Wilmer McLean was born on May 3, 1814 in Alexandria, Virginia. He was orphaned eight years later and lived with relatives for the remainder of his childhood years.
|The First Battle of Bull Run, July 1861|
|McLean Home, Yorkshire Plantation|
|Edward Porter Alexander|
After the first Battle of Bull Run, McLean’s farmhouse was transformed into a Confederate hospital and imprisonment for Union captives. Confederate soldiers lingered for the next five months and 15 days. McLean received a rent payment of $825 upon their departure in March of 1862.
McLean was a retired major in the Virginia militia, but at 47, he was too old to return to active duty at the outbreak of the Civil War. He made his living during the war as a sugar broker supplying the Confederate States Army.
On April 9, 1865, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Marshall of Robert E. Lee’s staff asked McLean if his house could be used for a meeting between Lee and Ulysses Grant. The conference between Lee and Grant lasted about an hour and a half.
Lee surrendered to Grant in the parlor of McLean's house. Altogether, Lee spent about two hours at the McLean House and Grant remained there for about three hours.
|George Armstrong Custer|
Sheridan then asked George Armstrong Custer to carry it away on his horse. The table was presented to Custer's wife.
|Custer and his wife, Libbie|
|The "Silent Witness" to the Surrender|
"I have heard Mrs. McLean say frequently that the Union troops not only stole the tables and chairs besides other small furniture, but even took the childrens' play things..."
~ H.E. Spillman, Wilmer McLean's Son-In-Law
|Union Troops at Appomattox Court House, Virginia|
After the war, McLean was unable to keep up the mortgage payments on the Appomattox Court House home, and the family returned to Mrs. McLean's Prince William County estate in the fall of 1867. The "Surrender House" was sold at public auction on November 29, 1869.
McLean died in Alexandria on June 5, 1882 at the age of 68. He was buried at St. Paul's Episcopal Cemetery in Alexandria.
In 1912, Mrs. Custer lent the table to the National Museum. In 1936, according to the terms of her will, the loan became a bequest, and the table has remained in the national collections ever since.