If you can only visit a handful of Civil War locations, this should be one of them. Appomattox is a historically accurate reconstruction on the foundations of the original village. But the real attraction is the storytelling of the guides, who tie together the ‘big picture’ of Lee’s surrender to smaller human stories connected to the grounds. It’s a well spent $10 vehicle fee.
You start at a visitors center, where you see historical artifacts and have the option of viewing a short film. But the highlight is the home of the McLean family, where the surrender took place. While the home is a reconstruction, NPS painstakingly recreated it, even retrieving original furniture from the descendants of various treasure hunters (many of them senior Union officers present at the surrender).
As I was an early arrival, I got a private tour of the house from an OUTSTANDING volunteer. If you’re reading this I assume you already know the momentous events that occurred here. But what made it special were the human interest stories that you’ll never hear anywhere else. A few of my favorites:
1) Wilmer McLean’s story that the war “started in his front yard and ended in his front parlor” isn’t 100% accurate. Actually, his wife Virginia Mason owned considerable property in Virginia, and she had a pre-nup spelling out what was ‘hers’. The McLean house in Manassas that suffered damage from the first Civil War battle actually belonged to her. So it’s more accurate to say the war “started in his WIFE’S front yard and ended in THEIR front parlor”.
2) One of the McLean children left a doll in the parlor where the surrender was conducted. Union officers joked it was a ‘silent witness’, and one absconded with it (one of many ‘souvenirs’ taken from the McLeans). Fortunately the original doll is now on display in the museum.
3) One sad story is the fate of Thomas Tibbs, a Confederate soldier from Appomattox. After Tibbs was paroled (like the rest of Lee’s army), he walked down the road to his parents house – the shortest walk home of any Confederate soldier. Unfortunately after 4 years of warfare he only knew the life of a soldier, and eventually joined the (now united) US Army. Ironically, his commanding officer was the infamous George Armstrong Custer, who also fought at Appomattox. Both died fighting in the Indian Wars.