So over the past few weeks I have been continually working on mapping existing conditions and finishing up all five of the existing conditions maps for Appomattox Courthouse National Historical Park – four at 80 scale and one at 40 scale – and prepping my AutoCAD basemap file with layers containing vegetation and some small site scale features for export into GIS shapefiles, which has now also been completed! Now, beginning work on the period plans and overall park site basemap.
But I wanted to use today’s blog post to write a little about the history of one very important family and their two homes. Eliot came by my desk, a couple Friday afternoons ago, to show me a historical image of the McLean house. This got me digging around through digital files, trying to see if we already had it saved somewhere. We did, but it was great because it got me searching through amazing historical images – thinking about the site then, and the site now.
This is the image he showed me of the McLean Home, where, in the first floor front parlor, General Lee signed the official surrender document to General Grant, marking the end of the Civil War. When thinking of the Civil War, most people think of the affiliated Generals, North and South, slavery resolutions, but the McLean Family was right there in history, ever since day one. This is a brief somewhat comical but very coincidental family narrative of the McLeans…
NIMBY – Not In My Back Yard (Or Front Yard as it may be)
Wilmer McLean was the head of the household and Yorkshire Plantation, the McLean family home, in Manassas, Virginia. At 47 years old, he was a retired major in the Virginia militia and was unable to return to active duty due to age, during the outbreak of the Civil War. But he found himself on the battlefield, nonetheless. On July 21, 1861, a cannonball dropped through the kitchen fireplace of McLean’s Home. The house was commandeered by Confederate Brigadier General P.G.T. Beauregard as a headquarters for the Confederate Army. The initial engagement between the Union and the Confederacy occurred, reluctantly, in McLean’s front yard, on his Yorkshire Plantation. This battle is now known as the First Battle of Bull Run – the first major battle of the American Civil War.
With a somewhat destroyed home and desire to protect his family, the McLeans moved in the Spring of 1863. This was also a strategic business move for Wilmer because his business of sugar brokering was mainly commercially centered in Southern Virginia – where there was a higher density of Confederate soldiers, rail access, and farms. The heavy presence of the Union Army in Northern Virginia was making his work more challenging, so the family moved 120 miles southwest to the small town of none-other than Appomattox, Virginia.
Two years later, on April 9, 1865, the front line of the Civil War revisited Wilmer McLean and his family. With General Grant having seized and cut off Confederate resources to General Lee and his army, General Grant wrote to General Lee asking of where he would chose to meet and surrender. Fighting until the end, General Lee realized his resources were too limited and he was greatly outnumbered by General Grant and the Union Army. Sending an aid to decide the location of the surrender, Appomattox Village was the small town decided upon, between the hills to the east where the Confederate Army was hoping to break through the front line to Lynchburg of the west. With it being Easter Sunday, the Appomattox Court House was closed for the holiday, so the aid chose the nicest brick house in the village – which just so happened to be Wilmer McLean’s home, just southwest of the Court House. Wilmer, once again reluctantly agreed to the Confederate forces to use the interior of his home. After the Battle of Appomattox Court House, one of the last battles of the Civil War, General Grant met General Lee in the front parlor of the McLean House, where the surrender document was discussed and signed. McLean is later rumored to have said, “The war began in my front yard and ended in my front parlor”, making the McLean family an important attribute to the historical events of the American Civil War.
Being from Northern Virginia, I knew some of the history of the McLean family – I have stopped in the CVS parking lot along Rt. 28 in Manassas to read the historical wayside about the family and their Yorkshire Plantation; I have eaten at the Yorkshire, the restaurant across the street from the wayside; the Northern Virginia city of McLean and the Battle of Manassas are both only twenty minutes from my house… I feel as though Wilmer McLean and I have some sort of connection – journeying from Manassas to Appomattox and having this historical and cultural event follow me through the years – from childhood to professional practice – there is some sort of link there. Maybe just a coincidence…