Civil War History Wilmer McLean at the Beginning and End of the War Part 2

About Wilmer McLean an odd figure in American Civil War history who can claim to have hosted both the beginning and end of the War.




McLean took him to his home just west of the courthouse, its lawn shaded by trees, its white picket fence sagging--probably the result of the morning's action.

Marshall followed McLean into the parlor and approved. The colonel recalled in his memoirs that Col. Orville Babcock of Grant's staff went in with them to wait for the meeting of commanders: "So General Lee, Babcock and myself sat down in McLean's parlor and talked in the most friendly and affable way."

By 4:00 P.M. it was all over. Lee and Grant rode away--and the looting of the house began. The McLean family was besieged by offers from Federals to buy souvenirs. Many pressed greenbacks upon Major McLean, who protested that he did not wish to sell.

General Sheridan "bought" the table on which surrender terms were written, and donated it to the wife of General Custer; it is now in the Smithsonian Institution. General Ord got the table upon which Grant and Lee signed the terms, and it is today at the Chicago Historical Society.

Some officers, chiefly of cavalry, tried to buy chairs used by Lee and Grant, and when they were refused, took them off on horseback. Chairs with cane bottoms were cut up for mementos, and the strips of cane handed out to Federals in the yard. Upholstery was cut to ribbons.

Sylvanus Cadwallader, the New York Herald correspondent, was in the crowd. He made a quick sketch of the McLean house, of which copies were sent north, some to be published, some to be reproduced and sold for the benefit of old soldiers.

The McLean house stood until 1893, when it was carefully dismantled for removal to Washington for an exhibition. The financiers of the project were ruined in the panic of that year, and the materials were never reassembled. Timbers, bricks, doors, and windows lay in the open until they deteriorated beyond repair.

The contractor who tore down the house, C. W. Hancock of Lynchburg, was not paid for his work because of the bankruptcy of the promoters.

A facsimile of the house was made possible for posterity by one P. C. Hubard, who made detailed drawings for Hancock, a copy of which was preserved in a Lynchburg library.

In 1948 the federal government ordered the McLean house rebuilt in an exact replica of the original, using the Hubard drawings. The contractor chosen for the work was E. H. Hancock, the youngest son of the demolisher. The price of the restoration was $49,553.

The state of Virginia appropriated $5,000 toward furnishings. Donations in cash and furniture came from many private sources, and in 1950, in the presence of U.S. Grant III and Robert E. Lee IV, the house was dedicated as part of the national park in the courthouse village.

In 1960 the only piece of original furniture in the surrender parlor of the house was a horsehair sofa purchased from a granddaughter of Major McLean.

Reproductions of the chairs and tables used by Lee and Grant were on display, copied from the originals at the Chicago Historical Society and the Smithsonian Institution.

Other original items, including furniture, jewelry, silver, and utensils, are in the house, gifts of other McLean descendants.

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