My Trip to Appomattox (part two)

(For part one, see here)

Following lunch in Appomattox, we headed to the brand new Museum of the Confederacy’s Appomattox facility.  It’s only appropriate to note that I visited it with Jeff Davis (really) and his wife, Janet (not Varina).  The museum is west of the Appomattox Court House NHS, on the northeast corner of the junction of Virginia State Route 24 and US 460.

The building largely stands alone … the vegetation has not really taken, and one hopes that down the road the building will be framed by more trees.

 

As you walk to the entrance you see fifteen flags …. fourteen state flags (representing the states that contributed soldiers to the Confederacy) as well as the current United States national colors.  Along the brick roadway you see several paved stone rectangles … each commemorating an event, a state, or a person (and each offering a donor opportunity).  Here’s one example:

I looked westward in vain to see some people who have taken a great interest in the museum.  Perhaps one day they’ll contribute a marker outlining their stand.  For now, however, the hillside they occupied is bare.

The real action is inside the building.  As you enter the museum, you encounter the sword Robert E. Lee wore when he surrendered his army to Grant.  Elsewhere there are various uniforms (including the uniform coat Lee wore that fateful Palm Sunday) as well as a good number of Confederate flags.  Clearly the Museum of the Confederacy has taken advantage of the opportunity to display its holdings.  Nearly half of the walking area addresses the retreat from Richmond and the pursuit to Appomattox, the surrender, and the postwar period, including a very interesting display about Appomattox itself, featuring a discussion of whether to construct a rather large monument near the McLean House in the 1930s (thankfully, this was not done).

The museum walks a fine line throughout its displays.  The MOC does not shy away from discussing slavery, secession, and the Confederacy, including the last-gasp effort to enroll slaves in Confederate ranks as combat soldiers.  It addresses the home front as well as the experience of the common soldier, balancing that with the artifacts of far more prominent Confederates.  Yet, for those who like uniforms, weapons, and flags, there’s much to see as well.  The number (and condition) of the various Confederate flags on display (including several that are stored in a flag cabinet, where one has to pull out a drawer to see the flag up close) is impressive.  Touch-screen displays allow one to design one’s own Confederate national flag (with examples from the period) and to look at images of the flags surrendered at Appomattox.  Currently the museum has a special exhibit on how the Confederate flag has been used throughout the last 150 years that has its moments of humor (and I’d argue that RuPaul would feel right at home in that exhibit, although perhaps a life-size image was a tad too much).

If you are interested in an introduction to the history of the Confederacy, this is one place to start.  It manages to address the concerns of various audiences.  Yes, there are an abundance of artifacts; yes, the role of slavery is given due attention; yes, we learn something about the last days of the Army of Northern Virginia, its surrender, and a brief look at events in the last 150 years that does not shy away from areas of controversy.  Over time, I’m sure the museum will develop its displays as it discovers different ways to tell the stories it wants to tell and to allow visitors to wrestle with several key questions without overpowering them with a particular point of view.

 

 

My Trip to Appomattox (part one)

Recently I had occasion to travel to Appomattox to visit the site where Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Ulysses S. Grant.  I’ve been to the NPS site before (several times), but there’s a new attraction in town that I’d thought I’d stop by and visit as well.  More on that later.

Appomattox Court House NHS is a partially reconstructed version of the little hamlet that became famous one spring day in 1865.  The two most famous buildings there are reconstructed: the court house itself (which is now park headquarters and a museum) and Wilmer McLean’s home, which had once been dissembled to take on tour.  You can visit the essential park in a few hours; however, there’s more to see if you plan for a somewhat longer visit.  In this case, I planned a brief (for me) visit … I did not even walk out to Surrender Triangle or the site where Grant and Lee met on April 10, although I’ve done that before.  Nor did I visit several other locations along the road that now bypasses the site (for example, the location of the famous apple tree where Lee received a note from Grant).  I suggest that if you have not visited the area that you set aside some time to visit these areas as well.

Here I am on the porch of the McLean house.  Yes, that’s a Yankees cap.

Inside the house you can see where Grant sat …

. . .and where Lee sat:

However, the pieces of furniture are reproductions … the real deal is elsewhere (see comments).

It is not a particularly big room, by the way, and it must have felt crowded with Grant’s staff officers and several generals present.  Lee was accompanied by a single aide, Charles Marshall, his other aide (Walter H. Taylor) having bowed out.

Then there is the famed court house …

Behind the court house one can look off into the distance and see Surrender Triangle to the east:

West of the small town one comes across two very interesting sites.  The first is this marker, which engages in a bit of distortion:

The number of Confederates who surrendered at Appomattox was over triple what is declared here.  Many were not armed, as soldiers had cast away their weapons, a sign of just how beleaguered Lee’s men had become.

Near this marker is a small cemetery.  It is called a Confederate cemetery, and indeed all but one of its occupants were Confederates.  Howver, there is one Yankee interred there:

Something to think about.

More soon