Rare First Hand, Eye-Witness Account of Events at Appomattox in April of 1865
Rare First Hand, Eye-Witness Account of Events at Appomattox in April of 1865: These two accounts, one typed (dictated in 1937) and one handwritten some time in the early 20th century, were the recorded recollections of Victoria Bryant Jenkins. Mrs. Jenkins, about six-years old in April, 1865, lived with her family, on the “Buckingham Road”, on the plantation, “Pleasant Retreat” (no longer standing – see picture in the gallery from the National Park Service, taken prior to the collapse of the house) owned by Captain Joel Flood, about a mile from the surrender site in the small village of Appomattox. Victoria’s father, James Bryant, was the overseer on Captain Flood’s plantation; her family’s house and surrounding land was overrun initially with Confederate troops, in the days preceding the surrender, as they retreated from Grant’s advance. Gradually, the Flood plantation became the scene of influxes of troops from both the Union and Confederate armies. As more and more troops, from both sides, arrived in the area, Victoria and her family, unable to leave, for safety, their home, became witnesses to the historic and dramatic unfolding of end-of-the war events, as well as participating in the immediate aftermath. Victoria’s sister, Martha or “Mattie” Bryant Sweeney, was a the newly married wife of Confederate 2nd Va. Cavalry soldier, Charles Sweeney; the Sweeney cabin still stands in the village of Appomattox, now maintained by the National Park Service. Charlie Sweeney was the cousin of Joe or Joel Sweeney, who was purported to be the first to popularize the use of the five-string banjo.
In Victoria Bryant’s (using her married last name, Jenkins) typed account, dictated to her granddaughter, Thelma Bryant Watkins, in 1937, she describes, in lengthy detail, in this four page document, all of the events surrounding the prelude and aftermath of the surrender. She discusses hearing nearby musket and cannon fire, being unable to leave her parents’ home because of fighting all surrounding them, interactions with both Union and Confederate soldiers who came to their home, the use of her family’s home as a field hospital, the famous apple tree where Gen. R.E. Lee awaited word from Gen. Grant, regarding the impending surrender, as well as her sister’s home, the Sweeney cabin, as a headquarters for Gen. Lee; she describes her sister serving Lee his breakfast.
Included with these two accounts, are several family photos of Bryant and Jenkins descendants, as well as various newspaper articles from the mid-20th century about the Sweeney house and Joe Sweeney, as well as articles about a Driskill family member – this family is a direct descendant of Victoria Bryant Jenkins. This entire grouping originated with a Driskill family member, still living in the Appomattox area.
Original eyewitness accounts, recorded by civilians, of such momentous events as those surrounding April 9, 1865, are exceedingly rare. These two accounts describe in vivid, first-hand detail, what a young civilian and her family endured during those fateful last days of the war. All pages in the accounts are in very good condition.
James Bryant 40
Susan F Bryant 40
Martha J Bryant 16
Elen R Bryant 14
Elizabeth A Bryant 12
John J Bryant 8
Susan P Bryant 4
Victoria P Bryant 9/12
Martha (“Mattie”) J Bryant
The daughter of James Bryant, an overseer on the nearby Flood plantation, “Pleasant Retreat”. Martha “Mattie” married Confederate soldier Charles Sweeney in January, 1865, and resided less than a mile from the Courthouse. Charles was the nephew of Joel Sweeney who popularized the banjo. Gen. Lee’s headquarters was not far from the Sweeney home, and she witnessed many of the events that took place in Appomattox in April, 1865.