Virginia Trip 2021 | Day 8 | Appomattox Courthouse | New River Gorge National Park
After leaving Spotsylvania Courthouse, we began heading Southwest via VA-208 West, US-522 to Powhatan, and US-60 West, trying to avoid traffic around Richmond. Our next stop for today was at Appomattox Courthouse National Historic Park, which wasn’t exactly on our way, but it had been somewhere we’ve wanted to visit for a long time and now was about as close as we would get for the foreseeable future. Back when we lived in Charleston, we visited Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie, where the Civil War began, and today we would finally see Appomattox Courthouse, were it ended.
The temperatures had creeped up on our drive from Spotsylvania to Appomattox, but we still set out for a short walk around the historic site. We started at the courthouse, where Charlotte and I waited outside for Curtis to go in to check out the exhibits and get our stamps. We then continued our walk around, going from one shady spot to another, trying to imagine the history that played out in this spot.
History by Curtis: After Grant’s Overland Campaign forced General Lee to defend Richmond and St Petersburg for the better part of a year (June ’64 – March ’65), it became apparent to Lee that the only hope of survival for his army (and the Confederacy as a whole) was the abandonment of the Confederate Capitol and an attempt to join forces with General Johnston’s Army of the Tennessee who was then fighting General Sherman in the Carolina’s. Lee made his escape West, following the Appomattox River, but was dogged by Grant and his Army the whole way. After a series of light battles and setbacks, the Confederate Army found themselves surrounded by the Army of the Potomac near the town of Appomattox Courthouse. Lee, knowing he was beat, pursued a terms of surrender from Grant. Truly, the most remarkable part of the war, Grant’s terms of surrender allowed that all men in the Army of Northern Virginia be allowed to turn in their arms, be given a slip of parole, vow not to take up arms against the Union (until such a time that their parole had been exchanged), and return to their homes, never to be harassed or tried for treason. A leniency that was extended to every other standing army of the Confederacy.
Unlike any other contemporary (or even modern) insurgency, rebellion, or civil war, the belligerents from Cabinet Officials and Generals to the lowliest of privates were free from trial (to be legally made so by President Johnson in 1868). The only person who had any form of legal punishment was President Jefferson Davis who was imprisoned for two years before being released on bail and later pardoned by Johnson. The war ended with implications of status quo antebellum, Lincoln was shot 6 days later, Johnson enacted Reconstruction and its many shortcoming, and Reconstruction was considered ‘complete’ during a back room deal between Republicans and Democrats during the election of 1876.
Once we were finished at Appomattox, we drove to Lynchburg, took US-29 North and US-60 West to Lexington where we finally got on I-64 heading West. We entered West Virginia, and kept driving until we reached the Sandstone district of New River Gorge National Park after 4pm.
New River Gorge is the USA’s newest national park, as of 2020. We visited back in 2012 with Curtis’ family when it was just a National Scenic River site. We don’t remember a whole lot besides seeing the US-19 bridge, but we have national park cancellation stamps to prove we were there. We weren’t sure what there was to do besides see the bridge, but that was over an hour’s drive North and not on our route. Earlier that week when I was chatting with our AZ friends, they told me they had visited the Southern end and learned that while the Northern part (with the bridge) receives 4,000-6,000 visitors a day, the Southern side sees only 400-600. This surprised me since it’s right off the interstate, but I guess everyone else is like us and just thinks of this park as being the one with the giant bridge.
We started off our visit by stopping at the visitor’s center for stamps, maps, and to devise a plan. There happened to be a campsite just up the road, so we decided to start there to see if there were still available spots. We arrived at Meadow Creek Campground and found it almost empty, with just a few tents spread out. It was a little hard to believe, seeing as it’s a free campsite, within a national park, not far from the interstate, and on a Friday! We happily claimed a site for the night and set up our tent.
Next, we started looking at the map, hoping to find a hike for that evening. However, we decided the best way to experience the area would be by water and not a wooded trail, so instead we drove a half hour South to Bluestone State Park to go kayaking.
We set up our kayak and put in at the boat launch off of Pits Road right off WV-20. At first we started heading West, but there were several motorboats zipping around here and causing the water to be choppy, so instead we went East to the no-wake zone, and were completely alone here. We enjoyed an hour and a half long leisurely ride, avoiding large algae patches and seeing deer along the water.
As the sun began to set, we made our way back to our campsite, where we had dinner and then settled in for the night. Noting that we were near some train tracks, I recalled our night camping in Nebraska a few months ago and joked, “We’re not going to hear 6 trains rolling through during the night, are we?” As it turned out, there were exactly 6 trains that came throughout the night. Besides that, we had a lovely night here, and we certainly can’t complain about a free camping spot in a national park!