At Appomattox

Casey Clabough

Casey Clabough

Essay by Casey Clabough

“You’re in the wrong park,” I told the young men.

They shifted uneasily. One backed away toward the truck.

“We’re just waiting on Jimmy,” the tallest one said.

“You’re not re-enactors?”

“No sir.”


I spent most of my youth on a farm in rural Appomattox County. I live on another one now that borders both a portion of the famous national park and an oddly inconspicuous 20,000-acre state forest.

In preparation for the much-publicized 150th anniversary of General Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Ulysses S. Grant (some estimates called for as many as 150,000 visitors), I had traced the perimeter of my hundred or so acres, nailing new NO TRESPASSING signs into old dead wood. I don’t mind so much the occasional hardcore re-enactor or metal-detector-wielding treasure hunter. I just don’t want them to get hurt: trip over a root, step on a Copperhead, get trampled by Schlitz (my mostly-friendly, 1,000-pound bull).

In any event, I had resolved to stay at home on the 9th . . . just in case.

The date arrived in the form of a cool, overcast misty morn. In addition to farming a little, I’m a professor. Since April is final-paper/thesis time for students, I began the day working on their material, coffee on one side, dog at my feet on the other.

The morning darkened. Then came thunder. I am fond of such Spring storms. Typically they move eastward along the James River, a few miles to the north, water upon water. Such storms help pastures and gardens to “pop,” as we farmers call it—to aid in the germination of seed and the return of what has wintered.

Only the thunder accompanying this storm was of a peculiar order—at times synthetically rhythmic. It took me a few moments to realize I wasn’t hearing thunder at all, but rather the boom of canon fire.

Other than the artillery sound, things were quiet—cows grazing, hens clucking, dogs napping while songbirds serenaded us all. As I worked, I glimpsed through the window the season’s first butterfly—a small, delicate, white creature, fluttering irregularly in the direction of a blooming azalea.


The mailbox is nearly a mile from my house. Part of the reason for such distance is that a section of my driveway serves as a remote and seldom-used access road into the wilds of the state forest.

Mail Time, as I call it, typically is a happy mid-afternoon occasion for the dogs and me. They stretch from their slumber and I set aside my work. Together we set out along the drive, bent upon fetching what has been left for us.

Only that day, as we neared the access road, the dogs erupted into barking at the sight or scent of a large white pick-up blocking the way.

As we approached, two young men emerged from either door, looking nervous, uncertain, while the dogs began dancing about them, barking less and sniffing the air.

“You’re in the wrong park,” I said, presuming they were lost.


And so the beginning becomes the end.

“You’re not re-enactors?”

“No sir. Just aimin’ do some off-road muddin’.”

Another truck rumbled up—like size, different color.

“That must be Jimmy,” I said.

The young man nodded.

“You boys take care.”

And away they went, growling of engines and dogs.

So passed April 9, 2015, in Appomattox. No wars or strange visitors. Just the sound of distant guns, light misty rain, and an encounter with some local boys bent upon some shared and probably illegal fun.

The mailbox was empty and that was alright with us. Nothing to fetch that day. We turned back, mix of legs in motion—a happy pack.

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  1. Great article, James Dickey would approve! We are so looking forward to having you at Southern Litfest 2015! Beautiful, historic Newnan, Ga June 5-6th

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