We have descended Roan Mountain after a pleasant stay in two and a half days of sun that eluded us again as we left. Down on the Blue Ridge we found the Parkway of the same name at somewhat lower elevations. The views were interesting as always although there is much construction there. Some of the pictures show the clouds. Unfortunately, they were in the same direction we were headed.
We left Tennessee and North Carolina behind and moved into Virginia at Rocky Mount. The day was short on miles and long on time since I traveled the low impact roads as always and rain showers began to dog us by early afternoon. I put in at the Fairy Rock State Park, one of the oldest in Virginia opened in 1936. It is a curious place with a large lodge and day use areas while the camping is at the top of the highest hill with sheer drops away from the campsites. It very much looks like the oldest state park. The charm of it is that it is so remote and one of the quietest places I have been in a long time. Wild turkey and deer walk about without regard to our presence. There are 55 sites. Three were occupied so far as I could tell and none that could be seen from the windows of the camper. A late evening stroll found that there use electricity penuriously. We campers get it and the public restroom appears to have one bulb near the door. It was as dark a camp as I have been in that wasn’t classified as primitive. No thunder came tonight, nor did showers fall, so the quiet remained unbroken.
I wasted an hour or more doing the week’s shopping in one of the south’s famous chains, “The Piggly Wiggly.” It’s hard to remember the last time I was in one and there seem to be fewer of them. We moved on then through Lynchburg, which seems to be wholly owned and operated by Jerry Falwell and Liberty University. The main highway and the Airport are named after him as are a few other miscellaneous overpasses. It is a big and annoying town that lacks a highway bypass. Finally, a short way up Route 24 we find the place we came to see, Appomattox Court House.
Considering the enormity of what was accomplished here, it seems a small memorial. The Court House here in the 1860’s burned soon thereafter and no one did much with the village that surrounded it to remember that the most significant and saddest war in the history of the country ended here. This is the place where the slaughter stopped, and the great experiment of a separate nation was declared over. The guns grew silent and on April 9, 1865, General Lee surrendered the Army of Virginia. Even at this last moment, 18 Confederate soldiers died in the effort and one Union. They are buried here together in the “Confederate Cemetery” down the road.
The village is all the more a sad place for the finality of what happened here. For years, it lay ignored while the town of Appomattox was favored with the railroad. The small but flourishing place was remembered only with bitterness by the locals, both for the loss of the rail stop and the indignity of being the last place Lee would command their Army. The signing here did not end the war until the other Armies still in the field surrendered, Gen. Joseph Johnston’s in North Carolina on April 26th, Richard Taylor’s in Alabama on May 4th, and Edmund Smith’s in Texas on June 2nd. Only then did the Confederacy cease to exist.
The only trivia that intrigued me was the new knowledge that neither Lee nor Grant ever went in the Court House. The actual surrender took place in the parlor of a home nearby in the house owned by Wilmer Mclean, a sugar speculator who had moved here from Manassas Virginia to be near the railroad during the war. So those of us who grew up in the north believing that the surrender took place at Appomattox Court House were confused. It was the town name, not the place.
It is, as all these monuments to this most American War, a quiet and contemplative place. A place to remember that whatever the point, too many young men died for a cause that arguably proved nothing to anyone but the slaves now freed yet still deemed inferior by so many in both the South and the North. It did not end segregation or racism, just the practice of one man owning another.
The rain, heavy at times today, will leave with us in the morning. I will go back West again to the mountains. There will not likely be better weather. I hope only for more good people to meet and learn from as this journey of discovery continues as we head further north by the end of the week to join family for Memorial Day. Then we will turn for home on a route yet unchartered.
So it goes…