Sunday, July 31, 2011

Civil War Sunday-He Couldn't Run from History

On U.S. Route 28 near Manassas, Virginia (near the parking lot of a CVS pharmacy) is a historical marker.
We passed that intersection a couple of times last Sunday, and who knows how many people pass by it every day.  But that marker "marks the spot" of a piece of history.  The Civil War is full of these types of stories, but to me this is one of the most interesting.

The marker marks the spot of the Yorkshire Plantation, owned by a wholesale grocer by the name of Wilmer McLean. He was a slave owner. He was never anyone "important" to history, but he is know to all lovers of Civil War trivia because he tried to escape history - but history wouldn't let him.

Wilmer McLean's house was used by the "hero of Ft. Sumter", Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard as Beauregard, commanding Confederate troops, prepared for what because the First Battle of Bull Run (First Manassas).  A cannonball dropped through the chimney and destroyed Beauregard's dinner.

The Civil War did not begin in McLean's house but the first large battle basically did begin on his property.

That area of Virginia suffered greatly from the war, and finally, in 1863, Wilmer McLean decided he had had enough and moved his family about 120 miles away to where he thought the Civil War would never reach him again.

He was wrong.

In April of 1865, a messenger knocked on McLean's door.  It seemed that Robert E. Lee was preparing to surrender to the Union's General Grant.  His house was needed as a meeting place.  Could they use it?

They did use it, and the Civil War ended (well, actually it didn't, but that's a story for another time) in McLean's parlor.

After the surrender was signed, everyone wanted a souvenir.  So the Union troops started to walk off with McLean's furniture.  As the troops hauled McLean's furnishings out the door, they handed the protesting McLean money.  Concerning the desk where the surrender was signed, I have read two stories of its fate. One is that General George Armstrong Custer (yes, he was a Civil War general) was asked by another Union General (Sheridan) to haul off the desk where the surrender was signed. I've also read that Custer actually took the desk himself.

History does not record (to my knowledge) what furnishings McLean was left with.

As for the pen which was used by the surrender, there is an interesting story about that too.

To add further insult, the money McLean made during the Civil War (in sugar smuggling) was in Confederate money, which now was worthless because of the surrender signed in his house.

Finally, bankrupt, he had to sell the house in 1867.

Sometimes you can run...but you just can't hide.

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