Bells Across The Land

Published 12:45 pm Thursday, April 16, 2015

The man playing Robert E. Lee was gone with the cool, damp breeze that followed him at 3 p.m. last Thursday afternoon, April 9—150 years, to the minute, after General Lee, himself, had done so following his surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia to General Ulysses S. Grant.

The man playing Grant remained on the steps of the McLean House, where the surrender took place in Appomattox, as a bell began to ring a few yards to his right. He was listening, along with the thousands of people who had come from the four corners of the US and from around the world to witness the sesquicentennial ceremonies.

The sound set off a chain reaction across America, just as the surrender had done in the spring of 1865. “The Bells Across The Land” began with the ringing of that bell when the surrender re-enactment was complete and was followed 15 minutes later by bells ringing for four minutes—one minute for each year of the Civil War—from coast to coast.

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As the National Park Service noted, the surrender set in motion “the beginning of reconciliation and reconstruction,” as well as the “next step in the continuing struggle for civil rights.”

In some ways, the end of the Civil War resembles the end of World War II. The Second World War was over but the Cold War immediately began. Just as overt slavery ceased with the concluding shots of the Civil War but more covert forms of enslavement began, as did the weapon-less war, using the rule of law, to loosen and then lose those chains.

We must not allow the bells of freedom to become silent, even for a moment, or they will be melted down more quickly than we can imagine and turned back into chains.