Today marks the 150th anniversary of General Robert E. Lee’s surrender, and the closing moments of the Civil War. After realizing that his exhausted and weakened army was surrounded, Lee exchanged a series of notes with Union General Ulysses S. Grant. They finally agreed to meet on April 9, 1865 at Wilmer McLean’s home in the village of Appomattox Court House. Their meeting lasted approximately two and a half hours, after which Lee surrendered his troops to Union forces.
This was indeed a sad day for the South, because it meant the end of states’ rights, as well as a more unified central government. It was sad for the country as a whole, because over 620,000 men lost their lives. Freed slaves thought it was the happiest day until they discovered later on that the Federal government had no intention of helping them prosper as a society. Because of this lack of support, many freedmen suffered from lack of food, medicine, etc., and had no other recourse but to return to their now impoverished former owners and beg for jobs. Thus, sharecropping began.
Appomattox Courthouse is now an historic national treasure. Wilmer McLean’s house has been restored, as have several other outbuildings at the tavern, located at a crossroads intersection. The road where Confederate soldiers lined up to surrender their arms still exists.
All of the buildings were in severe decay when restoration began. Mr. McLean lived at the home for five years after the war until his debt forced him to move back to Northern Virginia, where his wife owned a home. From that time until the 1970’s, the house and surrounding buildings stood vacant. Restoration is still in process.