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Three Properties at Appomattox Court House

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Historic Significance of the 74 Acres the Civil War Trust is preserving

The Civil War Trust is currently working to save three parcels at the Appomattox Court House battlefield. These three tracts, totally 74 acres, were the scenes of significant fighting on April 9, 1865. Here, historians Chris Calkins and Patrick Schroeder explain the significance of each property.

Appomattox Court House Three Tracts
Map showing the three tracts. Counter clockwise from the bottom (largest) yellow polygons are Tract #1: 'Action near the Trent House'; Tract #2: 'The LeGrand Road Fight'; and Tract #3: 'Action on the Historic Tibbs Farm,' as described below.

Tract #1: Action near the Trent House

In the early morning hours of April 9, 1865, this property saw the Federal 1st Cavalry division commanded by General Thomas Devin being driven back to or across portions of this property and to the west of it.  Here Devin’s troopers including the famous Michigan Cavalry Brigade held the line until the arrival of the Federal General Charles Griffin’s 5th Corps.  A soldier with the California Battalion in the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry wrote the following of the fighting that pushed them back through the area west of the Trent House:  “The first streaks of daylight lighting up the horizon was the signal for the Ball to open.   We had nothing to oppose Lee but cavalry and nobly did they do their work.  We fought dismounted.  They tried hard to break our line and poured in shot and shell with their musketry until the air seemed full of it.  At half past eight the Fifth Corps came up. …”  Devin’s men then retired and formed behind Custer’s division moving east along the LeGrand Road. 

The Federal 5th Corps skirmish line under Colonel Joseph B. Pattee with the 157th, 190th, and 191st Pennsylvania (some of them armed with Spencer Rifles) and the 155th Pennsylvania skirmishers on their right, advanced across the property and engaged Confederate skirmishers driving them to the northeast.  Once the skirmish line cleared the ground, General Charles S. Wainwright, commander of the 5th Corps artillery, quickly advanced two batteries to the high ground near the Trent House.  Battery B of the 1st New York Light Artillery under the command of Captain Robert E. Rogers unlimbered four 3-inch Ordnance Rifles to the left (west) of the Trent House, while four light 12-puounders under the direction of Major Charles E. Mink waited along the road to their rear.  In the meantime, General Romeyn B. Aryes 2nd Division of the 5th Corps with three brigades swept across the eastern portion of this property, in their advance on the village of Appomattox Court House.  Receiving artillery fire from Confederate batteries and scattered rifle fire, the men of Stanton’s Maryland Brigade, Hayes’s Zouave Brigade and  Gwyn’s with soldiers from Delaware and Pennsylvania, fixed bayonets in preparation for a “grand charge upon the enemy . . . .”

Before the Ayres men could close upon the Confederates or the artillery could fire any rounds, a flag of truce appeared along the line of advance to stop the fighting.

Tract #2: The LeGrand Road Fight

As the Battle of Appomattox Court House developed on the morning of April 9, 1865,  Federal Infantry began to arrive in relief of the cavalry and drive back the Confederate Infantry, and a push was made to threaten the Confederate left flank.  Federal General George Custer with his division led this movement.  and advanced east via the LeGrand Road.  As the Federal Fifth Corps arrived on the field, General Thomas Devin’s Cavalry division withdrew and fell in behind Custer’s division.  As Custer’s men reached  the area of the land the Civil War Trust is currently working to preserve, the column halted upon hearing rumors of a flag of truce to arrange for terms of surrender.  It was in this area that a truce flag came into Custer’s line carried by Confederate Robert Simms and was sketched by the Civil War artist Alfred Waud.  General Wesley Merritt and General Philip Sheridan rode by and Custer’s soldiers gave “three rousing cheers.”  The 8th New York deployed as skirmishers just in advance of where a farm lane split off to the North from the LeGrand Road (on the Trust target property).  Colonel Alexander Pennington and his staff moved forward (east) to the Morton House to get a better view of Confederate positions.  Confederate General Martin S. Gary had recently moved to support the batteries along the Prince Edward Court House road that lay in front of Custer’s advance.  Gary’s brigade consisted of the 7th South Carolina, Hampton’s Legion (SC), 7th Georgia, and 24th Virginia.  Despite a truce, General Gary disavowed it and ordered a charge made upon Pennington and his staff.  The 7th South Carolina led the charge, dispersing Pennington and capturing his bugler.  Gary’s men did not stop, when they reached the LeGrand Road, they continued southwest and in the vicinity of the Trust’s target property a member of the 7th South Carolina remembered encountering “a long line of cavalry, several thousand strong—Custar [sic].”  The men of the 7th South Carolina pitched into Custer’s troopers driving the 8th New York back on the 15th New York Cavalry which remained mounted and in column of fours.  Colonel John J, Coppinger ordered the 15th to charge, in turn driving back Gary’s men.  Captain Albert O. Skiff of the 15th received a bullet wound in the face, entering above the jaw and passing down through his neck.  Gary’s men fell back to their batteries on the Prince Edward Court House Road.  But the Southern horse men had paid a price for their bold and belated charge, and though there are not complete casualty records for the fighting at Appomattox Court House (and none for the Confederate forces) a member of the 7th South Carolina recalled, “We fought General Custer’s Cavalry, for, I suppose, thirty minutes.  Five men in Company G were severely wounded” and twice as many horses killed.  Second Lieutenant James L. Haile of Company H was also a casualty of the fight.  Sergeant John C. Bruce of Company D, Hampton’s Legion, was killed in this action.  A search of the Federal Flying Hospital records shows 16 additional men wounded from Gary’s Brigade and brought in for treatment.  Needless casualties as truce flags had already been in the area and the meeting between Lee and Grant would soon take place at the McLean House.  This was the last fighting in the vicinity of Appomattox Court House.

Tract #3: Action on the Historic Tibbs Farm

On the morning of April 9, the Confederate Second Corps, commanded by Lt. Gen. John B. Gordon, formed in a northwest-to-southeast line a few hundred yards west of the courthouse.  The north side of this line fell across farmland owned by Jacob Tibbs.  A brigade of North Carolina cavalry, led by Brig. Gen. William P. Roberts, and two ranks of infantry – Brig. Gen. William R. Cox’s North Carolina brigade and Maj. Gen. Bushrod Johnson’s division – formed in the yard of the Tibbs house and in the fields to the northwest.  Shortly after dawn, Gordon’s forces attacked the Federal troops commanded by Colonel Charles Smith west of the courthouse.  Smith’s brigade had been sent forward by Maj. Gen. George Crook on orders from Maj. Gen. Phillip H. Sheridan to block the Confederate line of retreat. Gordon’s goal was to open the Richmond-Lynchburg Stage Road to create an escape route for the Army of Northern Virginia. 

At the close of the fighting, the Tibbs house was used as a signal station by Federal forces.  When the Confederate army withdrew from this area and the lands across the stage road to the south, the fighting at Appomattox came to a close, effectively ending the bloodiest war in United States history.

 

Open space on 60 acre tract at Appomattox
Open space on 60 acre tract at Appomattox, one of three properties the Civil War Trust is working to save at the Appomattox Court House battlefield.

 

 

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