I did not realize that there was quite so much to Appomattox Court House National Historic Park. The small crossroads village had been turned into a sort of open air museum, with houses that replicated the scene (more or less) as it had been when Lee surrendered to Grant at the McLean farmhouse. It was nice, and a bit odd after all our time in remote areas to see a town. In all, it was done to much better effect than Harpers Ferry, which had felt frantic and jumbled and a bit commercial.
|The Meeks store, foreground, with the McLean farmhouse back and to the left.|
The McLean farmhouse itself, though not much remains of its original structure, was definitely worth seeing. After seeing Matthews Hill at Manassas, where the war began, what seemed like weeks ago, we were now seeing the room in which it ended.
|The McLean farmhouse.|
|Interior of the parlor. Lee sat at the marble-topped table to the left, Grant at the smaller table to the right.|
I have to say, I have never felt outright uncomfortable in a museum before because of its point of view. Perhaps I've been naive until this moment, but I felt that the museum portrayed the Civil War from a bias that was so far from my own beliefs about the conflict that it was nearly hostile.
|Entering the exhibit halls, starting with the reasons for war (emphasis on states' rights) and the excitement of going off to war.|
It had wonderful collections, and some really engaging exhibits, but the story was decidedly Lost Cause, rather than Preserve the Union. There seemed little attempt to present both sides. Rather, words like "honor" and "romance" were used non-ironically to describe the actions of generals. I have been trying to remember if I noticed any mention at all of slavery. I don't think I did. There may have been one or two side mentions, but nothing substantive.
In case you can't read it, here is the description of Appomattox and the Confederate decision to surrender:
How To Surrender?
At Appomattox, General Lee ran out of options.The exhibits continued on to describe Grant's offering of parole at Appomattox. I'm not sure Grant's decision had much to do with honor, more with practicality. Nothing in this label is wrong. In fact, I think it's a pretty good example of label writing: succinct, descriptive, informative. I just find it a bit uncomfortable to use words like "proud" and "honorable" in this context. Is it just because my point of view is being challenged? Is there actually a troubling characterization here? I've thought about this for some time, and I'm still not sure.
The ranks of his proud army had thinned. The Federal army controlled the Southside Railroad at Appomattox Station, Lee's lifeline to supplies and successful retreat to North Carolina.
The question shifted from how to keep fighting to how to surrender.
Lee's foe offered an honorable answer.