The 10th anniversary celebration of the American Civil War Museum in Appomattox allowed guests to take a deep dive into history.
On Sunday, historians and professors Caroline Janney and Elizabeth Varon discussed “Appomattox and its Legacies” as the theme of the panel headlining the event. The day concluded a weekend of commemoration for the events from the final days of the Civil War, which took place in Appomattox.
Moderated by American Civil War Museum President and CEO Rob Havers, the panelists discussed their research and thoughts on some of Confederate General Robert E. Lee and Union General Ulysses S. Grant’s decisions in the final days of the War and the lasting impact felt in Appomattox and beyond.
Both Janney and Varon believe Lee’s terms from April 9, 1865 had not been of unconditional surrender. For the African American community, the date marked a time of celebration tinged by doubt.
“While April 9 and other days are absolutely celebrated, it’s not clear that freedom is going to stay,” said Janney, who is a professor of history of the Civil War and is director of the John L. Nau III Center for Civil War History at the University of Virginia. “It’s not clear that this is going to be a long-term effect.”
While Lee’s surrender marked the true realization of the Emancipation Proclamation, discord split the Appomattox area with bitterness instead of unity, even lasting into modern days.
“Some wanted to see Appomattox as this moment of peace, and yet others surely did not. The failed effort for a grand peace monument to be built here in the 1930s is case in point,” Janney said.
The planned monument which would have depicted both Lee and Grant ultimately was halted due to the Daughters of the Confederacy, according to Janney. The failed effort represents how unity was never quite achieved even with a monument.
A large part of the reason Appomattox is not viewed as a moment of peace is because of its significance as essentially the death of the Confederacy.
Varon is a professor of American history at UVa and associate director of the Nau Center. She said for the Confederate veterans, Appomattox represents a “finality” of the Civil War where they were saddened and angered.
“It’s also a place that asks us to think about the totality of the war, and its legacy — the toll, the suffering, the sacrifice, the elusiveness of reconciliation, the elusiveness of social justice,” Varon said. “It’s a heavy sort of analytical challenge to sort of grapple with this day and this place.”
It’s been 157 years since Lee’s surrender, and the museum is doing just that: thinking about the Civil War’s legacy. This year marks the 10-year anniversary of the museum’s opening with a future set to continue preservation and commemoration of history.
“On this 157th commemoration of the surrender, Appomattox remains the significant turning point in US history,” Havers said at the reception following the panel. “This is where the American Civil War Museum needs to be.”
The mission of the museum is a passion for some staff like Jeniffer Maloney, director of marketing and public relations for the museum. She loves the community and how the museum offers a look into important history.
Maloney especially values the museum’s focus on the Civil War and its legacies. Looking at history offers examples for current culture to learn from the past and draw parallels with modern interpretations. Recognizing the “unfortunate legacies” of the Civil War can show people how its effects may still run into the world today.
“That’s what we do, you know? We don’t give opinions. We just tell the history and offer people that opportunity after hearing it to think about it and ponder it,” Maloney said. “It’s an experience as much as it is learning. Those are the legacies of it.”