Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Away to Appomattox

The last leg of the trip around America was at hand. Since being furloughed immediately following the attacks on September 11th I'd sought to find myself and my future through a journey across the country, literally and figuratively putting as much distance as possible between myself and my former life and career. Some said it was wasteful not to immediately look for work, I felt there was no real work to be had in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy; the layoffs had only just begun everywhere you looked.

After meaningful and significant stops in the Rockies, Texas, Florida and Georgia I found myself in Wilmington, North Carolina at the beginning of Interstate Highway "I-40" heading northwest towards Virginia by way of Goldsboro and Raleigh where old friends lived. There had been many opportunities to visit friends and family in Dallas, Oklahoma City, Tampa, Orlando, Atlanta and Wilmington on this trip of rediscovery. My oldest friend from Junior High lives in the Raleigh area and has always been a rock of stability in the chaos of my own life. We all should have at least one friend of many years that keeps us grounded whenever there is an opportunity to spin out of control. His son, my godson, lives nearby in Goldsboro, allowing both to serve as a good, loving one-two gut check on the things that really matter.

The trip provided a not entirely planned but satisfyingly balanced cross section of American history and achievement. Pioneering the western frontier through Wyoming and South Dakota, musical history via Lubbock and space technology at Cape Canaveral in Florida. There was American Civil War history at Andersonville in Georgia so now, on the final leg towards home in Maryland, it was time for one more call to a Civil War landmark destination deep in the heart of Ol' Virginny.

By early April of 1865 the City of Richmond, capital of the Confederate States of America, was a lost cause. The Army of the Potomac under Ulysses S. Grant had crossed the James River the previous summer and finally broken through Robert E. Lee's lines after ten months at the Siege of Petersburg to force a Confederate retreat from the area. Lee headed west to regroup and resupply at Amelia Courthouse from where he planned to move farther west to reunite with the Army of Tennessee. At Amelia, however, there were no supplies and a full day's marching was lost in scouting the area. This delay gave the pursuing Union forces an opportunity to catch up and disrupt Lee's plans.

Even today if any American is asked about Appomattox Court House they might be able to say it was where Lee surrendered but they would know very little else about the place. Certainly I was one of those Americans as I moved north from the Carolinas in to southern Virginia towards a town that remains next to nothing in the middle of nowhere to this day. Lynchburg, home of Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, is the closest major city at the junction of US Highways 29 and 460. Interesting.

I followed US #460 west from I-95 at Petersburg, probably the same route Lee had taken in at least a few places, past towns such as Farmville and Pamplin City towards history. A supply train waited for General Lee at Appomattox, his last hope to pull off his plan. Grant was there, too, by the time he arrived.

Gotta go.

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