The name Wilmer McLean may not be found in most history books, but if it isn’t in the Guinness Book, it should be. The man moved his family during the Civil War and if real estate is all about location, then Wilmer McLean was probably the luckiest home buyer of all time.
Or unluckiest, depending on your point of view.
The opening shots of the Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter, in Charleston Harbor in April 1861. With the exception of a cannon accident that killed a Union artilleryman after the fort surrendered, there were no casualties. The major outcome of that was that the Civil War was officially on.
It was in Virginia, three months later, that the Confederate and Union Armies would meet in the first major battle of that war. General P.G.T. Beauregard (who happened to command the Confederates at Fort Sumter) used McLean’s house as his headquarters during that engagement, what would become known as the First Battle of Bull Run.
Or First Manassas, depending on your point of view.
During the fighting, a Union cannonball came crashing down McLean’s chimney, into his fireplace. Beauregard later wrote: “A comical effect of this artillery fight was the destruction of the dinner of myself and staff by a Federal shell that fell into the fire-place of my headquarters at the McLean House.”
McLean served in the Virginia militia but was too old to return to military service for either army. He was a merchant-trader for the Confederate Army, but operating his business so close to the Union lines was hazardous, so after that first battle, he moved his family south…to a small area called Appomattox Court House.
On Apr. 8, 1865, Generals Lee and Grant sat in McLean’s parlor, discussing the terms of the Confederate surrender and the end of the Civil War.
After the two generals left the house, Union officers began taking everything in the room — as souvenirs. Some paid McLean for their prizes, some didn’t, but they took everything, including his daughter’s toy doll.