Southside Virginia still maintains most of its historic scenery of the 19th century. Small towns and windy roads abound. In the area between Petersburg and Lynchburg “Virginia’s southside,” Lee and Grant’s armies left marks that still resonate today.
Any visit to the area must begin with downloading the popular “Lee’s Retreat” from the Virginia Civil War Trails website. This tour route was the first of the “Civil War Trails” and local historian and Sailors Creek Battlefield Park Manager Chris Calkins was behind its “re-inception” in the 1990’s.
A good place to begin a visit to the area should be at the new Sailors Creek Battlefield Visitor Center (6541 Saylers Creek Rd, Rice, VA). The exhibits give a great background not just to the battle of Sailors Creek, but also the entire Appomattox Campaign. There are several places on the battlefield that are worthy of a visit.
Another “new” attraction is High Bridge Trail State Park. This new park follows the old Southside Railroad from Rice to Pamplin City. The main attraction is High Bridge itself. The best place to access the bridge is to park at the western end of the bridge (467 River Rd., Farmville, VA). The walk to High Bridge is about 1 mile, be sure to visit the Confederate earthworks on the east side of the bridge. Though the trail is now on top of a modern steel truss work, you can still see the original brick pillars that held up the original bridge.
Farmville itself has several places to visit with a connection to the Appomattox Campaign. Longwood House (1335 Johnston Dr., Farmville, VA) is the site of Gen. Joe Johnston’s birthplace and was the home of Lee’s staff officer Charles Venable. It is now the home of the Longwood University President.
Longwood University traces its roots back to before the Civil War. During the war called
“Farmville Female Seminary”, the historic campus can be visited at 201 High St. Nearby are two historic homes that welcomed Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee on April 7, 1865.
Both houses can be found on Beech Street. The Patrick Jackson House (304 Beech Street) Lee met with Secretary of War John C. Breckinridge to discuss strategy. Soon after he walked across the street to the Thornton House (309 Beech Street) to visit with the widow of Col. John Thornton of the 3rd Virginia Cavalry. Both homes are privately owned and please respect the owners’ privacy. Both can easily be seen from the street.
Located at 300 N. Main St. is the site of the Randolph House Hotel. Though the
monument mentions it is where Lee and Grant once stayed, this is not accurate as only Grant is recorded as staying there the night of April 7th. Lee was not in Farmville long enough to stay over night (he would spend the evening of April 7th at Cumberland Church)
Finally, to see the historic Cumberland Church where the Army of Northern Virginia won its last battle, drive north Main Street. As leave head north from the site of the Randolph House Hotel, you will cross the modern High Bridge Trail State Park. This was the location of the Southside Railroad and where the trains were parked that held the rations for Lee’s army. Continue north on Rt. 45 (Cumberland Road). The historic church can be visited at 1835 Cumberland Rd., Farmville.
While in town, be sure to also visit the famous Green Front Furniture stores and grab something to eat at Charley’s Waterfront Café or Riverside Café. Farmville is a perfect place to stay the night so after you visit Sailors Creek and the sites around town, you can wake up and drive on to Appomattox, just 45 minutes away.