By Bill Hawkins:
Driving along US 460 through Appomattox County, I often saw a road sign that read, “Hixburg Road.” As far as I knew it was just the name of a road that led to, what at one time, may have been a place called Hixburg. Then one day I decided to see what was down that road, so I took a little drive off the beaten path and that’s when I spent the afternoon sitting on the porch of an old stage coach inn talking to a man whose grandfather had been sheriff of Appomattox County just after the Civil War.
When speaking of that time, he didn’t refer to Appomattox Court House National Park as “old Appomattox Court House,” or “The National Park,” as so many others. He called it “The Surrender Grounds.” A term that I suspect was used by locals for many years after the War Between the States. He told me some local lore about the time the Union Army marched through the village on the way to meet The Army of Northern Virginia, which was being led by General Lee as he tried to reach food waiting for his army at the railroad station a few miles south of Appomattox Court House.
It seems that the building across the road from where we sat on the porch was a tavern at the time General Grant led his army past. Of course, as legend would have it, General Grant couldn’t pass the tavern without first having a few drinks. Apparently, he liked those drinks so much he stopped again on his way back through after the surrender to have a few more. My local bard didn’t know the truth of the lore, but as he said, “Rumor does have it that Grant was fond of the bottle.”
That tavern, by the way, had been built near the end of the Revolutionary War using bricks that had come across the Atlantic as ballast stones in a ship. It did make me wonder what they used as ballast stones on the way back.
Across the road from the tavern is an old country store which had been built in 1916 and was one of three in the village. The store now sits empty, but my storyteller remembers taking a wagon to Pamplin to load supplies for the store which had come in on the railroad. I asked him why he just didn’t take a truck and he said, “’Cause back in them days the roads were all dirt and sometimes a wagon was just easier.” He then added, “I used to plow the fields all day with a mule pulling a plow.” Then, after a thoughtful pause and a sly smile he added, “It seems I was more tired when I plowed those same fields riding around on a tractor!”
He then sat silent for a few moments as if remembering Hixburg as the village it used to be and with a sadness in his voice said, “The railroad killed Hixburg when they put it through. When they built it they wanted to take the route which was the flattest, so they built it south of here instead of following the old stage road between Petersburg and Lynchburg. It went through Pamplin and flatter land is why the Appomattox Station was a few miles south of the Surrender Grounds.”
His tone went from one of sadness to pride as he continued, “My great-grandfather is buried on the surrender grounds. He used to keep a store there.”
Then, as if the word “buried” had triggered a painful memory he sank into an even deeper sadness as he began recalling his wife of 64 years. She had died several months back and was buried in the church graveyard nearly visible from the porch. In a low voice, almost a whisper, he continued, “I missed her so terribly that when she died I wanted to die too.” I saw a tear trickle down his cheek and I soaked in the emotions of sitting on a porch with a man who had led a full life and I thought of how life goes on and waits for no man.
Hixburg might be a village who has seen its prime come and go, but in the hearts of the people who made up the village and who have passed through, it’s a place to be remembered.
To find more about Appomattox County, click on the link and search multiple keywords simultaneously on Appomattox.VAyourWay.com. It’s all free and it’s all Appomattox!