Reflections from Appomattox: Kasey Kiefer Discusses Her Internship at Appomattox Court House National Historical Park

by Kasey Kiefer | | Thursday, September 8, 2022 - 13:09

My name is Kasey Kiefer, and I am a fourth-year student pursuing a double major in History and Global Environments & Sustainability here at UVA. This summer, I had the privilege of working as a Cultural Resources Intern at Appomattox Court House National Historical Park, the site of General Robert E. Lee’s surrender to General Ulysses S. Grant, which marked the beginning of the end of the American Civil War. My experiences at Appomattox this summer taught me invaluable lessons about working in public history and instilled in me a passion for the field.

In this position, I worked with both the park curator and historian to help preserve and interpret the legacy of General Lee’s surrender to General Grant, the Appomattox Campaign, and the history of Appomattox, Virginia, more broadly. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, I worked with Ann Roos, the park curator. My daily duties were very similar to those of an entry-level museum technician, and they allowed me to get experience with a wide array of duties expected of those working in a museum environment. Routine housekeeping of historic structures allowed me to work hands-on, literally, in fascinating and significant park structures like the McLean House, where I even got to go inside the parlor room, the site of the surrender. I learned the importance of environmental monitoring and Integrated Pest Management (IPM) in structures and museum exhibits, practices that help preserve the integrity of historic artifacts, and I got pretty good at identifying different types of museum pests in the process. While completing the annual museum inventory, I got to go through park collections in search of controlled property and assorted accessioned objects -- easier said than done. Some items had been missing for years, and while we didn’t find everything on the list, I got to handle fascinating objects that were around during some of the most significant years of our nation’s history. Finally, cataloging accessioned museum objects using ReDiscovery taught me both technological skills, like how to use this popular collections database, but also how to identify and describe historic objects in common descriptive terms. Throughout all of these tasks, I worked closely with the park’s museum tech, David, and I learned a great deal about the typical duties of a museum technician.

One of my primary projects this summer was working on a collection of items belonging to Lieutenant Andrew Lee of the 8th Pennsylvania Cavalry. While completing the annual inventory, I noticed discrepancies between our records and the artifacts we had on exhibit and in storage. The collection had been improperly and incompletely cataloged, and items were not properly stored, making it incredibly difficult to find and assess these artifacts. For this project, I cataloged over seventy historic items in ReDiscovery, packaged all the collection items, and identified difficult-to-discern items in the collection using various research methods.

Outside of long-term projects and daily tasks, I also assisted with two large moves of museum items during my time at Appomattox. The first was moving a large bookcase (previously owned by a significant figure in the Confederate government) from the Clover Hill Tavern to the McLean House. The second was moving around ten pieces of framed artwork from the Isbell House (the park headquarters) to collections storage to ensure they were kept in climate-controlled facilities.

While working with Patrick Schroeder, the park historian, I got a great deal of experience transcribing primary source documents. This summer, among other projects, I transcribed multiple soldiers’ diaries and the ledger book of Thomas Bocock, Appomattox resident and Confederate Speaker of the House. In one soldier’s diary, we found a detailed, first-person account of the Battle at Sailor’s Creek as well as the surrender at Appomattox Court House. His emotions about the campaign were palpable, even through a very poorly handwritten account, and it was exciting to be able to piece together stories of those who experienced events that I have only learned about in the classroom. Additionally, I spent a lot of time researching Appomattox campaign casualties, attempting to find images of them for our records and more information on their experiences as part of the campaign. Typically, we would have very little information to go off of, only a regimental assignment and an often misspelled name, so it was very rewarding to find some of these men and be able to add their stories to the ongoing list at Appomattox. While completing these projects, as well as other assignments like going to Petersburg to pick up a limber chest donation from Chris Calkins, I developed valuable research skills that will help me move forward in my career, both academic and professional.

I am very grateful to UVA for allowing me to have this experience. Before this internship, I was not completely sure what the field of public history entailed, and I had very little understanding of how I could become personally involved. Now, I feel I have a much better understanding of what career path I want to pursue after graduation in a field that combines two of my passions, education and history, in an incredibly fulfilling capacity. I wholeheartedly enjoyed my time at Appomattox, a place in which I hope to be able to continue being involved in some capacity, and I am very excited about a future career in public history. Without the support of the amazing people at UVA’s Nau Center and Appomattox Court House NHP, this experience would not have been possible, so I want to reiterate my sincere gratitude to everyone involved in this process.