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Wal-Mart Plans Concerns Officials At Appomattox

Deborah Fitts

- (August 2007) APPOMATTOX, Va. - Plans to build a full-sized Wal-Mart shopping center a stone's throw from where the army of Robert E. Lee fired its last shots of the war have disappointed officials at Appomattox Court House National Military Park.

Wal-Mart announced plans in April to build on a 26-acre site that it purchased west of the park. While the land is nearly a mile from the park boundary, historians point to its unique significance.

It all happened very quick," said park historian Patrick Schroeder. The store will be built at the intersection of U.S. 460 Bypass - a four-lane - and Route 26. Schroeder predicted increased traffic and litter problems for the park.

But of even more concern, Schroeder said, is the impact on the ground where the final shots occurred. The Wal-Mart purchase includes the site of the Robertson House, around which fighting swirled on the morning of April 9, 1865.

"This is where the last shots were fired and the last men were killed," said Schroeder. "It's at least part of the story" of the last day of the war for Lee's army.

The Robertson House site is on a rise of ground a few hundred yards from where the Wal-Mart is to be built. The brick home was torn down about 15 years ago.

Late on the morning of April 9, 1865, shortly after fighting was suspended between the two armies, Confederate cavalry under Gen. Fitz Lee reached the Lynchburg Stage Road about two miles west of the village of Appomattox Court House after passing around the left flank of the Union army.

There, by the Robertson House, they clashed with Union cavalry under Gen. Henry Davies. The fighting broke off when the Federals sent out a white flag with word that Lee was negotiating the army's surrender. Of 3,000 men engaged, Schroeder said, there were about a dozen casualties, including at least two Confederates killed who were buried behind the house.

"The National Park Service couldn't do anything about it," Schroeder said of Wal-Mart's plans. "We're not happy about it, for sure."

But pressure from the park did pay off. Schroeder supplied historical information to an archeological firm hired by Wal-Mart, and apparently the accounts were convincing. Wal-Mart has agreed to protect about an acre around the house site and install a wayside marker.

Meanwhile the Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT) has been "monitoring" the Wal-Mart issue, according to the Trust's Jim Campi.

"The unfortunate truth," said Campi, "is that most of this battlefield is gone already." While the Wal-Mart property is still partially wooded "and is much like it must have appeared at the time of the war," Route 460 runs right through the battlefield and development surrounds the intersection.

Campi said the Trust may approach Wal-Mart to help in efforts to preserve land at the nearby Appomattox Station battlefield. CWPT has helped save 172 acres of the battlefield in the past seven years, and additional land is available.

"We're in negotiations to save more," Campi said.

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