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Appomattox – the name echoes through history, beckoning people worldwide to this historic village nestled in the quiet Virginia countryside.
Just a two-hour drive west from Richmond, Virginia, Appomattox Court House is the site where Robert E. Lee surrendered Confederate forces to the Federal command of Ulysses S. Grant. The surrender, on April 9, 1865, ushered in the final days of the American Civil War as well as the first, halting footsteps of the journey toward citizenship for former slaves.
Stroll into the village and stop at the courthouse, a re-creation of the building that was the 19th-century seat of government in Appomattox County and today serves as the park's visitor center. There, you can talk with a ranger and find park brochures. Head to the second floor to tour the museum and view a short film in the theater. Kids can pick up a booklet at the information desk to begin a Junior Ranger program. The booklet, with its puzzles, quizzes, and searches, stimulates young minds and encourages youngsters to explore on their own.
At the courthouse, join one of the scheduled talks, presented daily from May through October. You'll hear about military events and village life from a 21st century perspective from a uniformed ranger. Gain a 19th century perspective from staff or volunteers outfitted in attire of the 1860s: you might meet a soldier, a former slave, a doctor, or a citizen of the village. For these characters, the year is always 1865.
You can tour the village at your own pace. Visit a lawyer's office, county jail, general store, and tavern to get a feeling for 19th century village life. At Clover Hill Tavern, the neighborhood's oldest building, you'll learn how 30,000 paroles were printed and distributed to surrendering Confederate soldiers. A small bookstore is located in the kitchen building behind the tavern.
Walk in the footsteps of villagers on the historic Richmond-Lynchburg Stage Road. Imagine the traffic and bustle of 19th century village life or the somber faces of Confederate soldiers surrendering their weapons, ammunition, and battle flags along the road on April 12, 1865.
No visit to this village would be complete without a stop at the McLean House. Constructed on the foundation of the original structure, the house today is a faithful representation of the home of Wilmer and Virginia McLean. Their home witnessed one of the most momentous events in American history. Visit the parlor where Lee and Grant met. Tour the rest of the house to learn how the McLean family lived.
Contrast their accommodations with those of their slaves just behind the house. Visit the detached kitchen and slave quarters to learn about the contributions of enslaved and free blacks to the history of Appomattox County.
Several other points of interest await visitors along Route 24, which bisects the park. A cell phone tour brochure, available in the visitor center, supplements historical markers and displays along the road to enhance your visit to each one of these sites.
Appomattox Court House is open 360 day a year from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Plan your visit!
By Jim Godburn, park ranger, Appomattox Court House National Historical Park
Editor's note: Five days of 150th anniversary commemorative events are planned from April 8 to April 12, 2015 at Appomattox Court House to mark the end of America's Civil War.