APPOMATTOX, Va. -- The surrender of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee to Union Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant 150 years ago on Thursday was a milestone event in the end of the Civil War. This is a rolling account of Thursday's commemoration of anniversary events that include a reenactment of Lee's last clash with Grant's troops and of the Confederate surrender in a Virginia farmhouse on April 9, 1865. Interspersed are historical accounts from 150 years ago:
Ahead of the battle reenactment, the boys of the Confederate 11th Virginia were a seemingly pretty cool bunch as those portraying Union troops gathered several fields away at Appomattox Court House amid the rolling farm country dotted by neat brick buildings and white picket fences.
But a stoic Chris Ferree couldn't contain his excitement when asked about his role in the 150th commemoration of Lee's surrender here, effectively ending the Civil War 150 years ago Thursday.
"This is an awesome place to be," said Ferree, a Roanoke resident. "We're all excited to be here."
The Confederate re-enactors were a ragtag, mismatched group of heavy wool coats, ill-fitting trousers and more types of hats than a haberdashery. Dozens stood along a rough wooden fence, their muskets stacked at the ready.
The Union and Southern re-enactors spent the night encamped in tents at Appomattox Court House National Historical Park.
The smell of wood smoke greeted the first of thousands of visitors expected to throng the park for several days of commemorative events. The outline of Union troops in formation could be seen in fields as visitors approached the park.
Perry Miller of Salisbury, a re-enactor with the North Carolina 28th from Salisbury, explained the strategy succinctly: "We're trying to break through the Union lines."
Thomas Holbrook, a park ranger on loan from Gettysburg to Appomattox, went down the line of re-enactors for a quick briefing before battle.
"This is part of what I like to call the armistice that was signed on April 9, when Gen. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia," he said.
Lee's forces were in a state of growing disarray in the hours before Lee formally called it quits in April 1865. So the Associated Press reported 150 years ago this week. AP reported that ragged, hungry Southern soldiers, many straggling and on the run from federal forces, began giving up alone and in small bunches even before the official surrender. Days earlier that month, the Union Army had already smashed their way into the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia.
Lee's forces, seeking an escape route, had crossed the Appomattox River while burning bridges, AP reported then. Union forces "attacked them vigorously" in the hours before the official surrender, convincing Lee the fight was over. AP reporting from the last days cited accounts as saying "the road for miles was strewn with broken down wagons, caissons, and baggage of all kinds, presenting a scene seldom witnessed on the part of Lee's army."
In a place where historically accurate fashions abound, the Rufeners of Ohio stood out.
Cousins by marriage, Kim and Mary Rufener carefully stepped through soaked turf and muddy roads at Appomattox to keep their hoop skirts mud-free. The two also wore bonnets as they watched Union and Confederate reenactors clash.
Amid the hundreds if not thousands lined along a fence watching a battle re-enactment, the two women drew attention as they posed for photographs.
"It just enhances the experience for us," Kim Rufener said amid the startling booms of cannon fire and the crackle of muzzle fire. "It makes it more alive. "It's an important part of history that we need to remember."
"We're just having fun," Mary added.
Asked if the reproduction outfit had hampered her travels, Mary said, "Well, it is muddy." She modestly lifted the hem of her hoop skirt, revealing laced black boots that were slightly muddied.
Mary's husband Mark joined the two wearing a formal waist jacket and coachman's hat. He finished off the look with a cravat.
The Rufeners have been to other Civil War commemorative events, but Appomattox was the first in period costumes. "This is a big deal," Mary Rufener said, adding "We won't be around for the 200th."
A Civil War cannonball that ripped through Hannah Reynolds' master's cabin made her a footnote of misfortune, the lone civilian death at the Battle of Appomattox Court House. She died a slave at 60, hours before the war to end slavery unofficially came to a close.
A century and a half later, Reynolds' story is being rewritten: Newly discovered records show that she lingered for several days - long enough to have died a free woman.
This new historical narrative has made Reynolds, along with Confederate General Robert E. Lee and Union Gen. Ulysses Grant, one of the central figures in commemorative activities marking Lee's surrender at Appomattox, Virginia, starting Wednesday.
Friday night, a eulogy in period language will be delivered over a plain wooden coffin representing Reynolds' remains, a 100-member gospel choir will sing spirituals and 4,600 candles will be lit to represent the slaves in Appomattox County who were emancipated by Lee's surrender to Grant, his Union counterpart.
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