Monday, February 01, 2010

News---Appomattox Battlefield Located, Preservation Advances

Discovery of Appomattox Station Battlefield Provides Historical Missing Link, Duffie Taylor, News Advance, Lynchburg, Virginia, January 31, 2010.

Longtime Civil War historian Chris Calkins began looking for the lost battlefield of Appomattox Station in the early 1970s. Back then, he and many other Civil War buffs feared the site of the April 8, 1865, battle was buried somewhere under asphalt in the Town of Appomattox. “We have always assumed the battle was up near the Triangle Shopping Center (in Appomattox) and they had already bulldozed that area so we couldn’t test it,” Calkins said.

Still, he continued his search — first, through a store of written archives and then, on the grounds of Appomattox, with a copy of a Union soldier’s sketched map and a metal detector. Calkins’ work paid off when he located the battlefield years later on a 47-acre tract owned by Jamerson Trucking Company. Luckily, Calkins said, the site was largely undeveloped and he was able to verify his discovery through the artillery remnants that he unearthed on the property.

This month, Calkins’ quest came full circle when the 47-acre tract was purchased by The Civil War Preservation Trust, a national organization devoted to preserving old battlefields. The trust’s spokeswoman, Mary Koik, said that the battlefield’s preservation would not have been possible without Calkins. “I give Chris Calkins credit for combing through that tremendous amount of information and finding the battlefield,” she said. “Popular wisdom was that it had been lost.”

A Detroit native, Calkins said his fascination with the Civil War began early. At 20, he took a seasonal job in the Appomattox Court House National Historical Park, where he played a Union soldier in the park’s living history program. The summer job turned into a lifelong stay when he was introduced to his future wife at the town’s Dairy Queen. “They say you’re either a Virginian by birth, marriage or choice,” Calkins said. “Well, I’m a Virginian by the latter two.” Calkins has since devoted his life to the study of the Civil War, with a particular focus on the war’s last two battles in Appomattox.

Now the park manager of Sailor’s Creek Battlefield State Park, Calkins has written several books on how the two battles shaped the war’s end. He said that discovering the battlefield of Appomattox Station provided the missing link in the events leading up to General Robert E. Lee’s surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia on April 9, 1865. The battle between the Union Cavalry, led by General George Custer, and Confederate Artillery, headed by General Lindsey Walker, “was another nail in the coffin” for the Confederates and, ultimately, paved the way to the battle of Appomattox Court House and Lee’s surrender the following day, he said.

Before the discovery, the story of the Civil War’s end was incomplete, said Appomattox County Tourism Director Anne Dixon. “Your visitors were missing the middle piece,” she said. “This piece of the story completes it.” Calkins said that Custer’s destruction of three Confederate supply trains and the battle that ensued from it were directly accountable for Lee’s surrender. “That was Lee’s last chance to get out of it,” he said.

Koik said that the trust eventually plans to turn over the battlefield to a steward that will maintain its preservation and spur visitors’ interest in the site. The National Park Service is a likely candidate, she said. Securing the historical site in time for the 150th anniversary of the Civil War is an important achievement for the area, said the town’s tourism director, Will Simmons. “(It) provides a tremendous impetus for people to preserve this land while they still can,” Simmons said. “Soon, the opportunity will be gone.”

Text Source: News Advance, Lynchburg, Virginia

Image Source: Top---Wikipedia Commons

Bottom: Civil War Preservation Trust

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