Cover image for A place called Appomattox
A place called Appomattox
Marvel, William.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Chapel Hill : University of North Carolina Press, [2000]

Physical Description:
x, 400 pages : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm.
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F234.A6 M37 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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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 Appomattox--the typical small Confederate town--that William Marvel portrays in this deeply researched, compelling study. He tells the story of the Civil War from the perspective of 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 Lost Cause myth-making.

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 and the galvanizing events of April 1865. He also scrutinizes Appomattox the national symbol, exposing many of the cherished myths surrounding the surrender there. In particular, he challenges the fable that enemies who had battled each other for four years suddenly laid down their arms and welcomed each other as brothers.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

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.DJohn Carver Edwards, Univ. of Georgia Libs., Athens (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



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 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.     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 transfo