When we think about the local history of Appomattox - or any history - it’s easy to think about the written word; or, if you visit the Surrender Grounds at the National Park, history as represented by architecture and the surrounding land. But history also can be effectively told with photographs, or least history from the last 150 years or so since the invention of the camera. If you don’t think this is true, take a quick peek at Patrick A. Schroeder (pictured here) and Scott Frantel’s Appomattox County from Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America series.
I got a chance to sit down with Schroeder at Baine’s Books & Coffee, and he told me about his background in Civil War history and about his love of historical photographs. As the historian for the Appomattox Court House National Park and the author of a number of Civil War books, he’s well versed in Appomattox County’s history.
“We had to gather the photos together and then research the information that could be used,” Schroeder said. “The most difficult thing about it is since I’m a historian…and I like to give everybody all the information there is on something, these photo captions were limited to 70 words.”
When Arcadia first contacted Schroeder, he was busy with a number of other projects, which meant that Appomattox County had to be put on the back burner for a couple years. Once co-author Frantel joined the project, however, it came together quickly.
“We did a lot of work in a short amount of time,” Schroeder told me.
Schroeder had loved history from an early age, and his family made a habit of visiting historical sites when they traveled. At age 13, however, his interest in American history segued from the Revolution to the Civil War.
“I think [the] Civil War I found more fascinating because one thing that you had in the Civil War that you didn’t have in the Revolution was photographs, and in particular photographs of the men who fought the war. So you were able to put faces behind what was going on.”
As a historian at the Appomattox National Park and author of a number books like Thirty Myths About Lee’s Surrender, Schroeder has immersed himself in Civil War History. But while the Civil War may loom large in Appomattox’s past, Schroeder notes in the book’s introduction that, “…there is more to Appomattox than the events of April 1865.”
For instance, Schroeder believes that many residents will learn more about the County’s early history.
“There [are] just not a lot of early photos of Appomattox County, so just to get a look at some of these early people that were involved in the history of the County such as Samuel McDearmon…”
McDearmon would play a pivotal role in the development of Clover Hill, which would later become Appomattox Court House. He’d also help establish Appomattox Station (later downtown Appomattox), building the Nebraska House that can still be seen on Church Street.
“Just to get a look at this fellow,” Schroeder said of McDearmon’s photograph, “I don’t think most people in the County have ever seen what Samuel McDearmon looks like, and he’s the one largely responsible for creating Appomattox.”
Schroeder also notes that while a finished book may look like it came together naturally, a lot of work goes into a project like Appomattox County.
“Towards the end when we had to have everything done, Scott and I worked on it for two days staying up most of the night, and sleeping on the floor. Just working through to get everything out on time.”
While it may not be unusual for an author to say that he wrote a book like Appomattox County for the people who live there, Schroeder offers a new twist to the cliche: all the proceeds for the book will be donated.
“This [Appomattox County] was done as a tribute to the people of Appomattox County and the County itself, and [as] a way to preserve the County’s history…We’re going to donate our royalties to [the] Civil War Preservation Trust…So it was…a labor of love to do this book.”
Appomattox has a long proud history, one that began in 1845 when the County was carved out of surrounding counties, and one that stretches from the end of the Civil War at the McLean House to the present. In Appomattox County, Schroeder and Frantel collected over 200 photographs that represent the County’s people, schools, churches, farmland, and industry. If you want to know what downtown Appomattox looked like in 1915, just turn to page 97; if you wanted to know how dilapidated the McLean House looked before it was dismantled and rebuilt, turn to page 41; and if you wanted to know what the Court House (the old courthouse) on Court Street looked like right after the turn of the twentieth century, turn to page 44.
Even the structure of Appomattox County tells the story of our Town and County, moving from the foundation of the County through the Civil War and exploring the schools, churches, farms, and businesses of Appomattox. Schroeder’s pithy captions offer a rich assortment of detail, helping to ground each photograph in a specific place and time. Even long time residences will find much to reminisce over, and, most likely, a revelation or two. The quality printing by Arcadia brings all of these elements together, making Appomattox County a great coffee table book for history buffs and anyone who calls Appomattox home.