Appomattox Court House Landscape

The Appomattox Court House Landscape marks the beginning of the country's transition to peace and reunification following four years of Civil War. This is the site of General Robert E. Lee's surrender to Lt. General Ulysses S. Grant in April, 1865. The rural landscape is also significant in areas of architecture and conservation, containing late 18th and early 19th century structures that represent the use and commemoration of the site.

"...valor and devotion could accomplish nothing that could compensate for the loss that must have attended a continuance of the contest, I determined to avoid the useless sacrifice of those whose past services have endeared them to their countrymen." General Robert E. Lee in his Farewell Address to the Army of Northern Virginia, April 9, 1865

The setting sun lights up clouds over brick buildings of a rural landscape.
The sun sets on the Appomattox Court House landscape.

NPS Photo / Appomattox Court House National Historical Park

A rural landscape with a three-story brick buildings, house in the background, and wooden fencing.
Structures, fencing, and roads are set within a landscape of scattered trees, lawns, and open fields. Appomattox County Jail (1870) and Bocock-Isbell House (1850) are part of the village cultural landscape at Appomattox Court House.

NPS Photo /Appomattox Court House National Historical Park

The Appomattox Court House village landscape is comprised of approximately ninety acres at the core of the Appomattox Court House National Historical Park in Appomattox County, Virginia. The broader park landscape includes the nineteenth century village surrounded by an agricultural matrix of open pastures and forested woodlands. The site is historically significant for its association with the final battle of the Civil War and Confederate General Robert E. Lee's surrender to Union Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant on April 9, 1865. The park is also significant in areas of military, conservation, commemoration, landscape architecture, and archeology (historic-non-aboriginal).  

The Richmond-Lynchburg Stage Road was established through what was to become Appomattox Court House in 1809. Capitalizing on location, Alexander Patteson opened the Clover Hill Tavern along the road in 1819. In 1845, when Appomattox County was created, his tavern was used for official business until the county courthouse was completed in 1846. Following construction, the village, which had been known as Clover Hill, was renamed Appomattox Court House. 

Soldiers pose with their guns along the wooden fence in front of the brick Court House.
The Appomattox County Court House several couple months after the surrender in 1865.

Photo courtesy of the National Archives

The Civil War came to Appomattox County in April 1865, when Confederate General Robert E. Lee retreated across Southside Virginia. After Confederate supply trains, wagon trains, and twenty-five cannons were captured by Union forces on April 8, a short battle ensued, and General Lee surrendered to Lieutenant General Grant.

Agreeing upon a neutral site, they met at the home of Wilmer McLean in Appomattox Court House on April 9 to discuss the terms of surrender. Following the war, the courthouse building burned in 1892, and the county seat was moved two miles east to Appomattox Station (now Appomattox). The move precipitated a period of decline for Appomattox Court House, with the houses either rented or abandoned.

Porches extend across the length of both levels of a two-story house with white siding.
Tibbs House as photographed in 1942.

NPS Photo

A private effort to commemorate Appomattox Court House for its association with the Civil War was begun in the late 1800s by the Appomattox Land Company under the leadership of General S.S. Burdette. However, in 1891, the centerpiece of the commemorative effort, the McLean House, was sold to another group of investors. Following dismantling of the house in 1893, the building lay in piles rotting near its original site. Plans to create a memorial and park languished until 1893, when ten commemorative iron tablets were erected. The North Carolina Monument followed in 1905. In 1930, the War Department was authorized to acquire one acre of land to erect a monument on the site of the burned courthouse. 

In 1933, the monument site was transferred from the War Department to the Department of the Interior. A 1939 Congressional act authorized acquisition of additional land, and in 1940 Appomattox Court House National Historical Monument was created by the Secretary of the Interior. Around this time, interest in restoring the village abounded, probably influenced by recent work at nearby Colonial Williamsburg. Following World War II, restoration and repair focused on the thirteen historic buildings and restoration of historic fields and fences. From 1949 to 1968, the National Park Service also reconstructed fourteen buildings, including the McLean House. Following reconstruction of the courthouse in 1964, the National Park Service visitor center was moved into the building.

A leafy tree grows beside a winding dirt road in a grainy black and white image.
In the 1930s, local efforts focused on preserving a tulip poplar tree under which, according to local legend, General Lee delivered his last address to troops. It is now known that that is not historically correct.

Plecker 1892, Appomattox Court House National Historical Park Collection (via NPS Cultural Landscape Inventory report)

Today, Appomattox Court House village offers a cohesive experience of a late nineteenth century rural Virginia community, characterized by narrow lanes surfaced with crushed stone that lead visitors between buildings, outbuildings, fenced yards, orchards, and small family burial plots. Sweeping views are well preserved by adjoining pasture and woodland, ensuring a landscape setting reminiscent of the late nineteenth century. Monuments mark the places associated with the events of April 1865, while the focal point of the village remains the reconstructed courthouse. The reconstructed McLean House is also open to park visitors. 

Quick Facts

  • Cultural Landscape Type: Historic Site / Vernacular
  • National Register Significance Level: National
  • National Register Significance Criteria: A,B,C,D 
  • Periods of Significance: 1865, 1930, 1935-1940, 1790-1968

Landscape Links

Last updated: May 17, 2019