Out of the frying pan…You know the rest

Wilmer McLean

In 1861 Wilmer McLean was retired from military life. A grocer by trade, living in Virginia with his family, Mclean was perfectly fine with not having to be involved in the war. At 47 years of age, he was far too old to reenlist when the war broke out. A southerner at heart and a business man by trade, McLean valued his status as a Virginia gentleman. Which was why he was overjoyed when he was approached by Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard to use his home, located just outside Manassas, as a perfunctory headquarters. As luck would have it, the battle of Bull Run would begin that very afternoon as Union an Confederate forces converged on McLean’s front yard, marking the first major battle of the Civil War. Beauregard and his troops exacted a heavy toll on McDowell’s unseasoned Union army, but not before getting off a number of shots themselves. The Union just happened to be canon heavy on that particular day. One of those canons lobbed a fiery ball through the roof of McLean’s house, landing on his kitchen table. The home survived, and so did McLean and his family. But his business, along with many others in Manassas, suffered because of the war. Wilmer filed for bankruptcy and moved his family to a home in Appomattox, Virginia.

Appomattox Courthouse

In 1865, General Lee’s dwindling forces fought their last skirmish at a little known area of Virginia known as Appomattox Courthouse. Lee lost 600 hundred men in that battle and quickly surrendered. The war was over. On April 9th of that year, Wilmer McLean was approached again by yet another Confederate General. Only this time it was Robert E. Lee himself, requesting to use the home for a meeting. That meeting was Lee’s official surrender of the Confederacy to General Ulysses S. Grant. The surrender took place in the parlor of the McLean family home, overlooking the battlefield, still being cleared of the dead. Once it was over, the two general’s shook hands and Lee departed. Later that month, Wilmer McLean gave a statement to a local newspaper saying: “The war began on my front lawn, and ended in my front parlor.”

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