|Appomattox Court House Museum|
My interest was sparked a few years ago while reading Bill O'Reilly's "Killing Lincoln." In it, O'Reilly and co-author Martin Dugard cover the final days of the Confederacy, as well as, of course, the final days of President Lincoln (and his assassin, John Wilkes Booth).
|Five Forks Visitor's Center|
It was a life or death chess match between Lee and Grant, as Grant and his huge army countered every Lee westward movement, until he checkmated him at Appomattox.
Along the way, there were battles with names such as Five Forks, Amelia Courthouse, Sailor's (or Saylor's) Creek and High Bridge.
|Five Forks Battlefield Visitor's Center|
So after our Memorial Day visit with my parents in Virginia's Northern Neck (and my brother Pete, and other relatives- see this blog post for more on that), Alesia and I set out to trace the approximately 94 mile "Lee's Retreat" from Petersburg to Appomattox.
|Along Highway 460|
|Markers like this depict what happened nearby as Lee retreated|
We chose to cover the 90-plus mile retreat route over two days, stopping overnight in Farmville, which is about 30 miles east of Appomattox.
Pamplin is located in Dinwiddie County, not far from Petersburg. Since it is privately owned and not a federal or state facility, there is an entrance fee ($13 for adults). But it is worth it due to the quality and detail within the gates of this vast site.
|Sign at Pamplin Park's entrance|
"April 2, 1865. Here the Union's 5th Army Corps broke through the Confederate line defending Petersburg, during a series of attacks which eventually led to the evacuation of the city by Lee's army that evening."
|A.P. Hill death marker|
The sign's last line reads: "Nearby, Confederate General A.P. Hill was killed in the day's fighting."
The marker, which we made a point to locate outside the Pamplin park, reads as follows: "To the memory of A.P. Hill, Lt-Gen. C.S.A. He was killed about 600 yards northwardly from this marker, being shot by a small band of stragglers from the federal lines on the morning of April 2nd, 1865. Erected by the A.P. Hill Camps Sons of Confederate Veterans- Petersburg, Va."
|A.P. Hill in a Pamplin park display|
Hill was a corps commander in Lee's Army of Northern Virginia at the time of his death. He was 39 years old.
The Pamplin Civil War site was a treasure to visit for the first time! It has only been around since the 1990s.
It has an interesting history of private development. It is named for Dr. Robert Pamplin, whose descendants owned and lived on these 400-plus acres during the war. He is credited with rescuing these important historic grounds from suburban development. Read more about the park's background here.
And we picked a good day to visit, the day after Memorial Day. We really only saw a handful of other people the entire 3-plus hours we were there.
There are also displays of guns and other weaponry.
Visitors are given headsets to hear narrations to go along with the various points of interest along the museums halls and display rooms.
Visitors can also select from about a dozen Southern and Northern soldiers, to hear perspectives of a particular man, gleaned from actual diaries and other writings.
Some of these men survived the war, some didn't. You have to wait until the end of the tour to learn your "chaperone's" fate.
It felt very realistic in conveying to some degree what combat must have been like.
This fallen soldier shown on the left moves and opens his eyes as you walk by. He gave a startling chill to both of us!
Rifle pits and trenches are marked throughout the battlefield.
It's amazing what Mr. Pamplin and all of his supporters, historians and other workers have done to preserve and interpret what had been a little-known and documented crucial final stage of the Civil War!
The information on the many displays along the trail are so specific. You are literally standing and seeing where it all happened, that crucial Union breakthrough of what had been impenetrable Confederate fortifications.
I learned that over time there were many Union units that claimed credit for the initial breakthrough here. Pamplin seems to go with Vermonters on this matter.
Brig. Gen. Samuel McGowan was a lawyer from Abbeville, S.C. who here commanded five regiments of some 1,400 men from the Palmetto State. McGowan, who commanded a brigade in Gen. A.P. Hill's corps, was responsible for maintaining these fortifications from October 1864 until the Federals broke through in early April 1865.
McGowan, who was wounded at Chancellorsville and Spotsylvania, and his staff occupied this plantation house, which is part of the Pamplin park and open to visit.
Stuart would not be part of Lee's retreat, having been killed at Yellow Tavern in 1864.
This is a tobacco curing barn....
Kids, big and small, will enjoy what's inside this small structure. Drums, guns and soldiers' uniforms are there to play with and try on.
Every state, North and South, is represented with the number of men who served in the military and how many died during the war.
For South Carolina, the number given is 80,462 who served and 17,682 who died.
For such a small population state compared to the others, South Carolina contributed heavily proportionally in manpower- and bloodshed.
I have in the past been to the main Petersburg battlefield. I never knew about Pamplin until preparing for this trip.
Now I am glad this was the first stop of the day, because we did spend a lot of time at Pamplin and felt like we did see everything to see there.
If you do go, don't be in a hurry. There is so much to see both inside the main museum and a smaller second one.
And you'll want to take your time to explore the plantation house and outer buildings, and to walk the trails that show and explain what happened here that was so significant in bringing the long war to a rather sudden end, after this breakthrough battle.
After departing Pamplin Park, we began our search for the "Lee's Retreat" route.
Signage for the little known White Oak Road Battlefield was the first marker we came upon.
Not too much to see here other than these two signs. I think there was a walking trail too, but we opted to skip that, being a bit tired after the hours spent at Pamplin.
Five Forks was among the spots I wanted to see. This was one of the last major battles between Lee and Grant's army.
At this junction of five roads, one can see why the area is called Five Forks. And it was pretty cool that this is the actual intersection that was of strategic importance to both armies.
Robert E. Lee was so upset with Pickett that he removed him from command. But apparently Pickett did not receive word of Lee's removal of him. Pickett would continue with this troops to the bitter end at Appomattox.
Union Gen. Gouverneur Warren would also be removed from his command after this battle by Gen. Phillip Sheridan, who, on this Five Forks marker, is shown charging the rebel defenses.
Near this center is a walking trail showing various troop positions and remains of Southern defensive trenches.
But Grant would not allow that to happen.
Blocking roads and disrupting rail lines used to support Lee's army were a big part of Grant's strategy.
There is room at each stop to safely pull over the car and read and see what happened nearby.
It's interesting to try to envision the action that took place while standing on the very spot, or near, where it actually did.
"Destruction of ties, rails, culverts and bridges began in earnest," according to a member of the 5th New York Cavalry, as shared on the Ford's Depot sign.
On the heels of the bad Confederate defeat at Five Fork's, Sailor's Creek, just a few days later, would be, to use the cliche, the straw that broke the camel's back.
Sailor's Creek Battlefield is a sprawling, well-marked and maintained site that encompasses parts of three rural Virginia counties: Amelia, Prince Edward and Nottoway.
This old marker that dates to 1928 concisely sums up Sailor's Creek's significance: "Here Lee fought his last battle. April 6, 1865. Ewell almost won a great victory but was overwhelmed by Sheridan."
Ewell, in fact would surrender his force here. The Union captured thousands of other Confederates here. And many Southerners saw the writing on the wall and just walked away from Lee's army.
The house is occupied today. I suppose the residents are used to folks stopping and trying to see the war scars.
Sailor's Creek has a really nice visitor's center, which we didn't get to spend too much time exploring because it closes at 5 p.m. and we didn't get there until about 4:45.
This was where Lee had expected to resupply his weary army, but that did not occur. A battle took place on April 5, the day prior to the decisive Sailor's Creek route of Lee's army.
Amelia Courthouse and a few other important places are along a highway other than 460, which I mostly stayed on.
But I'm not too disappointed. Between the two battlefields, I'd still take Sailor's Creek (shown in this mural at the center there) over Amelia Court House.
There's always next time, right? We'll get to Amelia and some of those other sites in the future, hopefully.
Sailor's Creek was very interesting and the driving tour featured many signs like this one.
Soon Grant would offer surrender terms.
No signage indicated the story behind it. Chains keep it from being stolen.
Today, as it was back then during the war, this central Virginia region was rich in agriculture.
It was fun and relaxing to see these quiet and open areas with so much green grass and beautiful trees.
Tobacco was big in Virginia back in the 18th and 19th centuries. We didn't see any of that where we went, but did see lots of hay like you see here.
The Battle of High Bridge, really two battles, was fought on April 6-7, 1865 The massive span crosses the Appomattox River near Farmville and Lee needed to cross it.
Today, High Bridge is only for walking, not for trains, specifically the South Side Railroad, as it was back then.
Completed in 1854, High Bridge was a marvel of its time, standing 125 feet high and extending 2,400 feet.
|Alesia strolls on High Bridge near Farmville|
Today, High Bridge (once you find it- not easy!) is a really neat place to walk across.
Here is another link to the history of High Bridge that includes a few photographs from the 19th century.
whatbird.com, they are Common Ravens.
More of my Virginia birds can be seen here.
Billed as "36 Hours Before Appomattox" this is a must see when doing a "Lee Retreat" journey.
The Hampton Inn was very comfortable and included a really good breakfast to help us get started on the final stretch of our trip.
That night, we had a delicious dinner at Charley's Waterfront Cafe.
In Farmville, I wanted to check out this Confederate Cemetery. It wasn't what I expected.
The marker was dedicated just a few years ago as part of the local Civil War sesquicentennial remembrance.
The house was the home of Wilmer McLean and his family. They, ironically, moved here from their farm where the Civil War's first major battle took place: Bull Run (or Manassas).
The war started with them and ended with them!
The family would move back to Northern Virginia in 1867 and then would lose possession of what became known as the "surrender house" after Wilmer McLean defaulted on loan payments.
The National Park Service operates the historic Appomattox surrender site. Admission is free and guides are very friendly and well informed about the history here.
Visitors can go inside and see both the first and second floors.
Confederate armies elsewhere in the South
would surrender in the days and weeks ahead.
The young Confederate officer shown on the right, Major John Cheves Haskell, 23, of Columbia, was placed in charge of surrendering the Army of Northern Virginia's artillery.
Haskell, as stated in the display, had kind words for how he and his men were treated by his Union counterpart during the surrender proceedings. This display did not say how he lost his arm.
Baine's Books and Coffee on Main Street. Then it was time to begin our long drive back to Charleston, which would take 8-9 hours.
It was an interesting drive back, through parts of Virginia, North and South Carolina we had not seen before.
It will be a cherished memory forever!