1865 McLean House View 

 

Generals Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant met at the home of village resident Wilmer McLean where the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia was agreed to on April 9, 1865.  In the late summer of 1865, Timothy O’Sullivan made this picture of McLean and his family gathered on the front-porch.  It is one of at least three photos taken of the house by O’Sullivan.  McLean is the gentleman closest to the front door wearing the light colored jacket.  He is surrounded by his family; his wife, Virginia “Jennie,” sits to his left.  Also in the photo are Maria (21), Osceola “Ocie” (20), Lucretia “Lula” (8), and Nannie (2).  Wilmer Jr. (11) does not appear in the photo.  The Raine family built the house in 1848.  McLean bought the house in the spring of 1863. 

 

Contrary to some accounts, Wilmer McLean was never a farmer, nor did he ever serve in the Confederate army.  Rather, he was a merchant who sold goods to the Confederate government during the war.  Before the conflict, he was in the wholesale and retail grocery business.  McLean’s limited farming experience came from managing the Yorkshire Plantation owned by his wife near Manassas, Virginia.  Though McLean liked to tell people that he moved his family from Manassas to Appomattox to escape the war, the move was primarily based on economic factors.  No doubt, he did have concerns for the protection of his family after two battles were fought near his property outside of Manassas.  However, the main reason was that, during the war, he worked as a sugar broker.  Dealing in this commodity required McLean to spend considerable time in south side Virginia, and when his northern Virginia property came under Federal control, it became unfeasible and unprofitable for him to remain in Manassas.  Thus, he moved to Appomattox Court House out of necessity.   

 

The McLeans resided in Appomattox Court House until 1867.  Wilmer McLean did his part in seeing that the Confederate Cemetery was successfully established.  Not only did he entertain the guest speaker, Colonel Farrar, who helped raise money for the project, he also assisted in digging the new graves and disinterring the bodies from their scattered burials.  Unable to make the payments on their Appomattox home, the McLean family moved back to their Manassas home in the fall of 1867.  The surrender house was sold at public auction.  More financial difficulties ensued for McLean, and he later moved his family to Alexandria, Virginia.  There he worked for the Internal Revenue Service from 1873-1876.  In 1876, he transferred to the U. S. Bureau of Customs and remained employed until 1880.  Wilmer McLean died on June 5, 1882, and his wife died on August 26, 1893.  Mr. And Mrs. McLean and many family members are buried at St. Paul’s Episcopal Cemetery in Alexandria.

 

Mrs. Ragland sold the former McLean house to Myron Dunlap of Niagara Falls, New York, in 1891.  In 1893, Dunlap had the building dismantled.  He arranged to move and reassemble the house in Washington, DC, where it would be on permanent display as a Civil War museum.  Dunlap failed to secure funds to complete the project and the materials remained rotting on the site until the National Park Service undertook the reconstruction of the house.  Some of the original materials were used in the project (including over 5,000 original bricks).  R. E. Lee, IV and U. S. Grant, III dedicated it on April 16, 1950.

 

 The surrender meeting between Lee and Grant occurred on April 9, 1865, in the parlor of the McLean house.  Lee’s military secretary, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Marshall, chose the meeting site.  The conference between Lee and Grant lasted about an hour and a half.  Altogether, Lee spent about two hours at the McLean House and Grant remained there for about three hours.  Union General John Gibbon, commander of the 24th Corps, Army of the James, used the house as his headquarters from April 10-17, 1865.

 

*Note:  This write-up is included with 8 x 10 print of photograph.

 

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