It was now three years ago that I spent my birthday weekend at the 150th Appomattox commemoration. You can read about it here, here, here, and here. History friend Mel and I spent four days touring both the historical village of Appomattox Court House and the local industrial complex with the more vigorous reenactments and a much larger cadre of living historians. This included saying farewell to Al Stone as General Lee of Lee’s Lieutenant’s, a Confederate officer reenacting group I had seen for years around the Northern Virginia battlefields. Mr. Stone was the best incarnation of Lee I’ve seen in person or in cinema and it was sad, yet fitting, that he was going to officially retire after the 150th Appomattox.
Al Stone at the Appomattox 150th in 2015.
Anyway. Fast forward two weeks from then.
My Civil War discussion group wanted to trace Lee’s retreat through Virginia to the final surrender at Appomattox, so we planned to start in Richmond and hit all of the stops on the way to Appomattox.
It’s been kind of slow over here in Domer/in/DC-land, at least in regards to history-related things. In non-history related things, I’ve learned what the turbo in my car’s engine is, that is, how it’s not good when it leaks oil …
But despite that, I was able to make it to a local historical society’s Monthly Meeting of History Things. This month’s topic was on local Civil War Generals. There are several dozen Civil War Generals buried in a single cemetery outside of Philadelphia, Laurel Hill Cemetery, and there are probably a dozen buried elsewhere in the area. This particular talk covered four specific generals, but there are many, many more to research.
From the event description:
During the Civil War, Philadelphia raised over 50 infantry and cavalry regiments, and its manufacturers made uniforms, weapons and warships for the war effort. The city also hosted the two largest military hospitals in the country to care for the sick and wounded. And Philadelphia sent at least twelve generals off to fight for the Union (and one who chose to fight for the Confederacy!) The most famous of these generals, George Gordon Meade, was given command of the Army of the Potomac on Sunday, June 28, 1863, and three days later led his army to victory in the largest, and most decisive, battle of the war – Gettysburg. Fellow Philadelphia generals Winfield Scott Hancock and John Gibbon turned back Pickett’s Charge during that battle. The other Philadelphia generals served with varying degrees of success.
Without a doubt, one of my all-time favorite historical figures is General Winfield Scott Hancock, commander of the 2nd Corps of the Army of the Potomac. Why? I’m not sure. It probably has something to do with his confidence and stunning competence. His dashing good looks are only a bonus.
A Sunday afternoon well spent.
In fact, long ago he edged out Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain because he (Hancock) doesn’t seem to have this weird, idealistic, Victorian misogyny. It was either by the end of high school or the end of freshman year of college where I knew Hancock was my guy. During my freshman year of college, I took a brave stab at being an engineering major, but it turns out I was incredibly not good at physics, calculus, chemistry, programming, and engineering. To comfort myself, I spent a lot of time on the 10th floor of the Hesburgh Library, reading through the Civil War section (which should have told me immediately that engineering was not my calling…) and my favorite find of this time was Hancock the Superb.
Just about every time I went back to campus, I would visit the book – up to the 10th floor, around to the right, third shelf up from the bottom on the 4th stack back. It would usually be a drive-by: I would locate the book, take it out, pet it a couple of times, and put it back.
Anyway, I came across this book in my local public library and decided to read it again to see if all the nostalgia was warranted. Verdict: It was.
On the fourth and final day of our historical vacation, Mel and I packed the car, took leave of our host, and drove back to the Industrial Park in time for the big surrender ceremony. As an added bonus, we were early enough we actually got parking on site.
It was only about 10 am but the camp was already a movin’ and shakin’. Half of the sutlers had already packed up and left. Many of the reenactors were also packing up. There were a lot of trucks driving around the camp like modern day horses, with trailers and canon of various sizes in tow.
Al Stone’s final appearance as Lee
Again upon recommendation from our host, we got breakfast at this local indoor marketplace that’s only open on Saturdays. The crepes were a little bit of a wait but totally worth it, and we got to browse the variety of hand-made items for sale.
This day, Mel and I decided to to go to the industrial site, the one with loads more reenactors and sutlers that looks like an historical themed county fair. We couldn’t figure out how to sneak in (we tried), but we did get the schedule booklet and canvas bag (emblazoned with “Appomattox 150th” and credits) for free. I’m not sure if they realized I didn’t pay for it, or if they were being nice because I told them it was my birthday. I threatened to show my ID – a Virginia license, April 9 birthday, at the 150th Appomattox? It’s like I’m a nerd or something.
Day 2 began with a leisurely morning, breakfast on the go, and a return to the Court House site. This day was filled mostly with pictures and wandering around the town. Fortunately there were many interpretive signs scattered through the town to read and many people to watch/overhear/interrogate. In the back of the town was a sign that said “Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain Site” with an arrow, so naturally Mel and I had to go check it out, as our mutual affection and appreciation for Chamberlain brought us together in the first place. (It was a path that eventually led to the highway so it wasn’t very exciting.)
History friend Mel and I found a place to stay on Airbnb in nearby Lynchburg, VA. Lynchburg is a really cute city and the loft we stayed in was a refurbished shoe factory. It looked old and historic on the outside and was right on the James River. Actually, it was a fantastic location and we enjoyed the few places in town we visited. I would consider living in Lynchburg. [ Please note, it was named after John Lynch in 1757, and *not* because people got lynched there…just clarifying because I had this conversation with someone.]
We arrived at the Court House on the 9th of April just after a reenactment of Lee’s surrender to Grant. (I noted with some sadness it was not Al Stone of Lee’s Lieutenants.) We spent the rest of the day weaving in and out of clusters of people while looking through the buildings. There was a lot of history to absorb while avoiding people and horse droppings. The National Park Service was the designated authority on this site, and between herding people and answering questions, they too were discussing the historical events and aftermath surrounding Appomattox. Park Rangers make me so happy.
They were discussing what sort of superpowers the Union would need. This conversation also included the words “spidey senses” and “jazz hands.” I love park rangers.