Commemoration and Preservation
The commemoration of the events at Appomattox Court House began soon after the surrender. In 1866 village women formed a Ladies Memorial Association to gather and rebury Confederate dead in a cemetery. Residents, including Wilmer McLean, helped dig the graves. They dedicated the Confederate Cemetery that December.
In the following decades the village of Appomattox Court House fell on hard times. In the 1890s a chimney fire claimed the courthouse, and the McLean House was torn down in hopes of putting it on display in Washington, D.C. With the loss of these important buildings, and the fact that the railroad ran three miles to the south, the village entered a steady decline. There was little to mark where important events occurred. Visitors noted the “neglected” state of appearances and the “pile of rotting timbers” at the McLean House site.
In 1893 the War Department placed a series of metal plaques at important sites, like the location of the courthouse, McLean’s home, and the site of Confederate artillery. North Carolina veterans returned to the site in 1905 to mark the 40th anniversary of the surrender. They placed three monuments marking their positions during the final battle on April 9th, 1865.
Responding to local interest, the federal government first investigated the possibility of preserving the historic site in 1926. The War Department, which operated other Civil War sites, acquired one acre in 1930. A monument was proposed for the site.
The National Park Service
In 1935 the War Department transferred all historic sites and battlefields to the National Park Service. It was also decided that, rather than build a monument, the Park Service would restore the historic village to its 1865 appearance. On April 10, 1940, Congress created Appomattox Court House National Historical Monument to include approximately 970 acres. The following February, archeologists began work at the site, then overgrown with brush and honeysuckle. Historical data was collected, and architectural working plans were drawn up to begin the meticulous restoration process. The whole project stopped swiftly on December 7, 1941, with the bombing of Pearl Harbor causing the United States entry into World War II.
In 1964 the Park Service reconstructed of the courthouse and opened it as a museum and visitor center in 1965. This grand opening marked the Centennial Anniversary of the events at Appomattox. The next major anniversary commemorated was the 125th Anniversary in 1990. An estimated 4,000 re-enactors re-created the surrender ceremony along the old stagecoach road. Planning is now underway for the 150th Anniversary, to be marked in 2015.
Did You Know?
As General Lee left the McLean House, according to History of the 198th Regiment of the Pennsylvania Volunteers, “one of our bands, near by, through the generous impulse of the moment, struck up the appropriate air of Auld Lang Syne.” (Original instrument is exhibited at Appomattox Court House NHP.)