skagway - just another prostitute?
There is a well-stocked General Store on display. And the courthouse building is now a museum where they show informational films and start the tours, and a lot of memorabilia.
We met a wonderful voluteer guide, Warren Taylor, who knows an amazing amount of details about the events that took place here. Everything I learned that day, I learned from Warren.
When he told us about the surrender process, he had memorized each of the letters between General Lee and General Grant. Those letters were short, formal, and very polite. No challenges, intimidation or accusations. They show both men in the best possible light. Grant, having chased Lee west and won battles along the way, was the first one to suggest surrender. Lee wasn't ready. Grant had a reputation for being a tough guy - "Unconditional Surrender Grant" - so Lee, without committing to a surrender, asked what his conditions might be. Grant's only condition was that the soldiers had to leave their weapons. Lee still wasn't ready. He thought if he could get further west, he could cut south into North Carolina, where he expected more troops. One thing I learned here was that the armies traveled almost exclusively on roads, so if one army controlled the road, the other one was cut off. So early Sunday morning Confederate soldiers marched up the road to meet the Union calvary at the top of that hill, guarding the road, and for a few minutes it looked like they were would break through to the west. But then the Union infantry showed up (after a forced march to get there in time), and at that point Lee knew it was over. He wrote one more short, formal, polite letter to Grant, and at that point the migraine headache that had plagued Grant for days suddenly stopped. The surrender occurred on the same day as their last battle. Surrender had not been seriously considered so Lee didn’t have a white flag; they scrounged around and found a white cloth napkin that Thomas Jones’ lunch was wrapped in. The next thing to be scrounged was a place to meet with Grant. When they found Mr. McLean in town, they asked him for a suggestion. The first building he suggested wasn't furnished, so next he offered his house.
Years after the war, the house was completely dismantled by some investors who wanted to move it somewhere they could charge admission. That didn't work out, and the pieces of the house sat there for 55 years. When bids were taken to reassemble it, the winning bid was put in by the same company that dismantled it. Because of those 55 years, only about 5,500 bricks, the grandfather clock, and the black sofa are original. The clock is set to 3:00 because that is when the surrender was signed. In attendance were two people I didn't know were there - Robert Todd Lincoln and General George Armstrong Custer. Custer had actually been very effective that day; his troops had captured 25 cannons, 200 wagons and 1,000 prisoners, and then blocked the western escape route that Lee needed to use.
So Lee and Grant sat in McLean's house and wrote more letters to each other, stating the terms of surrender and acceptance of surrender. Grant had been forbidden to secure a peace treaty because the Union didn't recognize the Confederacy as a nation. So he just asked for surrender, and on such gentle terms that Lee had to accept them. The museum in the courthouse still has the surrender flag, as well as the pens used by Grant and Lee.
One of the few original pieces in the house is the black sofa, which is known as the Lincoln sofa because Robert Todd Lincoln sat there. He was at Appomattox as part of Grant's staff, so when Grant left on Monday to return to Washington, Lincoln went with him. The surrender process wasn’t complete yet but Grant wanted to get back and report. So Robert was able to give his father a first-hand account of the surrender when they arrived, on Wednesday. And 2 days later President Lincoln was shot.
There are several other buildings on the house grounds, such as the ice house, slave quarters, and the summer kitchen.
Something I didn't know was that as part of the surrender agreement, every Confederate there was pardoned. Soldiers captured in battle were sent to prison but soldiers at the surrender received a pardon. So after the paperwork was signed, they needed about 30,00 pardons. In the local tavern they set up printing presses and got started.
The last step was the "stacking of arms", when the Confederates had to turn in their weapons. Grant ordered the Union troops to be respectful, and they were. They stood at attention from about 6 am to 1 pm, while their former enemies marched up the road and stacked up their weapons, ammunition and flags.
Because of the forced march to get there, the Yankees had not had their rations for 3 days. But on the day of surrender their rations were given to the “Johnnies”, and nobody seemed to mind.
So the Confederate soldiers left their guns and started home. If they had a horse or mule they got to keep it, but they hadn’t been paid for a year and they didn’t have any weapons to kill game. Rough walk home, and who knew what shape home would be in, if/when they made it?