A heavy toll, recalled
Local residents and National Park Services officials gathered at Belle Grove Historic Plantation for “Bells Across the Land” on Thursday.
It served as a symbolic commemoration of the sesquicentennial of Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant on April 9, 1865, at Appomattox Court House.
“Bells Across the Land” was originally conceived by Amy Bracewell, site manager at Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historic Park, and eventually turned into a nationwide movement — complete with its own trending hashtag #BellsAcrosstheLand2015.
Park Interpretive Ranger Eric Campbell estimated that probably “hundreds” of localities nationwide pledged their support for the event.
Area towns such as Strasburg, Front Royal, Woodstock and Winchester also had numerous residents, churches and businesses chime in to the movement.
In terms of the level of participation, Campbell said, “This is what I think we were hoping for. We didn’t know what to expect.”
Starting at 3:15 p.m., localities rang bells for four minutes, one for each year of the war.
Gore resident Guy Young provided a bell from his home for use at the Belle Grove event. Young, 69, has been a volunteer for the National Park Service at Cedar Creek for the past three years.
“I enjoy history,” Young said. “I volunteered at Daniel Boone Home in St. Charles County, Missouri, before, after I retired.”
During a program before the meeting, Cedar Creek Park Ranger Shannon Moeck discussed the significance of the Civil War as it pertained to the Shenandoah Valley leading up to the “symbolic end” at Appomattox in 1865.
“Even though we tend to look at today as the end of the war, people were still fighting beyond,” Moeck said, adding jokingly, “Some might say it’s still being fought today.”
Moeck pointed toward the stories of valley resident Mary Stickley — who was 9 years old at the onset of the war — and numerous others to illustrate the progression of the war throughout the valley.
Alongside the localized aspect of the war, Moeck also pondered and discussed the generational consequences of the time period.
Quoting a minister from the time, Moeck said, “The price was a generation of men; a generation of mothers now sonless, sisters brother-less, wives husbandless and children fatherless.”
Moeck noted that her great-grandfather emigrated from France in 1859 and actually “joined a German regiment out of New York.”
“The most profound thing I found through my research is that he became a citizen of the United States on Oct. 9, 1864, which happens to be the Battle of Cedar Creek,” Mock added.
Residents in attendance were encouraged to recount stories of ancestors that had either fought-in or lived through the war. Young was one of three residents who shared their story at Thursday’s program.
“As far as I know, my great uncle, George Young, was captured in 1862 with a guerrilla band in Missouri and sent to Alton Military Prison in Illinois,” Young said, noting that this uncle eventually succumbed to small pox at the prison.
Young added, “I know everyone has a story, that’s just a story that touched my heart from my home.”
After moving to the valley three years ago to be closer to his grandchildren, Young said he actually learned something new regarding the Civil War family heritage of his grandchildren.
“Their maternal grandfather fought with the Union VI Corps in all of the battles right here,” Young explained. “It has a special meaning to me, to be on the ground that he fought in.”
Adding that he had relatives who fought on both sides of the war, Young said, “It reminds me of the troublesome days that they probably had, and maybe some happy days, too.”
Throughout the year, historical sites and entities will be shifting the focus of the sesquicentennial on the reconstruction efforts following the end of the Civil War.
Moeck said that Cedar Creek and Belle Grove will “start going into the murky waters of what the post-war life was like.”
Contact staff writer Kevin Green at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org