1865: From Farmville To City Point

Published 4:02 pm Thursday, April 21, 2011

Editor, The Herald:

In conjunction with the 25th story in the Civil War series, “In Their Own Words: Local Accounts of the Civil War” (see The Farmville Herald of April 15, 2011), I drove the 1865 route used by the College girls on their journey by wagon and train from Farmville to City Point (now Hopewell). There was not room on the page to include what I learned, so I am taking this opportunity to tell you about it here.

During the ten months that it existed (June 1864 – April 1865), General Grant's Headquarters at City Point was one of the busiest places on Earth. Federal engineers built facilities to support 100,000 troops and 65,000 animals. The Depot Field Hospital covered 200 acres and had a capacity of 10,000 patients. It was not only the largest hospital of the war; it was the finest, with a survival rate of 97 percent. Supplies were brought in by sail-40 steamers, 75 sailing ships, and 100 barges per day-and distributed by rail-26 locomotives and 275 railroad cars. They boasted that they could get the 100,000 rations of bread that were baked there everyday to the troops while it was still warm.

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Grant's cabin was constructed in 1864, along with 21 others, in the yard of the already 100 year-old Eppes plantation home at City Point. (They had initially used tents, but as the siege of Petersburg dragged on, and the weather got colder, the tents were replaced by small log cabins.)

Since the 2,300-acre site was situated at the confluence of the Appomattox and James Rivers, it was natural for the ancestors of its 1864 owner, Dr. Richard Eppes, to have named the plantation home Appomattox Manor. What irony that General Grant was receiving Lee's surrender in the McLean House at Appomattox Court House (CH), while his wife waited in his cabin at Appomattox Manor on the Appomattox River. After the war, Grant's cabin was taken down, just as the McLean House was. And like the McLean House, after many years it was restored.

After the war, in order to get the army to leave, Dr. Eppes had to pay them for all the improvements made to his property. He had no cash but his Yankee mother-in-law did and she bailed him out. What he got for his money were a lot of empty buildings, the supplies having been sold to civilian contractors as war surplus. Even into the 1950s, you could buy a complete Yankee Civil War uniform from a Northern army surplus store.

According to the park ranger at Appomattox Manor, the Yankees were never able to capture enough Confederate railroad rolling stock to supply their army. Whenever they tried, the Confederates sent their rolling stock South, out of harm's way. That was the reason, during Lee's Retreat, that the Federal engineers began converting the track from Confederate gauge to Federal gauge from City Point to Burkeville, in the direction of Appomattox CH.

An interesting footnote to history is that at the time of Lee's Retreat, Grant's wife, Julia, and son, Jesse, were staying in his cabin. Moreover, the first family-President Lincoln, his wife, Mary, and son, Tad, came down aboard the River Queen. It was during this time that Lincoln conveyed to Grant his wish that the terms of surrender be “liberal and honorable.” When Grant returned from Appomattox CH, Lincoln had already returned to Washington, but Julia and Jesse were waiting for him.

Now part of the National Park Service, General Grant's Headquarters at City Point is a best-kept secret because it is so difficult to find. The best way to get there is to enter the address “1001 Pecan Avenue, Hopewell, Virginia” in your GPS and follow its directions. Once there, you will most likely have a park ranger all to yourself, and it will only take an hour to see everything. This will leave plenty of time to visit the rest of the Petersburg National Battlefield.

Dr. Ray A. Gaskins