When Virginia created the first self-guided Civil War trail in America — “The Route of Lee’s Retreat” — it ignited a national conversation about the most seminal time in American history.
The conversation continues and, in 2015, scores of travelers will visit the hallowed battlegrounds near Appomattox, Va., to witness re-enactments and experience the places where northern and southern armies battled to the bitter end 150 years ago.
Now’s the time to make reservations for a trip to south-central Virginia, where the Civil War Sesquicentennial culminates this spring. You’ll find lots of lodging choices, whether you like log cabins, historic bed-and-breakfasts, campgrounds at state parks, national chain hotels, or resorts.
Two great places to learn more about the lives of the local people during the Civil War are Sailor’s Creek Battlefield Historical State Park near Farmville and the American Civil War Museum at Appomattox. New exhibits in both places tell riveting stories.
Here are the major events in late March and early April leading up to the sesquicentennial anniversary of the surrender at Appomattox.
Twin Lakes State Park near Farmville
March 20–April 3
From 1861 through 1865, Virginia stood at the center of a military and social revolution. The exhibit “An American Turning Point: The Civil War in Virginia” encourages visitors to consider how American society was reshaped by the Civil War and what it means to Americans today.
Sailor’s Creek Battlefield Historical State Park
From 9:00am–1:30pm, the Overton-Hillsman Farm House, circa 1780, will be open to the public for guided tours. The restored farmhouse depicts 1865 conditions, when the house served as field hospital. Visitors learn about the Hillsmans and the soldiers who were treated by medical personnel on the lawn and in the house.
Then, from 2:00–4:00pm, experience the Battle of Sailor’s Creek on the terrain where it occurred 150 years ago. Living History units, known as Campaigners, will execute a tactical demonstration portraying both Confederate and Union armies as they fought across the fields of the Hillsman family farm.
Spectators will be able to see the armies move across the actual battlefield, hear the officers’ commands, and feel the reverberation of artillery and musket fire. The re-creation of the last major Civil War battle in Virginia ends after campaigners cross Little Sailor’s Creek. After the fording of Little Sailor’s Creek, visitors will see the aftermath of the last major Civil War battle in Virginia.
Campaigners will march to High Bridge and proceed to Farmville for rations as they did in 1865.
The Sailor’s Creek visitor center will be open 9:00am–7:00pm. It showcases artifacts and research about the battles and the war’s impact on the citizens of southside Virginia.
Visitors are transported to that wet spring day on April 6, 1865, when Confederate and Union soldiers and a galaxy of generals met at Sailor’s Creek for what would be the last major battle of the American Civil War in Virginia.
As darkness settled over the battlefield, Gen. Robert E. Lee pondered his losses, reportedly saying, “My God! Has this army dissolved?” More than 7,700 men of the Army of Northern Virginia were gone.
This would be one of the largest surrenders of a military force in the field without the men being paroled during the war.
Exhibits showcase the three engagements at Sailor’s Creek: the Hillsman farm, Marshall’s Crossroads, and the Lockett farm, which took almost a quarter of Lee’s effective strength away. About 72 hours later, Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House.
There is no admission fee, but special event parking fees of $10 per car or $50 per bus apply. (virginiastateparks.gov)
Prince Edward and Cumberland counties
Spectators will have the opportunity to explore the historic structure of High Bridge and watch as campaigners make their way across the bridge toward Farmville, finding relief from the Union advances. Guided Civil War tours will take place along the High Bridge Trail at spots where skirmishing occurred in 1865.
A Civil War fort and a tour on the Prince Edward side of High Bridge and its surrounding earthworks will be open, as will a tour to learn about the last general to die in battle, Union Brig. Gen. Thomas A. Smyth. (virginiastateparks.gov)
The Future of Richmond’s Past, a consortium of cultural and history institutions, marks the final days before the fall of Richmond with a series of special events, exhibits, and reenactments that will commemorate the burning of the city, emancipation, and occupation by Union forces. Locations include Virginia Capitol Square, Museum and White House of the Confederacy, Historic Tredegar, and others to be announced.
American Civil War Museum – Appomattox
Perhaps better known as the Museum of the Confederacy, the museum will offer extended operating hours, 10:00am–8:00pm, and will host a series of re-enactment events and scholarly talks. Meet nationally known Civil War authors at morning coffees, attend a reception at a Civil War plantation home (tickets required), and hear local schoolchildren in concert. Scheduled events include:
- April 8 — “In Search of the Battle of Appomattox Station” with Chris Calkins, 3:30pm at Liberty Baptist Church (free).
- April 8 — Real time event: Battle of Appomattox Station. Renowned scholars narrate battle scenes with Union cavalry versus Confederate artillery demonstrations.
- April 9–12 — The 2nd Virginia Cavalry Company C and Stuart’s Light Horse Artillery encampment on the MOC grounds. Cavalry demonstrations and artillery firings daily, 10:00am–6:00pm (included with museum admission).
- April 9 — “Lee Surrenders to Grant” with David Palmer as Lee and Tony Daniels as Grant, 2:00pm (included with museum admission).
- April 10 — Monologue by Grant (Tony Daniels), “Meeting with Lincoln at City Point,” 11:00am (included with museum admission).
- April 10 — Dinner with Lee and Grant, Babcock House, 6:30pm ($35, reservations required).
- April 11 — Monologue by Lee (David Palmer), “April First Before the Breakout,” 11:00am (included with museum admission).
Other area events, lodging, and dining
In addition to Farmville and Appomattox, lodging, dining, and entertainment options are available in nearby Lynchburg, an important rail center during the Civil War.
To view the events currently planned for the entire Appomattox area, including the Appomattox Court House National Historical Park, visit appomattoxcountyva.gov and click on “Civil War 150.”
Learn more about the Civil War’s legacy and commemoration events in south central Virginia by visiting bestpartofthecivilwar.org.
Visit futureofrichmondspast.org to find out more about events relating to the fall of Richmond and moc.org to learn about the American Civil War Museum’s three distinct locations.
Learn more about the three locations of the American Civil War Museum at acwm.org.