As Gen. Robert E. Lee’s troops retreated from their defeats at Sailor’s Creek and High Bridge on April 6-7, 1865, they sought respite in Farmville, desperately seeking food from supply trains stationed in town.

As his troops ate what they could, Lee met with his commanding officers and Confederate Secretary of War John Breckinridge at a home that is just to the north of the north end of what is now Longwood University’s campus.

The 16th annual Civil War Seminar at Longwood University on March 13-15 will focus on the events of the closing weeks and months of the war, with an emphasis on the Appomattox Campaign—the Confederate slog west and final days of skirmish when all hope was finally lost.

The seminar will be broadcast live on C-SPAN and re-played as part of its ongoing Civil War programming.

"This year’s conference will take us through the final week of Lee’s retreat," said organizer Dr. David Coles, professor of history at Longwood. "We are pleased to bring several well-respected authors and historians to share their deep grasp of the subject matter. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House just two days after he passed through Farmville is one of the defining moments of American history, and we are in a unique position to discuss its legacy."

The impressive lineup of speakers is anchored by Dr. Elizabeth R. Varon, a professor of American history at the University of Virginia. She is the author of several books on the Civil War era and 19th-century South, including Appomattox: Victory, Defeat and Freedom at the End of the Civil War, which earned her the 2014 Library of Virginia Literary Award for Nonfiction and the 2014 Dan and Marilyn Laney Prize for Civil War History. It was a finalist for the 2014 Jefferson Davis Award, given annually by the Museum of the Confederacy. Her Civil War Seminar address at 1:45 p.m. on Saturday, March 14, is titled "Legacies of Appomattox: Lee’s Surrender in History and Memory."

"Dr. Varon brings a unique perspective to the legacy of Lee’s surrender," said Coles. "She’s a top voice in the field, and her address will sum up what the sesquicentennial anniversary of the Civil War has been about all along—reflection and better understanding of the lasting impact of the war and our country’s painful rejoining. Appomattox Court House is the starting point of that legacy."

The broadcast on C-SPAN is a first for the Civil War Seminar. Saturday’s events will be broadcast live, then re-played in the evening as part of the network’s regular American history segment.

The seminar begins Friday evening and continues Saturday morning with a recap of the events of 150 years ago, beginning with the fall of Petersburg on April 2 that spurred Lee’s retreat west. He surrendered seven days later in Appomattox Court House. Saturday morning picks up with a discussion of the battle at nearby Sailor’s Creek, the site of the last major engagement of the war, which took place April 6, 1865. Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning explore the legacies and forgotten histories of the final days of the war.

"Attendees will come away with a deep understanding of the maneuverings in the war’s final days and a better grasp of the mind-set of both Lee and Grant as they moved west," said Coles. "And, beyond that, they will engage in a rich discussion of the forces that shaped the remainder of our country’s history."

The lineup of speakers includes professional historians and scholars:

  • Mark Bradley, author and historian at the U.S. Army Center of Military History
  • Christopher Calkins, retired National Park Service historian
  • Tracy Chernault, author and ranger at Petersburg National Battlefield
  • Casey Clabough, author and professor at Lynchburg College
  • Robert Dunkerly, author and ranger at Richmond National Battlefield Park
  • Michael Gorman, historian at Richmond National Battlefield Park
  • John Hennessy, chief historian at Spotsylvania National Military Park
  • Patrick Schroeder, author and historian at Appomattox Court House National Historical Park
  • Elizabeth Varon, author and professor of American history at U.Va.
  • Ronald Wilson, author and retired historian at several Civil War national parks

The seminar is free and open to the public.

All events will be held at Jarman Auditorium on Longwood University’s campus. A complete schedule is available through the Longwood History Department. The seminar is sponsored by Appomattox Court House National Historical Park; Eastern National Bookstore; and the Department of History, Political Science and Philosophy, and the Center for Southside Virginia History, both at Longwood University.

That A Nation Might Live

The Civil War Seminar takes place as work is concluding on a long-running podcast series sponsored by Longwood University that focused on events leading up to and during the Civil War. Each week a faculty member looks back at significant events that occurred 150 years ago. The podcast is used at sesquicentennial events and is an important tool for scholars and students. More information and all archived episodes are available at

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