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Although Appomattox Court House is one of the most symbolically charged places in America, it was an ordinary tobacco-growing village both before and after an accident of fate brought the armies of Lee and Grant together there. It is that Appomattoxthe typical small Confederate communitythat William Marvel portrays in this deeply researched, compelling study. He tells the story of the Civil War from the perspective of those who inhabited one of the conflict's most famous sites.The village sprang into existence just as Texas became a state and reached its peak not long before Lee and Grant met there. The postwar decline of the village mirrored that of the rural South as a whole, and Appomattox served as the focal point for both Lost Cause myth-making and reconciliation reveries.Marvel draws on original documents, diaries, and letters composed as the war unfolded to produce a clear and credible portrait of everyday life in this town, as well as examining the galvanizing events of April 1865. He also scrutinizes Appomattox the national symbol, exposing and explaining some of the cherished myths surrounding the surrender there.
About the Author
William Marvel's many books include Lincoln's Autocrat, Andersonville: The Last Depot, Lincoln's Darkest Year, and Tarnished Victory.
Read an Excerpt
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 of that, 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.
Table of Contents
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
Sources and Acknowledgments
What People are Saying About This
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 demonstrates that Marvel can bring the same pleasing style and fresh perspective to local history. . . . Those who appreciate lively prose laced with irony will enjoy Marvel's style, and A Place Called Appomattox appeals to such a wide-ranging audience that it almost defies a label. Whether shelved as Civil War history, Virginia history, Southern history or local history, Marvel's work 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
This is local history at its best.North & South
Thanks to Marvel's treatment, we have an even better appreciation of the significance of Appomattox beyond its common perception today.Civil War News
Marvel's elegantly written book offers scholars valuable evidence about antebellum, wartime, and Reconstruction Virginia by interweaving the actions and perspectives of soldiers and civilians over nearly eighty years in this 'place.'Civil War History
Perhaps [Marvel's] best book to date.Publishers Weekly