Today was finally the last day of a very long week of training. We spent the day heading to Rice’s depot and seeing the state run park Sailor’s Creek and then the various spots of Lee’s retreat from the Farmville area, the High Bridge, and then back to Appomattox itself.
So our first stop this morning at about 8:30 this morning was Rice’s depot. This is where on April 6th, General Lee was at when the battle of Sailor’s Creek was raging on. He rode from here to Sailor’s Creek as the battle was ending and he saw his men retreating, and that is when General Lee remarked, “My God, has the Army been dissolved?”
Back into the car and we head to Sailor’s Creek State Park. I had actually visited Sailor’s Creek, and by that I mean I went to the visitors center last summer but was with my disabled mother who could not walk the battlefield. So actually driving to the different spots and seeing the battlefield itself was super interesting. Despite my avid love of the Civil War, I have never been able to fully understand reading about battles unless I am actually able to watch it in a film or diagram, or be on the battlefield itself.
The Lockett house is a not very far from the visitor center and super cool because it still shows obvious signs of bullet damage. The home is still privately owned by the family and well maintained, but just standing across the road from the house we could see the damage inflicted upon the house when fighting took place all around it on April 6th.
We also had a tour of the Hillsman house which was turned into a field hospital during the battle. Initially the home had been used by Confederate forces, but then as they were overwhelmed by the Federals they vacated the premises and then the Union Army took over the home. All the while the Hillsman family, was hiding in the basement. These people were subjected to listening to the battle rage outside for a few hours plus they had to listen to the amputations and surgeries that were happening upstairs, all while blood seeped through the floorboards. Perhaps one of the most interesting things we saw today was that there was still blood stains on the floor boards of the house. Our friend Jim who also participates in our living history program at Appomattox Court House, but works for Sailor’s Creek informed us that people at Liberty University in Lynchburg are hoping to do genetic testing on the blood to see what they can dig up.
After we left Sailor’s Creek, we headed on to the High Bridge. The High Bridge is a bridge hundreds of yards above the Appomattox River. It was crossed by the Confederate Army and they had burned the bridge behind them so as to keep the Federal’s from following. What they did not account for was the wagon bridge below that the Union Army was able to use to cross the river.
The view from High Bridge was absolutely stunning. We have had quite a lot of rain here in Virginia lately, and as you can see in the photo of the Appomattox River, the river itself was up very high.
On our way back to following Lee’s retreat route, we stopped at a private Confederate Cemetery that was created by the United Daughter’s of the Confederacy. This land was used throughout the whole war to bury those that had died in the nearby hospitals.
One of our new seasonal rangers at the park photobombed my picture.
I always love the story of Grant’s headache being cured the minute he got Lee’s letter the next day. Most likely an exaggeration by Grant in later years, but all the same it is a fun story. As you can see in the sign above, he had been camped out at Clifton in the home of a local man. He had been suffering for a migraine for quite awhile and he was doing everything he could to relieve the pain. Many people use this as an excuse to say that Grant was simply a drunkard and suffering from a hangover, this is just silly and idiotic. Despite the pain in his head, Grant allowed his men to dance around and have fun playing on a very out of tune piano in the downstairs parlor of the home they were staying in. To me this shows a side of Grant not often explored, because it emphasizes that he knew his men had not been afforded a lot of fun in a very long time.
Our last stop of the day was the hugely under appreciated site of Lee’s last headquarters. This was where Charles Marshall penned General Orders No. 9 (also known as Lee’s farewell address) and this is where the address was read for the first time.
This is also the spot where he returned to after the April 9th surrender meeting to announce the news to his soldiers. Here Lee uttered one of his most famous quotes and one of my personal favorites. So I will end this post with that quote;
“I have done the best I could for you. Go home now, and if you make as good citizens as you have soldiers, you will do well, and I shall always be proud of you.”