A War On Your Doorstep…Twice for McLean
Wilmer McLean was a businessman, in fact, a wholesale grocer in Virginia that probably would have never been a blip on the historical radar if not for where he chose to live. When the Battle of First Manassas (Bull Run to our Yankee friends) broke out in Virginia on July 21, 1861, McLean’s house was literally on the front line.
Confederate General Beauregard used it for his headquarters and the house itself suffered damage from Union artillery during the fight. In the picture above is the foundation stone from that very house. The inscription reads simply “Wilmer McLean, 1856…Rector. Builder.” The battle ended in a Confederate victory and four long and bloody years of war were underway.
At 47 Wilmer felt he was too old to join in the fighting though he was a retired major in the Virginia militia. Instead, he worked in his capacity as a grocer, supplying what he could to the Confederate army. With Northern Virginia now pretty much under Federal control though he found it tough to provide for his family and feared for their safety. So in the spring of 1863, he packed them up and bought a house about 120 miles south. To Appomattox, Virginia.
On April 9th, 1865 a knock on his front door let Wilmer know that his home had been chosen as the sight of the surrender negotiations between Generals Robert E. Lee and US Grant. There in his parlor, the two titans met and all but ended the major fighting of the Civil War. His home had seen the start of the war and the end of the war.
Falling on hard times in 1867 he sold the house in Appomattox and moved the family back to Manassas then later to Alexandria. It would be easy to feel a little sorry for this man who the war seemed to follow like a specter, but then again for a number of years in the 1870’s he worked for the Internal Revenue Service, so maybe not.