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Jun 07

Our Exploration of America continues!

Appomattox, Virginia

IMG_0558When we started planning our trip we learned that a Reenactment would be taking place to mark the 150th Anniversary of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Union General Ulysses S. Grant on April 9 at the McLean House in Appomattox, Virginia, and we knew we had to be there, even though we are not die-hard Civil War fans!  This event effectively ended the Civil War, although other battles continued for several months.

The National Park Service was responsible for the entire Event and they did a fantastic job.  Throughout the event there were talks by civil war experts, demonstrations of the Stacking of Arms, Confederate and Union Artillery … and much more.  We found out later that more than 6,000 people (even some from overseas!) attended over the course of five days and we are sure there were at least 2,000 on April 9th when we were there to witness the Surrender of General Lee at the McLean House.

IMG_4011The morning was cold and foggy when we arrived … the exact conditions that the troops encountered 150 years ago!  We watched – and heard – as the Union and Confederate troops exchanged mortar fire, the smell of gunpowder and clouds of smoke billowing into the air.  As we walked through the Village, we saw the Union Army encampments, troops sleeping in make-shift tents, fires smoldering in the rain. Even some of the visitors were dressed in period clothes.  It was easy to lose yourself in the moment and time.

IMG_0559Every activity took place at exactly the same time as it did 150 years ago! The surrender meeting was from 1:30pm – 3:00pm at the McLean House.   It would normally have taken place at the Courthouse, however, this day 150 years ago was Palm Sunday and the Court House was closed.  Wilmer McLean offered his home for the meeting.  We saw Lee and Grant arrive and enter the house.  Then at 3:00pm, the surrender terms agreed upon, Lee mounted his horse and rode south to his encampment to the mournful sound of Auld Lang Syne.   We spectators stood in complete silence watching him ride away, aware of the magnitude of the moment.  We’ll never forget it.  This   is a great link for more information.

The cost of human life over the four years was unbelievable.  More people died in the American Civil War than the two World Wars combined…. 620,000 people…. often brothers against brothers.  But at last the country could start to heal and become “one nation” again.

Washington DC, the nation’s capital

IMG_4204Once again, our timing was Perfect!  We arrived at the peak of the Cherry blossoms and, based on our travel background, decided to buy a “hop-on-hop-off” Trolley ticket for at least the first day.  This would give us a feel for how we wanted to spend the remaining three days.  It was a bright sunny day and the sides of the trolley were open for us to get the best views of the city.  Our driver, who called himself “The Professor” did an excellent job of giving an explanation of the buildings and history of the monuments we passed.

The highlight of the day was driving around the Tidal Basin and seeing the Cherry Blossoms in full bloom.  What an amazing sight! Before we left, four days later, the peak was already over and many of the petals were on the ground. It’s well known that the Cherry trees were a gift from Japan and we learned that the first 2,000 trees were found to be infested with insects and nematodes and had to be destroyed.  A further donation of over 3,000 trees followed and were planted in 1912.  It‘s an interesting story

IMG_4274We decided to have Chinese food for lunch and asked “The Professor” for a recommendation.  He promptly replied “the Wok & Roll” in Chinatown!  He explained that this restaurant was located in a building that had at one time been a boarding house operated by Mary Surratt and that John Wilkes Boothe was staying there when planning the assassination of President Lincoln.  The food was good although a little pricey but there is something about having lunch in such an historic building!

Before heading home, we stopped at the National Portrait Gallery and enjoyed the impressive “America’s Presidents” collection.  We would have liked to explore more of the galleries but it had been a long day with quite a lot of walking.  We needed to conserve our energy for the next day and at our age we need to pace ourselves!

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