Bells Across the Land: A Nation Remembers Appomattox

Tom Lovell (1909-1997)  Surrender at Appomattox  Oil on masonite  18 x 30 in. (45.7 x 76.2 cm.)

Tom Lovell (1909-1997) “Surrender at Appomattox”
Oil on masonite, 18 x 30 in. (45.7 x 76.2 cm.)

For the past four years, the National Park Service and many other organizations and individuals have been commemorating the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War and the ongoing efforts for civil rights today.

On April 9, 1865, Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant met Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee to set the terms of surrender of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. The Smithsonian will join the National Park Service and many other organizations and individuals to commemorate the end of our bloodiest struggle. Bells will ring first at Appomattox at 3:00 p.m. on April 9, 2015. The ringing will coincide with the moment the historic meeting between Grant and Lee in the McLean House at Appomattox Court House ended. While Lee’s surrender did not end the Civil War, the act is seen by most Americans as the symbolic end of four years of bloodshed.

After the ringing at Appomattox, bells will reverberate across the country. Bells will ring from the Smithsonian Castle on the National Mall, Independence Hall in Philadelphia, from the Old North Church in Boston, from the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond, from Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, and from battlefields, national park sites, national cemeteries, state capitols, county court houses, town halls, historical sites, universities, schools, homes, churches, temples, and mosques around the nation.

The end of the Civil War has different meanings to different people. Participants will ring bells across the nation as a gesture to mark the end of the bloody conflict in which more than 750,000 Americans perished. Some communities may ring their bells in celebration of freedom or a restored Union, others an expression of mourning and a moment of silence for the fallen. Sites may ring bells to mark the beginning of reconciliation and  reconstruction, or as the next step in the continuing struggle for civil rights.

Though the Civil War began the movement to extend equality to African Americans, the promises of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments provide easier to accomplish in theory rather than in practice. The promising start towards racial equality soon faltered during the tensions of Reconstruction and laws were soon enacted across the country which enforced segregation of the races and the second-class status of African Americans.

Today, nearly 150 years since the end of the Civil War, people of all races, colors, creeds and beliefs continue the struggle to make America a nation where truly “all men are created equal.”

Please join Bells Across the Land by ringing hand or cell phone bells at precisely 3:15 p.m. EDT for four minutes (each minute symbolic of a year of war).  Share how you observed the event with #BellsAcrosstheLand2015.  Stories will be compiled in one place to see how each one helps build our national story. Visit The Park Service’s Storify page for more information.

The bell-ringing at Appomattox will be streamed live online at 3:00 p.m.  EDT.  Click here for more information.

Appomattox, Virginia ©2012 Nels Cross Photography

Appomattox, Virginia ©2012 Nels Cross Photography

You might also be interested in an upcoming symposium at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, “History, Rebellion and Reconciliation: Communities Mobilized for Social Change”

 UPDATE April 10

Posted: 9 April 2015
About the Author:

Alex di Giovanni has been editing The Torch since August 2006. Prior to joining the Smithsonian, she worked as a writer and editor for the National Geographic Society, Plexus Scientific, The Nature Conservancy, The National Foreign Language Center and St. Martin’s Press, among others. She has the best job in the world.