Return to Appomattox


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.

IMG_1188The two bands volleyed songs back and forth, including Dixie, played by the confederates, and The Star Spangled Banner played by the union band.

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.

IMG_1174However, the invitation was simply the first step.

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.

IMG_1185Morning 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.

IMG_1183Like the bands of long ago, we played The Star Spangled Banner and Dixie, along with a number of other selections.

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.

About Kathie Mitchell

Kathie enjoys country living, time with family, playing cornet in community bands, crafts, gardening, and writing.
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8 Responses to Return to Appomattox

  1. What an honor and awesome experience to have! My husbands 3rd great grandfather was killed during the Civil War on April 3, 1865 in Hopewell Virginia. I’ve also found other family members who served in the Civil War and one who was arrested in Columbia county for draft resistance. Thank you for sharing your experience.

  2. cindyes1 says:

    What a fantastic experience.

  3. suemidd48 says:

    This is very cool. What a wonderful experience!

  4. What an exciting event. Would love to have been there. Great post, Kathie. Very informative.

    • It was a privilege to be there. Although I was disappointed when I found out that Mike and I had to drive the equipment truck, it turned out to be a lot of fun. Driving down, we met up with band members who wanted to drive their own vehicles. Several of us ate lunch together at a Chick-fil-A in Harrisonburg, VA. Everyone had cell phones so we were texting with folks on the bus and those driving separately. Best of all, my brother and sister-in-law drove up from Charlotte, NC and stayed with us at the hotel. We had a great visit. The whole experience is something we all will remember for the rest of our lives.

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