Lee's Retreat

Trip Start Mar 04, 2005
Trip End Dec 31, 2014

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Where I stayed
Lynchburg TTN

Flag of United States  , Virginia
Monday, May 28, 2012

I have always loved history. As a child I can remember it all seemed so perfectly 'easy' to understand.  Take the Civil War, for example.  I was taught that it started when Fort Sumter was fired on.  After that a few battles were fought, like Gettysburg and Shiloh, before the Confederate forces surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse four years later.   Simple, concise and 'easy'.  Of course, this was part of my elemetary education and the Civil War was just a small part of what we were required to learn over the course of the school year. 

I don't remember ever being taught any more about the Civil War in school. Whatever 'continuing' education I have received about our country's history has come from my personal desire to learn more.  I read, alot.  We also make it a point to visit as many historical sites as possible. Nothing can replace the physical experience of walking in the footsteps of history! 

  Realizing that our campground here was only about 20 miles from Appomattox Courthouse made a visit there a 'no brainer'.  Not content to just visit the site of General Lee's surrender we planned out a route that would take us to the site of the last battle of the Civil War.  Todays drive would take us about 40 miles east of Appomattox to Sailors Creek State Park. 

This park preserves the site of the last battle between General Lee's and General Grant's troops.  In fact, three different battles would be fought here over the course of three days.  Lee's troops were split up and unable to reconnect.  Each of his three groups would be defeated.  General Lee would suffer the loss, by death, injury or surrender of 7,700 troops.  This included the loss of 8 Generals. 

From Sailors Creek we would follow the route that General Lee took.  This route is very well documented in the brochure put out by www.civilwartrails.org.  We picked up our brochure at the campground.  If you don't have a brochure there are "Civil War Trails" signs  posted along the way as well as audio stops ( AM 1610 ) along the route.  72 hours after the last battle at Sailors Creek General Robert E. Lee would surrender his Army at Appomattox Court House.  

Beacuse no heroic acts or battles were held here at Appomattox; neither side rushed in to erect monuments or memorials as happened on practically every battlefield of the war.  In fact, the village fell into a state of disrepair when Appomattox Station, located just to the south prospered because of it's position along the railroad.  In 1892 the courthouse burned to the ground and in 1893 the McLean house - site of Lee's surrender - was dismantled with the hope of taking it to Washinton D.C. as a war museum.  It wasn't until August of 1935 that legislation was signed and  work began on acquiring the land and researching the records.  The project resumed at the end of World War II with the entire village of Appomattox Court House being recreated.  The site is now run as Appomattox Court House National Historic park. 

While Union General Meade reportedly shouted that "it's all over" upon hearing the surrender was signed, Grant was aware that only a single army had given up. Roughly 175,000 Confederates remained in the field. Many of these were scattered throughout the South in garrisons while the rest were concentrated in three major Confederate commands.
So, you see, the war wasn't truly over yet.   As news spread of Lee's surrender, other Confederate commanders realized that the strength of the Confederacy was fading, and decided to lay down their own arms. Gen. Joseph E. Johnston's army in North Carolina, the most threatening of the remaining Confederate armies, surrendered to Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman at Bennet Place in Durhan, North Carolina on April 26.  He was followed by General Taylor who  surrendered his army at Citronelle, Alabama in early May and by General Edmund Kirby Smith surrendering the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department in May near New Orleans. The last sizable organized Confederate force, led by  Brig. Gen. Stand Watie surrendered June 23, 1865.

One last bit of 'new' history.  General Lee never forgot General  Grant's magnanimity during the surrender, and for the rest of his life would not tolerate an unkind word about Grant in his presence.
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