Friday, March 26, 2010

Appomattox Court House National Historical Park - Appomattox, Virginia

While the surrender of General Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House did not end the Civil War, it did start the final collapse of the Confederate cause.

The sites where Lee's army fought its last battle and where he met Union General Ulysses S. Grant to surrender are now preserved as part of Appomattox Court House National Historical Park. Located two miles outside Appomattox, Virginia, the park preserves the historic town of Appomattox Court House where the closing scenes of the war in Virginia took place.

Retreating south across the Virginia countryside, Lee reached Appomattox Court House on the afternoon of April 8, 1865. Grant's forces had forced the Confederates to evacuate their positions at Petersburg, a withdrawal that forced President Jefferson Davis and the Southern government to flee the capital of Richmond. As Lee retreated, Grant pursued him with relentless tenacity. By the time the Confederate general reached Appomattox, key parts of his army had already been cut off and captured.

As his army camped in the fields and pastures around the little town of Appomattox Court House on the night of April 8th, Lee knew he was surrounded but thought that only cavalry was in the vicinity. He ordered General John B. Gordon to attack at dawn on the 9th, believing that he could cut his way through and open a way for the army to reach supplies and rail transportation. His plan was to form a junction with General Joseph E. Johnston's army in North Carolina and continue the war.

The attack took place as planned and Gordon drove through two lines of Union cavalry to capture an important ridge. Once there, however, he could see two corps of Grant's infantry forming for action. He informed Lee that there was nothing more he could do.

The realization that he could not break through hit the Confederate commander hard and he told his generals and staff that nothing remained for him to do but to go meet with General Grant. "I would rather die a thousand deaths," he said.

The two met at the Wilmer McLean house in Appomattox Court House that afternoon and Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia. The move started the full collapse of the Confederate military effort.

To learn more about Appomattox Courthouse, please visit

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