It is believed that the front five rooms of the Babcock House were built in 1884 by Samuel Patterson Coleman, Jr. Subsequently the house was owned by the Abbitt family. In 1908, the property was sold at public auction to H.C. Babcock for the price of $1,815.00.
Adding the rooms to the rear of the original five, the Babcocks used the house as a family dwelling and boarding house until it was converted to a Bed and Breakfast in 1996.
The Babcock House was the boyhood home of nationally known author, Dr. Havilah Babcock. Dr. Babcock was for many years head of the English Department of the University of South Carolina. His stories appeared in leading outdoor magazines including Field and Stream, Sports A field, Outdoor Life, Hunting and Fishing and Outdoors.
Dr. Havilah Babcock books included My Health is Better in November, Tales of Quails ‘n Such, Jaybirds Go To Hell on Friday, I Don’t Want to Shoot an Elephant, The Best of Babcock, and The Education of Pretty Boy.
The Babcocks & the Civil War
In 1853, a young man named Bradley W. Babcock came to Virginia to work as a surveyor on construction of the Southside Railroad. He was a native of Franklin, Vermont, a village near the Canadian border. The railroad was being built from Petersburg westward and when the rails reached a point in Campbell County about ten miles west of the present town of Appomattox, there was big celebration there to mark the opening of Concord Depot. Bradley Babcock attended that celebration and there he met Miss Mary Elizabeth Cardwell, the daughter of a local farmer. He soon left his surveying job, settled at Concord Depot, married Miss Cardwell, taught school and farmed.
When the Civil War began, Bradley faced a painful dilemma. He was married to a Virginia girl, had settled here and was the father of a young son. His own relatives, however, were northerners. No doubt he would have preferred to stay out of the conflict, but in March of 1862, with expectations of a compulsory draft, he joined an artillery company known as the Campbell Battery. He was elected First Lieutenant. The company was sent to Richmond where it was soon broken up and the enlisted men assigned to heavy artillery units defending the city. Officers were discharged, so Bradley then joined the 2nd Virginia Cavalry as a private. He served with his unit until some time in 1863 when he was discharged from the army for reasons unknown. In February of 1864, he was back, probably having been drafted, as a member of the 5th Virginia Cavalry. He was wounded during the spring campaign and spent several months recuperating in a hospital in Lynchburg before returning to his unit. At Appomattox, Fitzhugh Lee’s cavalry division, which included the 5th Virginia, did not surrender, but circled around the northern flank of the Union army and headed toward Lynchburg with the intention of possibly joining Joe Johnston’s army near Durham, North Carolina. Most units, however, melted away on the road to Lynchburg or disbanded there. Bradley Babcock stopped at Concord Depot to rejoin his family. For him, the war was over.
Bradley and Mary resumed their life together. Their family eventually grew to six children. In 1884, Homer C. Babcock married Miss Rosa Blanche Moore and bought a farm near the old courthouse on what is now known as Horsehoe Road. They lived there for some years and then moved into town to the present Babcock House. Homer Babcock opened a general store in the brick building which stands beside the railroad crossing in the center of town.
While Bradley Babcock was riding west on the Lynchburg road, his first cousin Orville E. Babcock was involved in the drama of Appomattox at a much higher level. Orville, a graduate of West Point and colonel in the Union army, was serving as an aide to General Ulysses S. Grant. After the failure of the Confederate attack on the morning of April 9, Lee felt he had no choice but to request a meeting with Grant. When word of this request reached Grant some miles from Appomattox, he sent Colonel Babcock to meet with Lee and set up a meeting between the two army commanders. Colonel Babcock was escorted through the Confederate lines to meet Lee, who was sitting on some fence rails under an apple tree near the road. After a brief conversation, the two rode up the hill to the courthouse village accompanied by several aides. The parlor of the McLean house was chosen as the most suitable place for a meeting and they waited there until Grant’s arrival.
The Appomattox Campaign: March 25 – April 9, 1865
The final campaign of the Army of Northern Virginia began March 25, 1865, when General Robert E. Lee sought to break General Ulysses S. Grant’s ever-tightening stranglehold at Petersburg, VA. He attacked the Federal position at Fort Stedman. The assault failed and when Grant counter-attacked a week later at Five Forks, the thin Confederate line snapped. Lee’s skeleton forces abandoned Richmond and Petersburg. The Confederate retreat began southwestward as Lee sought to use the still-operational Richmond & Danville Railroad. At its western terminus in Danville, he would unite with General Joseph F. Johnston’s army, which was retiring up through North Carolina. Taking maximum advantage of Danville’s hilly terrain, the two Southern forces would make a determined stand against the converging armies of Grant and Major General William T. Sherman. But Grant moved too fast for the plan to materialize and Lee waited twenty four hours in vain at Amelia Court House for trains to arrive with badly needed supplies. Federal cavalry, meanwhile, sped forward and stumbled across rolling country in an effort to reach Lynchburg, another supply base that could be defended. Union horsemen seized the vital rail junction at Burkeville as their infantry continued to dog the Confederates.
On April 6, almost a quarter of Lee’s army was trapped and captured at Sailor’s Creek. At Farmville when he received news of the disaster, Lee led his remaining 30,000 men in a northwest arc across the Appomattox River toward Lynchburg. In the meantime, Grant sent Major General Phillip H. Sheridan’s cavalry and most of two infantry corps on a hard, western march from Farmville to Appomattox Station. Reaching the railroad first, the Federals blocked Lee’s only line of advance. On the morning of April 9, Confederate probes tested the Union lines and found them to be too strong. Lee’s options were now gone. That afternoon, Palm Sunday, Lee met Grant in the front parlor of Wilmer McLean’s home to discuss peace terms. The actual surrender of the Confederate Army occurred April 12, an overcast Wednesday.
A History of Appomattox Station
In 1865, Appomattox Station served as flag stop on the South Side Railroad for the rural communities of the newly formed county of Appomattox. The railroad was a lifeline of communication for the rolling countryside where transportation over rutted dirt roads by stage or wagon was difficult and time-consuming. The depot served as a social center, a place where goods, news and gossip were exchanged. Time was kept inviolate by the station’s clock.
In 1892, evidence of the station’s relative growth in importance could be seen. When the old Appomattox County Courthouse burned, the county seat was relocated and the new courthouse was built a block from the station. The town of Appomattox was born and the village of Appomattox Court House, three miles away, became a place for visitors seeking out the nation’s history.
In 1923, the frame station burned. In the early 1930’s, it was replaced by the present brick structure. The new station exhibits the best examples of the expert architectural design of its era. It remained the center of activity in Appomattox for more than thirty years.
In the early 1970’s, as railroads were replaced by more efficient forms of travel, the station was abandoned by the railroad. In 1973, Norfolk & Western Railroad deeded the idle station to the Town of Appomattox. Shortly thereafter, local craftsmen leased a portion of the station from the town and an Arts and Crafts Center was born. The large cargo area of the station houses the Appomattox County Chamber of Commerce and the Visitor Information Center.
Presently, a historical marker at the station bears witness to its historical past. In addition, each October, the citizens of Appomattox hold the annual Historic Appomattox Railroad Festival to perpetuate the spirit and pride in a way of life that may have passed but is not forgotten.
The Battle of Appomattox Station
On April 8, 1865, scouts from Major General Phillip Sheridan’s Union cavalry encampment at Prospect Station discovered three Confederate supply trains twenty-eight miles west of their headquarters. The trains were waiting at Appomattox Station to be unloaded by the retreating southern soldiers. They carried essential supplies and food which Confederate General Robert E. Lee needed to revitalize his exhausted and starving army.. Sheridan seized the opportunity to capture the trains in a push towards the station that day.
Brevet Major General George Armstrong Custer, leading the Union advance, fell upon the unguarded Confederate trains that afterno0n. He and his men captured the three trains and sent them back toward Farmville. Custer and his Division of cavalry advanced beyond the station and ran into the Confederate reserve artillery and wagon trains headed to the station to unload the supplies. What followed is known as the Battle of Appomattox Station. After several piecemeal attacks, Custer’s men overran the Confederate position, capturing many cannons and wagons. The sun was setting on the final day of the Confederate retreat.
Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia had been pushed beyond the bounds of endurance, their food gone and their uniforms tattered. The long-awaited commissary supplies were captured and the service of Confederate Railroads in Virginia had virtually come to an end.
After a brief battle on April 9 at Appomattox Court House, Union forces had successfully cut off Lee’s route of escape. That afternoon, General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant in the home of Wilmer McLean at Appomattox Court House, just three miles from the station.