For Part 1 of Lee’s Retreat, go here.
Day Two dawned dry and nearly sunny, which was a welcome change. If it was as soggy as Day One, I’m pretty sure everyone was willing to go sit in a bar all day and forgo the adventure part of the trip.
During the weird continental/short-order breakfast, we planned our day. Much like the Civil Wargasm chapter of Confederates in the Attic, someone had brought documentation and was reading interesting and relevant parts to both contextualize where we were in the overall picture of Lee’s Retreat and to get us revved up for the ambitious day ahead that would take us the roughly 92.3 miles from Richmond to Appomattox.
The Confederates covered this distance on foot in two weeks.
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.
To conclude this birthday extravaganza:
SO MUCH INFORMATION
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.