In April of 1865, an early morning rain drenched the countryside. It left behind a bone-piercing chill and a low hanging, misty fog. The place, Appomattox Court House, Virginia. That day General Lee would surrender to General Grant and end America’s Civil War.
Union and confederate armies gathered nearby, along with a confederate band, and a union band associated with the 8th /16th Pennsylvania Cavalry.
Last week, like that day long ago, an early morning rain drenched the countryside. It left behind a bone-piercing chill and a low hanging, misty fog. The place? Appomattox National Park where General Lee surrendered to General Grant 150 years before.
And once again, the union band associated with the 8th /16th Pennsylvania Cavalry took part in the ceremonies. Today this band is known as the Repasz Band from Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Hubby and I are two of its members.
Not just anyone could get an invitation to participate in the 150th commemorative ceremonies of General Lee’s surrender. Each participant had to have a connection to the original event.
One of our band members, a Civil War re-enactor, devoted hours and hours of research to verify that our band actually played at General Lee’s surrender. Only then did we receive an invitation take part in the ceremonies.
Now we ‘only’ needed to get 80+ people, along with musical instruments, to Appomattox, VA (an 800 mile round trip), arrange lodging and meals for everyone, secure a truck to carry equipment, and raise monies to cover the cost of everything.
Two band members took on the herculean task of reserving hotel rooms, assigning room mates, and arranging bus transportation. A local businessman offered one of his box trucks—free of charge—to carry our equipment. Many individuals, businesses, and veteran groups donated funds to cover our expenses.
Excitement in the band surged as the special day finally arrived.
However, things don’t always go as planned and this held true for us. Before leaving the second of two locations to pick-up band members, one of the buses developed transmission problems and refused to shift gears.
Over an hour later a replacement bus arrived, but this knocked everything off schedule, including the evening’s guided tour of Appomattox National Park followed by a meal.
But thanks to reshuffling and rescheduling by our two planners, the guided tour and buffet supper went off without a hitch.
The next snafu came that evening with one of our two booked hotels—the computers were down. Even though management knew that a busload of 60 people would be checking in that evening, they only scheduled one person to check everyone in—by hand.
Anything that could have been done ahead of time, like having rooms already assigned and keys labeled with names and room numbers, had not been done. The frustrated hotel clerk issued the last of the room keys more than two hours after the bus arrived.
Morning arrived wet, cold, and foggy from a thunderstorm in the night. The weather report called for sunny skies and warm temperatures by mid to late morning, but the sun and warmth never appeared, only a chilly wind.
During the ceremony, we sat outdoors on a raised platform for 2 ½ hours wearing our formal band uniforms—with suit coats designed for indoor use—and froze.
However, shivering in the cold and damp gave us a better appreciation for what the men who fought the Civil War had to endure, often day after day. Not a bad reality check. And unlike those soldiers, we knew a nice meal and a warm bus awaited us after the ceremony.
Participating in the ceremony thrilled everyone in the band, a grand once-in-a-lifetime experience for all of us. It ended all too soon.