A Place Called Appomattox

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To tell the story of Appomattox Court House, Marvel says, is to tell the history of the South in the Civil War - a struggle that lasted not four years but a lifetime, between the first sectional rumblings and the last gasp of reactionary rhetoric." "Marvel draws on original documents, diaries, and letters composed as the events unfolded to produce a clear and credible portrait of this place and the galvanizing events that unfolded there that is both typical and extraordinary. He depicts a village where black and ...
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Chapel Hill, NC, U.S.A. 2000 Hardcover New in New jacket Book First Edition. 400 pgs. New, unread. Unpriced dj.

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Overview

To tell the story of Appomattox Court House, Marvel says, is to tell the history of the South in the Civil War - a struggle that lasted not four years but a lifetime, between the first sectional rumblings and the last gasp of reactionary rhetoric." "Marvel draws on original documents, diaries, and letters composed as the events unfolded to produce a clear and credible portrait of this place and the galvanizing events that unfolded there that is both typical and extraordinary. He depicts a village where black and white, rich and poor followed the fortunes of tobacco culture, and where - contrary to the Lost Cause image - rich and influential men managed to avoid the front if they preferred, leaving their poorer, older, and sometimes disabled neighbors to bear the battle for those who had begun it." "Marvel also scrutinizes Appomattox the national symbol, exposing many of the cherished myths surrounding the events there. In particular, he challenges the long-accepted view of the surrender, first perpetuated by Joshua Chamberlain and John B. Gordon, that enemies who had battled each other for four years suddenly laid down their arms and welcomed each other as brothers, setting aside political and philosophical differences that had fermented into hatred.
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Editorial Reviews

America's Civil War
William Marvel knows how to tell a good story. He is also a master at debunking myths and reinterpreting historical orthodoxy.
Virginia Quarterly Review
One comes away with a renewed sense of just how difficult life was then, and just how devastating the Civil War was for the South. Marvel's singular gift comes in the presentation of the narrative.
Civil War Times
Rare is the historian who strikes a happy chord in all three of the disciplines necessary to produce a quality work of history: research, analysis, and writing. Marvel garners high marks on all counts.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A small town in Virginia that was unknown until April 1865, Appomattox grew out of a county founded in 1845, a backwater devoid of any events that made a splash outside the community. Marvel (Andersonville, etc.) examines its history as the village grew and its people generally prospered. When war came in 1861, Marvel follows the local men and boys who enthusiastically flocked to the colors and marched off to war. By April 1865, more than a hundred of them had fallen on eastern battlefields, especially at Gettysburg. Typifying the wartime history of a Confederate village, Appomattox's economy was in shambles at times, diseases were occasionally rampant and emotions ran high as dead bodies were brought home during the war. Then, Appomattox was thrust into national fame when Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant in Wilmer McLean's house; three days later, most rebel forces in the vicinity paraded for the last time before silent Union troops, stacked their arms and flags and went home. Marvel critically assesses the moment and takes apart several myths, especially the writings of the now-famed Joshua Chamberlain, who played up his own role in the surrender ceremony. The village fell into ruin after the war and eventually became largely forgotten except by those veterans who returned to look upon the hallowed ground of 1865. Preservation efforts began in the 1920s, and the field and reconstructed courthouse continue to draw visitors. Marvel faithfully and adeptly chronicles all of this, in perhaps his best book to date. Photos and maps. (Oct.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
Appomattox Court House was nothing more than a rural hamlet before and after historical events brought the Confederate and Union armies together there. Marvel (The Alabama and the Kearsarge) chronicles the villagers' lives and many challenges, including class struggles with overbearing town elders, poor transportation, financial depressions, typhoid fever epidemics, and the loss of husbands, sons, and sweethearts in an increasingly unpopular civil war. Marvel's constant shifts between the war and its impact on the Appomattox homefront are not always seamless, but his account of local fighting in early 1865 is dramatically rendered. The author salutes the contributions of the Freedman's Bureau and the Union provost marshal's constabulary toward education and domestic tranquility, respectively, but concedes in closing chapters that a depressed regional economy, labor problems, and geographic isolation had doomed the long-range prospects of his settlement. Marvel's thoroughly researched and handsomely illustrated work is recommended for Civil War collections and most libraries.--John Carver Edwards, Univ. of Georgia Libs., Athens Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Lincoln Herald

We “know” three things about Appomattox Court House:

o Robert E. Lee surrendered to U.S. Grant there.

o Wilmer McLean relearned a bitter lesson he had already absorbed at Manassas: In real estate, it’s location, location, location.

o Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and John Brown Gordon commanded a dramatic surrender ceremony in which the victors saluted the vanquished and started the nation on its path to reconciliation.

Well, two out of three ain’t bad.

In A Place Called Appomattox, William Marvel departs from his social history of the Virginia village to explode a few myths about that ceremony.

The one about Grant’s selection of Chamberlain to command the formation is especially egregious. In Marvel’s view, Grant didn’t even envision such a ceremony. The generals he’d left in charge – John Gibbon and Charles Griffin – came up with it as a way rub the Southerners’ noses in defeat.

And Chamberlain wasn’t in command at all. His brigade was part of the Fifth Corps division that took the surrender, meaning Joseph Bartlett, the division commander, was actually in charge.

Was there a salute? Not really. In a move designed more to keep order than to greet the surrendering rebels, Chamberlain ordered his brigade to shoulder arms. Had he intended a salute, he would have told his men to present arms.

So how did the myth come about? In Marvel’s words, “while [Chamberlain] was courageous and coolheaded he also tended to wrap life’s little dramas in ribbons of romantic imagery in which he, himself, was somehow entwined.” Chamberlain embellished his memory of the event some thirty years after the fact, when comrades who could have disputed his version were long dead. When fellow politician Gordon caught wind of Chamberlain’s story, he chose not to refute it, but added a few frills of his own.

In Marvel’s book, the story of the surrender is the climax to a narrative that begins in 1845, when the Virginia General Assembly decided to carve out a new county. The county seat grew around a run-down tavern through events considerably less dramatic than the 1865 surrender that made the village famous.

In fact, so undramatic is the story of Appomattox and its people that, in less skilled hands, this book would be downright tedious. Marvel’s flair for language turns a collection of vital statistics – births, deaths, marriages and real estate transactions – into a living story of humanity.

In A Place Called Appomattox, we come to know some ordinary people who lived their lives in an extraordinary time. The war had a profound effect on those lives, even though there was little or no combat in the vicinity until that fateful Palm Sunday weekend in 1865.

Like their contemporaries from every community north and south, many of the village’s young men lost their lives in battle, and even more died of disease. But Marvel reminds us of a fact that’s frequently overlooked: The era’s diseases took almost as heavy a toll on those who stayed at home. (Typhoid fever seemed to be the biggest killer.)

Not every man of the village marched off to the defense of Old Virginia. A great many, especially those with money and influence, did what they could to stay out of harm’s way – joining the militia, finding an occupation that carried a draft exemption, or just pulling strings.

Newcomer Wilmer McLean, whose parlor was the site of the surrender, wasn’t the village’s most distinguished citizen. That title would belong to Thomas Bocock, a local politician who became Speaker of the Confederate House of Representatives.

Another resident was an even more storied figure – Sam Sweeney, the banjo-playing mascot of J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry. Sweeney’s brother, Joel, who also lived in the village, is credited with perfecting the five-string banjo, as well as developing the minstrel show as a vehicle for his new instrument.

Not long after the war ended, Appomattox Court House began to decline. By the turn of the century, it was almost a ghost town. It wasn’t the war or Reconstruction but mundane economic factors that led to the village’s demise. In fact, whatever life the locality has today is due to the war. With an assist from the National Park Service, it has become a tourist magnet.

A Place Called Appomattox is a lively, compelling look at the Civil War’s human story. And you’ll never think of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain the same way again.

.

— Jerry Carrier

From the Publisher
“William Marvel knows how to tell a good story. He is also a master at debunking myths and reinterpreting historical orthodoxy. . . . [A Place Called Appomattox] is sure to stand for generations to come as the most authoritative account of one tiny village’s collision with history.”—America’s Civil War

“Rare is the historian who strikes a happy chord in all three of the disciplines necessary to produce a quality work of history: research, analysis, and writing. Marvel garners high marks on all counts.”—Civil War Times

“One comes away with a renewed sense of just how difficult life was then, and just how devastating the Civil War was for the South.”—Virginia Quarterly Review

 

“. . . thoroughly researched and handsomely illustrated . . .”—Library Journal

Lincoln Herald - Jerry Carrier
We “know” three things about Appomattox Court House:

o Robert E. Lee surrendered to U.S. Grant there.

o Wilmer McLean relearned a bitter lesson he had already absorbed at Manassas: In real estate, it’s location, location, location.

o Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and John Brown Gordon commanded a dramatic surrender ceremony in which the victors saluted the vanquished and started the nation on its path to reconciliation.

Well, two out of three ain’t bad.

In A Place Called Appomattox, William Marvel departs from his social history of the Virginia village to explode a few myths about that ceremony.

The one about Grant’s selection of Chamberlain to command the formation is especially egregious. In Marvel’s view, Grant didn’t even envision such a ceremony. The generals he’d left in charge – John Gibbon and Charles Griffin – came up with it as a way rub the Southerners’ noses in defeat.

And Chamberlain wasn’t in command at all. His brigade was part of the Fifth Corps division that took the surrender, meaning Joseph Bartlett, the division commander, was actually in charge.

Was there a salute? Not really. In a move designed more to keep order than to greet the surrendering rebels, Chamberlain ordered his brigade to shoulder arms. Had he intended a salute, he would have told his men to present arms.

So how did the myth come about? In Marvel’s words, “while [Chamberlain] was courageous and coolheaded he also tended to wrap life’s little dramas in ribbons of romantic imagery in which he, himself, was somehow entwined.” Chamberlain embellished his memory of the event some thirty years after the fact, when comrades who could have disputed his version were long dead. When fellow politician Gordon caught wind of Chamberlain’s story, he chose not to refute it, but added a few frills of his own.

In Marvel’s book, the story of the surrender is the climax to a narrative that begins in 1845, when the Virginia General Assembly decided to carve out a new county. The county seat grew around a run-down tavern through events considerably less dramatic than the 1865 surrender that made the village famous.

In fact, so undramatic is the story of Appomattox and its people that, in less skilled hands, this book would be downright tedious. Marvel’s flair for language turns a collection of vital statistics – births, deaths, marriages and real estate transactions – into a living story of humanity.

In A Place Called Appomattox, we come to know some ordinary people who lived their lives in an extraordinary time. The war had a profound effect on those lives, even though there was little or no combat in the vicinity until that fateful Palm Sunday weekend in 1865.

Like their contemporaries from every community north and south, many of the village’s young men lost their lives in battle, and even more died of disease. But Marvel reminds us of a fact that’s frequently overlooked: The era’s diseases took almost as heavy a toll on those who stayed at home. (Typhoid fever seemed to be the biggest killer.)

Not every man of the village marched off to the defense of Old Virginia. A great many, especially those with money and influence, did what they could to stay out of harm’s way – joining the militia, finding an occupation that carried a draft exemption, or just pulling strings.

Newcomer Wilmer McLean, whose parlor was the site of the surrender, wasn’t the village’s most distinguished citizen. That title would belong to Thomas Bocock, a local politician who became Speaker of the Confederate House of Representatives.

Another resident was an even more storied figure – Sam Sweeney, the banjo-playing mascot of J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry. Sweeney’s brother, Joel, who also lived in the village, is credited with perfecting the five-string banjo, as well as developing the minstrel show as a vehicle for his new instrument.

Not long after the war ended, Appomattox Court House began to decline. By the turn of the century, it was almost a ghost town. It wasn’t the war or Reconstruction but mundane economic factors that led to the village’s demise. In fact, whatever life the locality has today is due to the war. With an assist from the National Park Service, it has become a tourist magnet.

A Place Called Appomattox is a lively, compelling look at the Civil War’s human story. And you’ll never think of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain the same way again.

.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807825686
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
  • Publication date: 10/2/2000
  • Series: Civil War America Series
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 416
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.70 (h) x 1.22 (d)

Meet the Author

William Marvel has written a dozen books about the Civil War, including Andersonville: The Last Depot (for which he won the Lincoln Prize); Lee’s Last Retreat: The Flight to Appomattox; and Mr. Lincoln Goes to War.

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Read an Excerpt




Chapter One


THE TAVERN


John Raine might have been forgiven a touch of melancholy on the eve of his fiftieth birthday, for in the spring of 1845 the half-century mark served as an even greater reminder of man's mortality than it would in a more salubrious time. For Raine, however, the eleventh of April that year signified more than the last day of his fifth decade. According to a notice posted in the Lynchburg papers, that date had been chosen for the liquidation of property that he had once expected to tide him through old age.

    In the summer of 1839 Raine and his wife, Eliza, had bought half the interest in a twenty-year-old tavern on Clover Hill, overlooking the headwaters of the Appomattox River from one of the gentle hills of Virginia's Piedmont. The tavern had been built by Alexander Patteson to serve passengers on the stage line that he and his late brother had established between Richmond and Lynchburg in 1814; Alexander Patteson himself died in 1836, leaving the tavern and its 206 acres divided between his estate and his brother's, but in September of 1840 the Raines acquired the remaining half-interest for the same price of $1,525 that they had agreed upon for the first half. By 1839 stages stopped twice every weekday at the two-story brick tavern, and once a day on weekends; Raine lacked the Pattesons' advantage of owning both stage line and tavern, but his was the best-known stop between Buckingham Court House and Lynchburg, and regular travelers remembered Clover Hill as the old headquarters of the stage company.

    For all ofthat, Raine had not prospered. At his death he would be remembered as a man who suffered economic reverses through his own stubborn belief in the virtue of others, and before the Christmas of 1842 his fortunes had sunk so low that he appealed to his brother, back in Campbell County, to pick up the lapsed notes on the tavern parcel. Hugh Raine allowed him $3,500 for the 206-acre parcel, and permitted him to stay on as manager of the tavern. Now, barely two years later, thirty acres around the tavern had been sketched into town lots, and Hugh Raine was advertising them for sale.

    Hugh was taking economic advantage of a political circumstance on which John had long hoped to capitalize. Clover Hill lay amid rolling farmland, isolated by twenty-five or thirty miles from any county seat. Patteson's tavern sat on the upper edge of Prince Edward County; a few hundred yards away, hugging the north branch of the Appomattox, the Sweeney family's apple orchard worked its way up a slope in Buckingham County. Interested delegates to the state legislature had been trying for decades to have portions of Prince Edward, Buckingham, Campbell, and Charlotte Counties carved off to form a new county, with Clover Hill as the seat. For obvious reasons Alexander Patteson had made the first attempt himself, in 1824, when he presented a petition to the General Assembly for a new county called "Fayette," but the attempt failed on a technicality.

    By 1839 proponents of a new county had grown better organized, and on February 21 of that year Thomas H. Flood presented the House of Delegates with another petition from a committee (which included John Raine) representing citizens in extremities of the four existing counties. These people were burdened with travel of as much as thirty-two miles each way every time they had to vote, attend militia muster, serve as jurors, or do any court business; they asked the delegates to create a new county with Clover Hill, the residence of John Raine, as the seat of justice, with a town of about forty lots laid out there. According to this memorial, the new county might be called Bouldin, Bolling, Appomattox, or anything else the legislature preferred. So certain was John Raine of ultimate success, despite the petition's failure in the 1839 session, that over the next two summers he signed the pair of interest-bearing notes for a total of $3,050 to gain title to the Patteson property, where he had apparently been managing the tavern for some time.

    Raine had good cause for his optimism, as the momentum for a new county was clearly growing, but his timing could have been better. Not until the 1841 session did the General Assembly entertain another petition on the subject, and that April voters in the affected precincts expressed their wishes in four nonbinding polls. All save Charlotte County returned majorities for the new county, but that did not convince the delegates; nor did another poll taken in April 1842, in which the Campbell County section tallied forty-five men for and forty-five men against the change. At that juncture the delay proved too much for John Raine, who had been unable to meet his mortgage notes; in December of 1842 he sold his Clover Hill holdings to his brother.

    Thomas Bocock resurrected the new-county bill in January of 1844, but a fellow delegate from Buckingham County by the name of Jones objected on the grounds that people had paid dearly for land at Buckingham Court House (where Jones, too, owned some real estate), and it would be unfair to diminish the value of their property by shaving off so much of their county. If the bill were to pass, however, Delegate Jones thought the new county should be called Jones, after an ancestor of his who had fallen at the head of a volunteer company at the battle of Guilford Court House. To the surprise and dismay of both isolated citizens and prospective profiteers, the assembly again voted the bill down on the argument that the sense of the voters had not been taken.

    Disgruntled residents called a meeting at Clover Hill for February 2. Gathering at Patteson's tavern, the local gentry formed standing committees to spread the gospel on the new county and to circulate more petitions. That April the various sheriffs opened the polls for yet another referendum, and this time the vote was overwhelming in all four counties. Just to be certain, the committees arranged a free, nonpartisan barbecue at Clover Hill in the fall, inviting speakers from among both the Whigs and the Democrats. In December a new petition was entered in Richmond by Samuel C. Anderson of Prince Edward County, who had proposed the name "Appomattox" the previous session, in place of Jones: the Appomattox River that flowed so majestically into the James, below Petersburg, originated with a trickling stream behind Patteson's tavern; early Virginians believed the name evolved from an Indian tribe, or sovereign, called Apumetec. This bill passed the House of Delegates by a margin of fifteen votes on February 6, 1845, and the state senate ratified it two days later.

    This was the news that John Raine had waited so long—too long, now—to hear. Less than a fortnight after passage of the bill, he and his son-in-law hosted an inaugural ball to celebrate the birth of the new county, hiring a local fiddler and one "blind Billy," who plied his flute for six dozen men and women who crowded into the tavern for a rare evening's entertainment. Raine provided a dinner as well (with champagne from time to time during the evening), doubtless commenting on the prosperity that would inevitably attend Clover Hill now that it had been designated the county seat.

    On March 6 the justices of the peace within the proposed boundaries met at the tavern with the eight town trustees who had been appointed by the legislature to lay out the lots of the new county seat; each of the trustees had taken an oath to execute his office "faithfully and impartially." They adjourned to the sitting room, and over refreshments they determined how to position the county's buildings on the two acres the state had allowed them to take from the Raines. Without much debate they decided to arrange the town lots around a central square where the courthouse would be constructed, between the tavern and its stable. The jail would sit behind the courthouse. By the end of that day they had divided thirty acres of the old Patteson land into a prospective village, the vast majority of which one of those faithful and impartial men would soon snag for himself.

    Hugh Raine did not wait long. The tavern conclave had elevated Clover Hill from a pleasant stage stop on the old Buckingham Road to a destination for militiamen, lawyers, litigants, judges, and jurors, whose needs would vary from a noon meal or a night's lodging to a site for an office or even a home. Raine's notice for the sale of his lots appeared eleven days later in the Lynchburg Republican. If the weather turned inclement on April 11, he proposed the "next fair day."

    April can be a wet season in Appomattox County, and the roads often turned to soup, as thousands of soldiers would learn two decades hence. Bad weather may have postponed the land sale, or wary speculators may have driven too hard a bargain, but in any case John Raine's birthday passed with the Clover Hill parcel still intact. On May 5 Hugh Raine again advertised his lots for sale, inviting the general public as well as his brother's creditors to an auction on Friday, May 9.

    The day before this scheduled sale, the county justices returned to Patteson's tavern to establish their government, electing a sheriff, a coroner, the commonwealth's attorney, and a clerk. They awarded the county attorney's position to Thomas S. Bocock, the Buckingham County delegate who had introduced the successful bill for the new county, and for clerk they selected his father, seventy-two-year-old John T. Bocock. The elder Bocock lived only twenty-five days longer, though, and after some political wrangling the justices filled the vacancy with Henry T. Bocock, another of the deceased clerk's sons.

    Even with the county government seated just the day before, bidding on the old Patteson tract fell short of enthusiastic, and John Raine saw his chance. Perhaps suffering from a measure of fraternal responsibility, he attempted to relieve his brother of what may have begun to seem a burden, and when the tavern did not sell he took it back himself, approaching another brother for enough cash to pay Hugh the same $3,500 he had invested some thirty months before. Now, at least, he and Eliza might bargain for some of the profits he had long hoped to draw from the increased value of Clover Hill land.

    Those profits proved small, at least for John Raine, who never paid off the note to his brother and soon lost his last grip on the Clover Hill dream. That summer there appeared at the tavern an aggressive young man by the name of Samuel Daniel McDearmon, armed with some grand ideas and supported by some wealthy relatives.

    On August 1, 1845, McDearmon borrowed $2,070.40 from a bachelor uncle and strode into Clover Hill with plans to make his fortune there. At the ripe age of twenty-nine, McDearmon already had a finger in every conceivable pie that a new county could bake. Just the previous April the young Democrat had been elected to the House of Delegates, and the statute for the new county had named him as one of the eight trustees of the village at Clover Hill. He held a governor's commission as major in the state militia, and he also served as a deputy sheriff in both Campbell and Prince Edward Counties, while his brother was now a deputy in Appomattox County.

    McDearmon's political power derived at least partly from the money and prominence that came with his pedigree. His father, James McDearmon, was a Presbyterian minister who, like most professionals of that time and era, lived principally on the proceeds of farm income. As the only child of an early settler, Reverend McDearmon enjoyed considerable property-hundreds of acres and more than a score of slaves—on an inherited estate called Mount Evergreen, some seven miles southeast of the new courthouse village. Given part of that land to make a beginning, Samuel McDearmon had augmented that stake a decade before with his teenage marriage to Mary Frances Philadelphia Walton, who came with a respectable dowry, and he cultivated friends who seemed willing to apply their assets to joint business ventures. He already owned nearly 450 acres adjoining (and from) his father's plantation, besides holding 147 acres in trust for a neighbor's estate, and near Mount Evergreen he owned a sawmill that provided his most regular income.

    McDearmon may have approached John Raine at first, but when it came to making an offer on the old Patteson estate he dealt with Hugh and the third brother, known only as R. K. Raine; this last brother now held the title. That fall McDearmon bought the tavern piece, evidently by taking over the notes John Raine had signed in May: half the price of $3,500 was due on November 1, 1846, and the balance a year later, with McDearmon's father and brother-in-law securing the debt for him. That gave him the 30-acre village and the 176 surrounding acres, but he did not stop there. In a frenzy of acquisition, he picked up a little over 60 acres about eight miles southeast of the courthouse, as well as part interest in another parcel there, and he bought 163 acres between the stage road and the north fork of the Appomattox. In the course of 1845 he nearly doubled the acreage that he owned, meanwhile more than doubling the value of his property, and this was only the beginning.

    As McDearmon accumulated his little empire, county officials moved ahead with their duties. Toward the end of the summer they determined what specifications they wanted for the first municipal building—not a courthouse, significantly enough, but a jail. Bidders had three options: a stone building twenty feet by forty, with walls two feet thick; a brick structure of the same dimensions, with eighteen-inch walls; or a hewn-log jail, solid oak, thirty feet long and eighteen feet wide. Proposals were invited on court day in October, which, according to a longtime clerk of that court, was held in the stagecoach barn across the road from the tavern. So far as the county commissioners were concerned, a courthouse could wait until spring.

    Samuel McDearmon could not wait. By November 1 he had secured the deed to the Patteson land, and two days later appeared his first advertisement for a grand sale to be held on November 26. The entire thirty acres of platted lots would be on the block, with no money down, on notes of six, twelve, or eighteen months with the appropriate bonds and security. The tavern and the remaining land were also available, for a third down and two annual payments on the balance.

    "This is one of the handsomest locations in Virginia," promised his advertisement in the Lynchburg papers, "in the midst of a fine and healthy country, noted for its fare between Lynchburg, Farmville, and Richmond." Fever and other dreaded diseases had not visited Clover Hill in years, McDearmon asserted, and as the county seat the property had potential for either further speculation or as the location for professional offices and tradesmen's shops. If all went well, the terms on the tavern would not only satisfy his notes with Raine but more than compensate him for his entire cost, while any proceeds from town lots would be pure profit.

    Nor was McDearmon the only one who hoped to cash in on the transformation of Clover Hill. Jacob Tibbs, a local farmer and veteran of the War of 1812, wished to divest himself of everything: 404 acres of good tobacco land, house, barn, outbuildings, furnishings, standing crops—even his pots and pans, and presumably his slaves and livestock as well. Tibbs hoped to move west, as numerous neighbors had and would. He was well past fifty and soundly established, with a wife less than half his age and two small boys, but the prospect of a good price in Appomattox and cheaper land west of the Mississippi lured him to the newspaper office with his notice. William Still, who owned another big tract with a tavern and a store about five miles up the stage road, advertised his property in the same issues.

    All did not go well, and especially for McDearmon. Neither Tibbs nor Still saw an offer tempting enough to carry them out of the county, but they had not strung their finances as thin as McDearmon had. Instead of gaining him a fortune, the advertised sale of McDearmon's purchase instead brought him disaster, and in more than one form.

    The creation of Appomattox County had attracted at least one young lawyer who considered the new seat a good place to begin his career. Sometime that summer Coleman C. May took lodging at the tavern, and over the passing weeks locals learned that he was twenty-four years old. that he originally hailed from Staunton, and that he had never recovered the complete use of his left arm, which had long ago been broken at the elbow. May stood two or three inches short of six feet, with a burly frame, and he maintained a dapper appearance, dressing well and keeping both his dark hair and his red muttonchop whiskers neatly trimmed.

    May seemed to own a little temper, however. On the day before the bidding was to open on McDearmon's land, the lodger and his landlord fell into disagreement over something—the board bill, perhaps, or the sale of a coveted lot—and their argument escalated in volume and fury. Deputy Sheriff William J. McDearmon heard his brother's voice and interceded on his behalf, swinging a cudgel at May and striking him several times. May had clearly not expected a fight that day: he was fashionably attired, wearing a black broadcloth coat and vest with striped trousers, and his crippled arm impaired his ability to defend himself. When the deputy continued to batter him, May produced a pocket knife, opened it, and stabbed his assailant once in the neck, severing the jugular vein. William McDearmon dropped to the floor, blood gushing through his fingers, while Samuel McDearmon retrieved a pepperbox revolver from its hiding place and shot May in the chest.

    May staggered out the door as the tavern owner attended to his brother. There was nothing anyone could do for such a wound, and within minutes Appomattox County was short one deputy sheriff. An enraged Samuel McDearmon mounted a search party and posted a reward for the capture of "that murderer," insisting that May had killed his brother "without provocation."

    May was soon found, so badly wounded that the lack of a jail made little difference, but he survived long enough for a grand jury to indict him for murder. By the time he had fully recovered the freshly finished jail was ready for him, and in the spring he appeared before Judge Daniel Wilson Sr. Alluding to the blood, business, and political relationships that would complicate any effort to seat an untainted jury for the killer of Deputy McDearmon, defense attorneys appealed for a change of venue. Judge Wilson, whose own son would have partaken in the prosecution, agreed, and May's case was transferred to Amherst Court House, over thirty miles away.

    Flanked by four prominent attorneys, Coleman May emerged from the log jail at Amherst on August 21, 1846, and crossed the muddy yard to the old frame courthouse. Four days later a jury was finally sworn. The testimony dragged on for six days a week until September 3, when the defense rested. Obviously convinced that May had acted in self-defense, the jury returned a verdict of not guilty that same day. The judge ordered his release, but May's choleric manner had revealed itself over the past few days, and in a peculiar conclusion the judge also demanded, "on consideration of the circumstances developed in the course of this trial," that May post a substantial bond to assure his good behavior for the next year. May, who had already spent nine months in jail for a crime of which he was essentially innocent, provided security worth a total of $4,000 before disappearing forever from the scenes of his misery.


    Nine days after William McDearmon's death the court of Appomattox County convened, presumably in the old Patteson carriage house. There was little business to conduct, but before going home the court officers issued a formal document expressing their grief over the passing of the late deputy. They resolved to wear black badges of mourning for the next sixty days in honor of their departed colleague, whom they judged "humane and courteous to all, a man of unblemished character and unexceptionable conduct." Had that been strictly true, Deputy McDearmon would probably still have walked among them, but the opinion of the assembled officials was ratified at the tavern that same afternoon by a meeting of citizens who deemed the dead man "humane and just in the discharge of his various duties." Had it not been for the change of venue, some of those sympathetic citizens might have sat on Coleman May's jury, and those grieving court officers would have been administering his case.

    With the excitement of the tavern killing still fresh, few Clover Hill residents probably made the journey to Lynchburg the following week to hear their most celebrated neighbor perform. Joel Walker Sweeney, the man credited with inventing the American banjo, had come back at last from Europe, where he had captivated the Queen of England with his music; on the night of December 11 he appeared at a Lynchburg theater with a minstrel show touted as "the greatest Ethiopian extravaganza extant."

    Sweeney was the most accomplished in a musical clan that lived in a house beside the stage road, where it crossed the Appomattox, just a few yards from the stream and half a mile from the tavern. Without the least training he had mastered the violin and an obscure stringed instrument called the ban-jar, variations of which local slaves still crafted from a gourd and hardwood, after a traditional African design. As a young man Sweeney built something similar to the ban-jar but stronger, forming the soundboard by stretching a hide over a wooden frame; he also added a fifth string. Thus the banjo was born (or so the story goes), and Sweeney was soon touring the South with his new sound and a repertoire of songs, dances, stories, and animal impressions borrowed from the slaves he had known as a youth. Unsatisfied merely to invent an instrument, he then inspired an entirely new genre in entertainment, blacking his face for his performances and wearing a costume consisting of a garish waistcoat, gaudy trousers, and a top hat.

    "Joe Sweeney was a fine delineator of the Negro character," recalled an Appomattox judge who was brought up a mile and a half up the stage road from the Sweeney place. "Raised as he was in the midst of them and possessing a quick observation and a keen sense of the ludicrous, he made his concerts very attractive, because his manners and language were so true to the original."

    Although audiences outside the South were less likely to appreciate the accuracy of Sweeney's imitations, his humor and music proved universally popular. He took his show north, to the cities, and in 1842 he crossed the Atlantic, appearing at the Lyceum Royal Theater in London on February 6, 1843. Traveling for the next two years with Sand's Great American Circus, he played major cities in England, Scotland, and Ireland, including a reputed command performance for Queen Victoria. Not yet thirty-five, he returned to America with a sizable fortune, at least in Appomattox County estimation, including a gold-laden money belt that he said Her Majesty had given him.

    Joel was the oldest in his generation of Sweeneys. Richard Sweeney could play nearly as well as his brother, and soon after Joel returned from Europe the two began appearing together. Sampson, their youngest brother, joined them eventually. The youngest Sweeney girl, Missouri, reportedly shared her brothers' talents but she kept from the stage lest it raise antebellum eyebrows. Joel's return performance in Lynchburg included no relatives, however, except those who sat in the audience.

    Samuel McDearmon was not among those who made the long trek to the Lynchburg theater, for he had already arrived in Richmond for the next session of the General Assembly. Although he no longer lived in Prince Edward County he had been elected to represent that district; if he was to continue a political career (and his business interests demanded that he do so), he could not resign on the mere technicality that he was not a resident of the county that had elected him.

    As the coach carried him east, the freshman delegate likely thought of his dead brother, but he may have mourned almost as keenly the failure of his plan to turn a profit on the Clover Hill property. His brother's death and the search for his killer had put an end to the scheduled property sale, and by the close of 1845 McDearmon had peddled only two half-acre lots: one to Thomas and Henry Bocock and one to Hugh Raine, who may have reserved the parcel from the original sale. Both the Bocock brothers would want office and lodging space near the courthouse now; Raine, meanwhile, had long supposed that the new county seat could support a second tavern, and he began construction by winter.

    Early in his sojourn at the capital, Delegate McDearmon found himself asked to select the next governor, and as it happened he sided with the victor, William Smith: "Extra Billy" Smith, who earned that nickname through the additional payments he drew from an ever-expanding mail contract, would one day stand on the steps of the old Patteson tavern. McDearmon next forwarded a small sheaf of bills that dealt with administrative issues in the new county, including one to organize the militia there and to reorganize it in the four old counties. The male citizens of military age in Appomattox County were assigned to the 174th Infantry Regiment, which was divided into two battalions, and McDearmon retained his major's commission with the command of one of those battalions.

   McDearmon also presented the House of Delegates with a petition from Appomattox County men—his father chief among them—who wanted to eliminate the precinct elections for delegates there. That was a cheeky request in light of arguments posed for the very creation of Appomattox County, where voters had so long protested the lengthy journeys to their county seats to cast their ballots, but such a change would have worked to Mr. McDearmon's political benefit. If voters had to come all the way to the courthouse to exercise the franchise, the greatest proportion of votes would come from the immediate vicinity of the county seat, where McDearmon's business presence gave him a substantial advantage over candidates from outlying districts.

    Perhaps such an advantage was unnecessary, at least for the present. Even as McDearmon submitted the petition, his supporters were writing to the Richmond Enquirer and the Lynchburg Republican to suggest his nomination as the Democratic candidate for the first election of a delegate from Appomattox County. Two county citizens presently held seats from their respective previous counties—McDearmon from Prince Edward and Thomas H. Flood, a Whig, from Buckingham—but the new county was allowed only one representative in the next election.

    The 1846 nomination was confirmed in a "nonpartisan" meeting held on February 5 at Appomattox Court House— the new alternative designation for Clover Hill—when a committee of thirteen political leaders from the various districts of the county decided on McDearmon over Flood. Once the committee had announced its decision, McDearmon was invited in from an antechamber where he had been waiting expectantly. He accepted the nomination "in a becoming manner," though it would have been insincere to express any surprise that he had prevailed in a county now so heavily weighted with Democrats.

    Attendance at the February caucus illustrated how political power might gravitate toward someone who lived near the county seat. Of fifteen participants who were prominent enough to merit identification by the Lynchburg newspaper, at least seven lived within an hour's easy ride of Clover Hill, and those seven included the richest and most influential.

    Dr. Joel Walker Flood, the wealthiest man in the county, chaired the meeting. The good doctor could boast real estate worth more than $50,000: he owned some 2,500 acres of land, most of it surrounding the plantation he called Pleasant Retreat, two miles northeast of Appomattox Court House on the stage road. His son, Henry, who served on the nominating committee, lived three miles west of the county seat on a 1,700-acre plantation his father had just deeded to him the previous year. Between them, father and son owned a hundred slaves of taxable age (besides scores of children and elderly), some fine carriages that included an enclosed coach, and three dozen horses. For the pleasure of his new wife (who was also his close cousin), Henry Flood had bought one of the only five pianos in the county.

    The political wizard of Appomattox seemed to be Thomas Bocock, the thirty-year-old commonwealth attorney who had already served one term in the legislature. Bocock chaired the nomination committee, and his brother Charles, a young medical student who lived with him, served as secretary of the meeting. Another Bocock brother, Henry, was the county clerk; the eldest sibling, Willis, was still sitting as Buckingham County's second delegate in Richmond. Thomas Bocock owned a modest estate compared to the holdings of his social peers, but he was blessed with sharp instincts and a golden tongue. He connected himself to those who could do him some good, and at that very moment he was courting seventeen-year-old Sarah Flood, a not-so-distant cousin of his (his mother was a Flood) and the daughter of the Whig delegate whose name the committee had just rejected. The marriage would make him a brother-in-law of Democrat Henry Flood.

    The Whigs fielded no legislative candidate in Appomattox that spring of 1846; in a region so dominated by the Democrats it would have been a losing fight. In order to express their political differences, most men sought variations within the Democratic Party. McDearmon billed himself as a Locofoco Democrat: the nickname had been coined in New York City a decade before, when party regulars tried to stifle a reform faction by dousing the gaslights at a strategic point in their convention; the reformers had foiled that ploy by producing some newly invented friction matches (called "locofocos") and lighting candles. Locofocoism had its philosophical roots in antagonism toward the privileged class that McDearmon was striving so diligently to attain. The irony of his Locofoco attachment was muted, however, both by the relatively moderate circumstances of his origins—at least compared to the Floods and Tidewater patricians—and by his efforts to improve his situation through business enterprise: Samuel McDearmon might have been ambitious, but he was no aristocrat, and it was the virtual aristocracy of the eastern seaboard that fueled Locofoco ire.

    Tenets of the Locofoco doctrine included hatred of tariffs and banks, and McDearmon shared those prejudices. Tariffs favored only the industrialized North, while state banks holding federal deposits had precipitated the panic of 1837 with their rampant land speculation and inflated currency. Like most of his neighbors, McDearmon favored an independent U.S. treasury and the withdrawal of all federal funds from local banks: that would remove the banks from the bidding when it came to further speculation, and if McDearmon wanted to borrow money he would go to his relatives and friends.

    Also like most of his fellow Appomattox citizens, McDearmon supported the annexation of Texas as a state, which had now been accomplished. That was not a Locofoco demand, but a Southern one, and there would be hell to pay as a result.

    Almost immediately after McDearmon's nomination some of the Democrats dissented, offering instead the names of Thomas A. LeGrand (a Baptist minister who had served on the nominating committee) and Zacheus Cheatham (a farmer, War of 1812 veteran, and militia colonel), both of whom were in their fifties. Only Cheatham showed any interest, initially casting himself as an independent Locofoco Democrat to further distinguish himself and to give his neighbors "the opportunity of selecting between men," but when the votes were cast at the end of April McDearmon was reelected without opposition.

    If McDearmon had no competition for the legislature, he did have some in his reluctant capacity as a tavernkeeper. Days before the April election, John Raine announced the opening of what he called the Clover Hill Tavern, with room and board for man and horse at $1.50 per day; individual meals were two bits, and a bed alone would cost twelve and a half cents a night. Raine invited all who had formerly partaken of his hospitality at the old Patteson establishment to stay with him at his new place, a two-story frame house a hundred yards west of the Patteson tavern and across the stage road, on Hugh Raine's reserved lot. Raine's house sat tight against the road, for his son had plans for a more spacious guest house in the middle of the lot.

    Raine's choice of name for his new hostelry probably irritated McDearmon, for the Patteson place had sometimes been called the Clover Hill Tavern, and Raine might enjoy some benefit from the confusion, at McDearmon's expense. For that matter, the new hotel would diminish McDearmon's trade whatever its name; that must have become evident within days, when rural denizens flocked to Clover Hill for the election. A few weeks later the summer season began, and wealthy Virginians started flooding into the mountains from the Tidewater and the Deep South: western Virginia was dotted with palatial resorts encircling warm mineral springs, and travelers flocked to them for the relief of every malady from ruptures to rheumatism, or simply to escape the yellow fever season on the coast. The Lynchburg coaches brought all such passengers through Appomattox Court House.

    The taverns at the county seat would also have shared profit from the patriotic excesses of the annual Fourth of July celebrations, the first of which was held at Appomattox Court House that year. These events drew listeners—and revelers—from every reach of the county. The officers of the county militia regiment all turned out, with many of their men; under the reorganization bill that Major McDearmon had inspired, the captains all cast ballots for new field officers. McDearmon's chagrin at losing some of the tavern trade that day may have been compensated by his election as lieutenant colonel; his fellow citizens instantly employed the new title whenever they addressed him.

    That Fourth of July began with threatening skies, but a big crowd surprised everyone. There was the customary reading of the Declaration of Independence, a speech or two (lacking one from the spellbinding Thomas Bocock, who declined a call to speak because of "indisposition"), and a barbecue that was followed by endless toasts. Appropriately enough, the deluge of liquid acknowledgments was begun by Dr. Flood, who urged the sons of Revolutionary soldiers to emulate the examples of their fathers. Samuel Walker, Samuel McDearmon's brother-in-law and his successor as major in the regiment, recognized Bartholomew Cyrus, the only Revolutionary veteran at the banquet.

    "May his last days be his best," asked Major Walker. Although Cyrus was just short of ninety, he took a glass and returned a toast to the spirit of his own generation.

    Such traditional reflections on 1776 ended early this year, though, for war with Mexico had commenced just two months before, and most of those who raised their glasses thereafter alluded to more immediate events, according to party platform. Less enthusiastic about James Polk's war, Whigs tended to praise generals or candidates of their own political persuasion. Colonel Benjamin Walker of the 174th Regiment, a Whig from the northern end of the county, commended Zachary Taylor; the major, who shared his brother's sentiments, hoped that Winfield Scott would be protected from President Polk's "assaults" upon him. Dr. William Christian called for speedy peace with Mexico and continued peace with Great Britain, with which Polk had been jousting over the Oregon boundary. With fluid metaphor, one brave soul toasted "Colonel T. H. Flood: long the Whig tide of Buckingham; surely not diked by Appomattox Locofocoism."

    Despite his indisposition, Thomas Bocock could not let such remarks pass without comment upon General Scott, who had twice sought the Whig nomination for president and whose correspondence with Polk and the secretary of war alluded to both his dietary habits and his fear that the administration would be as dangerous an enemy as the Mexicans.

    "We thank him for what he has done for his country," said Bocock, "and only wish that during the next presidential term he may take his 'hasty plate of soup' in privacy, without fear of enemies either in front or rear."

    Court clerk Henry Bocock tried to steer the celebration away from partisan conflict with a toast to the ladies of Appomattox ("as patriotic as they are fair"), but once his brother had begun to speak he found it hard to stop. The commonwealth attorney next hailed John C. Calhoun, the patron saint of Southern radicals. Others shouted for Andrew Jackson, and for the state of Texas. Samuel McDearmon scoffed at the Mexicans and British alike. Whigs came back with Henry Clay, and the written record hints that the atmosphere grew strained, but a series of self-congratulatory toasts finally seemed to restore conviviality.

    "The citizens of Appomattox," bellowed a young farmer. "May they ever be united: not to consider stage roads, or other highways, as constituting points for division, either in civil, military, or political point of view."

    Zacheus Cheatham concurred, noting that with the election of its militia officers the county of Appomattox was fully organized at last.

    "May union and brotherly love exist among us," he concluded.

(Continues...)

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Table of Contents


Preface

Chapter 1. The Tavern

Chapter 2. The Railroad

Chapter 3. The Crisis

Chapter 4. The Parting

Chapter 5. The Crusade

Chapter 6. The Siege

Chapter 7. The Flight

Chapter 8. The Meeting

Chapter 9. The Parade

Chapter 10. The Trial

Chapter 11. The Resurrection

Epilogue: The Dedication

Notes

Bibliography

Sources and Acknowledgments

Index

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