• The village of Appomattox Court House from the west, the McLean House is on the right.

    Appomattox Court House

    National Historical Park Virginia

September 1861

Steam-Frigate

                  Naval Steam-Frigate

Pressure for action had been mounting on both sides in the west, the area of operations that included Kentucky, Tennessee, and the Mississippi River Valley.On September 3, 1861, the stalemate broke as Confederate troops entered the state of Kentucky. The border state had earlier announced its neutrality, and for months opposing forces gathered along its northern and southern borders. Now both sides rushed to take control of this strategic state.

On the 11th, fighting erupted near Cheat Mountain in western Virginia. General Robert E. Lee's attack plan failed because of a combination of difficult terrain, inexperienced troops, and poor weather.

Along the coastline of the Confederacy, the Union navy's blockade became more effective. As more ships came on line, the blockade grew stronger, gradually becoming more difficult for ships to deliver supplies to southern ports.

As harvest time approached, residents of Southside Virginia looked ahead to winter preparations. Salt was a critical commodity for food preservation, and the war had interrupted regular supplies of it for civilians.

Appomattox community leaders John Flood, Henry Flood, Robert Boaz, and John Johns negotiated with Saltville mine owners for regular supplies of this product, as well as a stable price. Yet costs were higher than anticipated, and there was never enough to go around. Rationing began and local residents gradually became accustomed to 'salt days' in which they gathered at Appomattox Station to receive their allotment.

George Peers, Appomattox County clerk, wrote of salt days: "One of the most perplexing questions confronting the court and the people, after the supply of salt had been cut off from the South by the blockade of her ports, was to provide a supply of salt, not only for the families of soldiers but for the whole people of the county, but this was done by making a contract with the salt works of Southwest Virginia to ship it here in car load lots at the expense of the county to be distributed to the people by a committee appointed by the court for that purpose. The supply being scant, this was done, by distributing to each family so many pounds for each member of it, proportioned according to weight shipment. A "salt day" as they were then called, was a great and exciting day at the railroad station. A representative from almost every family in the county, with his or her (a large number of hers amongst them) little white box was present (and this whether in rain or sunshine) and has his or her proportion as they appeared and were listed, weighed out and delivered.Each one who could pay and as not furnished by the county, paying cash to the committee, so much, per pound for his allowance. It was very precious and had to be kept with great care and it was not uncommon for one neighbor to have to borrow a cup full from another neighbor before another "salt day."

On September 22nd, the 38th Virginia, largely from Pittsylvania County, moved to a new campsite near Centreville, not far from Manassas. Diseases like measles, typhus, and others ravaged the unit. Six men died, and over 600 were incapacitated. In their camps near Centerville, the southern troops endured boring guard duty, rumors of movement, and inaction.

Did You Know?

General Lee leaving the McLean House

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.)