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Wilmer McLean
File:Wilmer McLean ca 1860.jpg
Wilmer McLean, c.1860.
Born May 3, 1814(1814-05-03)
Manassas, Virginia
Died June 5, 1882 (aged 68)
Alexandria, Virginia
Resting place St. Paul's Episcopal Cemetery
Occupation grocer

McLean residence in Appomattox Court House, photographed in 1865 by Timothy O'Sullivan

Wilmer McLean (May 3, 1814 – June 5, 1882) was a wholesale grocer from Virginia. It is said that the American Civil War started in Wilmer McLean's front yard and ended in his front parlor.

The initial engagements on July 18, 1861, in what would become the First Battle of Bull Run, fought on July 21, took place on McLean's farm, the Yorkshire Plantation, in Manassas, Prince William County, Virginia. Union Army artillery fired at McLean's house, headquarters for Confederate Brigadier General P.G.T. Beauregard, and a cannonball dropped through the kitchen fireplace. Beauregard wrote after the battle, "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."[1]

McLean was a retired major in the Virginia militia, but 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. He decided to move because his commercial activities were centered mostly in southern Virginia and the Union army presence in his area of northern Virginia made his work difficult. He undoubtedly was also motivated by a desire to protect his family from a repetition of his battle experience. In the spring of 1863 he and his family moved about 120 miles (200 km) south to Appomattox County, Virginia, near Appomattox Court House.

On April 9, 1865, the war came back to Wilmer McLean when Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant in the parlor of McLean's house near Appomattox Court House, effectively ending the Civil War. Later, McLean is supposed to have said "The war began in my front yard and ended in my front parlor".[2] Once the surrender was over, members of the Army of the Potomac began taking the tables, chairs, and various other furnishings in the house—essentially, anything that wasn't tied down—as souvenirs. They simply handed the protesting McLean money as they made off with his property.[citation needed] George Custer was given the table on which the surrender document was drafted by Grant. McLean's second home is now part of the Appomattox Court House National Historical Monument operated by the National Park Service of the United States Department of the Interior.

After the War, McLean and his family sold their house in 1867, unable to keep up the mortgage payments, and returned to their home in Manassas. They later moved to Alexandria, Virginia. He worked for the Internal Revenue Service from 1873 to 1876.

McLean died in Alexandria and is buried there at St. Paul's Episcopal Cemetery.


  1. Beauregard's report.
  2. Halkim, Joy, War, Terrible War 1855-1865, Oxford University Press, 2002, ISBN 0-19-515330-8. Alternative versions of this quote are "... began in my front yard ...", "front lawn", and "front porch".


External links[]

fr:Wilmer McLean nl:Wilmer McLean