On a Grocery Man

Wilmer ran a grocery business in northern Virginia before the American Civil War. He and his family had a comfortable farm near the small burg of  Manassas Junction. Like almost everyone in his state, Wilmer felt that his loyalties should be with Virginia rather than with the United States . So, when Virginia seceded from the union, he approved.

Both sides thought that it would be a 90 day war. Lincoln dispatched a large army from Washington DC in April of 1861 to meet the rebel force in the field and push them back to the new rebel capital at Richmond, Virginia. The union army did not have to travel far to meet the Confederate force. The two sides clashed at Manassas in what became known as the battle of Bull Run, which was the name of the nearby creek

Wilmer found that the battle destroyed his farm. In fact, the first real skirmish of the conflict started directly in front of his house. He was determined that the war would never again have such an impact on his family. He sold what he could in the aftermath of the battle, and he moved his family south and west, deeper into Virginia, where he felt safer and where his family could live in peace until the war was finished.

For the next few years, and despite the fact that the fortunes of Virginia and the southern nation soured, Wilmer managed to prosper somewhat. He continued his grocery business in his new location by selling produce to the southern armies. In a time when many people struggled, Wilmer managed to build up a nice farm to replace the one he had lost earlier in the war.

By the spring of 1865, Robert E. Lee‘s army was near defeat. General U. S. Grant pursued Lee, attempting to crush the last real threat that the south posed. By April 1865, Lee was finished. Hey sent word to Grant that he wished to discuss surrender terms after one last battle at a place called Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia. 

Wilmer received that news when a soldier knocked on his farmhouse door. The soldier, a young officer, asked if Wilmer would allow his house to be used for a conference—a meeting. Wilmer reluctantly agreed.

Soon, the head of the southern army, Robert E. Lee, arrived at Wilmer’s farmhouse. Minutes later, General Grant arrived. The two men discuss the terms of surrender in the parlor of Wilmer‘s house. 

After Lee surrendered, officers from the Union army and souvenir hunters  dismantled Wilmer’s house. Once again, the Civil War had destroyed his farm. Disgusted with both sides of the war, Wilmer moved back to Manassas where he spent the rest of his life.

Yes, Wilmer McLean was the only man who could honestly say that the Civil War began in his front yard and ended in his front parlor.

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