February 1862

One hundred-fifty years ago this month, events moved at a quicker pace in both east and west.

On the 6th General Ulysses S. Grant's Federal troops took Fort Henry along the Cumberland River, opening the invasion of Tennessee.Ten days later, the much more formidable Fort Donelson likewise fell to Grant.Its 15,000 Confederate defenders were made prisoners when Grant demanded unconditional surrender.Overnight an entire Confederate army was taken prisoner, and the Union had a new hero, "Unconditional Surrender Grant."Nashville soon fell to Union forces, the first Confederate state capital to be taken.

Farther to the west, Confederate forces under General H. H. Sibley invaded the New Mexico Territory from Texas.On the 21st the southerners defeated Union troops at Valverde along the Rio Grande.From there they moved on to occupy Santa Fe.The Confederacy claimed this western territory as its own, and now had a military force in place to occupy it.

On the 22nd in Richmond, Jefferson Davis was formally inaugurated as President of the Confederate States of America.

For the Appomattox County men of Company B, of the 46th Virginia, eastern North Carolina would be no more enjoyable than western Virginia. After landing at Nags Head, they encountered a desolate area: it was isolated, with a harsh climate, and was cold and windy - not the vacation spot modern day readers associate with the Outer Banks.The unit was assigned to Roanoke Island to defend it from General Ambrose Burnsides' Union forces.Burnside attacked the island on the 8th, overwhelming the Confederate defenders.Nearly all of Company B, also known as the Liberty Guards, were taken prisoner.They were led by Lieutenant John Lawson and his brother, Lieutenant James Lawson.Rather than go to prison camps, the men were paroled, after agreeing to not fight again and not to divulge any information concerning the island.From here they were sent to Elizabeth City, then on to Norfolk, and finally Richmond and home.A new Company B was recruited from Appomattox County, with about 45 new recruits joining the ranks.

In the camp of the 2nd Virginia Cavalry near Centreville, Sam Sweeny arrived and brought his banjo.One of the talented Sweeny family musicians, Sam provided entertainment around the unit's campfires and on marches throughout the war.

With Grant's invasion of Tennessee and Union forces penetrating along the Mississippi River and the Carolina coast, the Union's strategy of chipping away at the Confederacy was well underway.It looked to be a short war after all.

Back in Appomattox County, Sarah Evelyn Gilliam learned the news that two of her cousins had died.Lieutenant George Abbitt returned to the county to recruit new men for the Liberty Guards of the 46th Regiment.Lieutenant Thomas Tibbs of Appomattox Court House also returned to his home town to recruit men for the 2nd Virginia Cavalry.By now the county had contributed over 400 of its healthy young men (and many who were neither young nor healthy), to the cause, 1/5 of its white male population.

Thomas Bocock, of Appomattox County was elected Speaker of the Confederate House of Representatives.Francis Meeks, owner of a general store in Appomattox, finally received his dead son Lafayette's military pay of $30.40.

This article is part of a monthly series commemorating the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War. War is complex, and through this series we hope to highlight the experiences of those who lived through the most traumatic period of our nation's history.We also wish to build interest in the coming of the 150th Anniversary of the surrender at Appomattox, in 2015. Over the course of the next three years, the park will hold special events and programs related to the Civil War's 150th Anniversary.Contact Park Historian Patrick Schroeder with questions or comments at 434-352-8987 ext. 32 or Patrick_Schroeder@nps.gov.

Last updated: January 13, 2018

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Appomattox Court House National Historical Park
P.O. Box 218

Appomattox, VA 24522

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