Local park leads national commemoration movement

Cedar Creak and Belle Grove National Historical Park are spearheading a national movement to commemorate the end of the American Civil War .

On April 9, participating churches, schools, and organizations will ring their bells for four minutes – one minute for each year of the Civil War — starting at 3:15 p.m. — or the time Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant.

According to a news release from Cedar Creek, the first bells will ring at Appomattox Court House in Appomattox, Virginia, at 3 p.m.

The idea of the movement, called “Bells Across the Land,” is the brainchild of Amy Bracewell, Cedar Creek site manager.

“All of our communities have been commemorating our individual anniversaries these last five years,” Bracewell said, explaining that the idea here was to create an event for communities “across the nation.”

Bracewell said the idea to use bells was to think of “how did people get the word out [back in the 1860s]?”

“I would think with an end-of-the-war, monumental event such as Appomattox, that there would have been bells ringing,” she said.

At first, Bracewell said the idea was to seek “local involvement” from towns, churches and schools. However, shel said that changed once word got out.

“It was very much a local, grassroots idea and then, with the help of others, we were able to take it national,” Bracewell said.  “I would love for as many communities, churches and town halls to participate as possible.”

Bracewell explained that park service staff members from Fredericksburg and Washington, D.C., helped with the movement’s name as well as getting “the language and message developed” for marketing purposes.

Since the National Park Service began advertising the movement in mid-January, Bracewell said the park has seen quite a few nationwide commitments, such as the Lincoln Boyhood Home in Indiana and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City.  Locally, some area churches and the town of Strasburg have agreed to participate.

Eric Campbell, park ranger at Cedar Creek, said they have also received commitments from St. Thomas Chapel in Middletown as well as some groups in states such as Utah and Nevada.

Bracewell said everyday she gets new information from their Washington office that someone else has joined in.

“Campbell added, “We’re going to spread the word through the visitor bureaus, like in Winchester, Frederick County and Shenandoah.”

In addition, the park is urging participants to use a hashtag specifically created for the event — #BellsAcrosstheLand2015 — in order to share local photos, videos and stories.

“Hopefully, on April 9 … anyone searching that hashtag will be able to see all of the good things happening across the nation,” Bracewell said.

For Bracewell, the movement is an opportunity to explore an aspect of the Civil War she said “does not get told a lot.”

“A lot of people focus on the war years, but the period known as the Reconstruction Period … is equally as important,” Bracewell said. “How did this country rebound after the war?”

Campbell expressed similar notions regarding the importance of the “Bells Across the Land” movement.

“The country we live in today was created out of the ashes of the Civil War, essentially,” Campbell said, adding that commemorating the sesquicentennial of Appomattox is “a great way to remind everyone what the country went through and what it means to us today.”

Contact staff writer Kevin Green at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kgreen@nvdaily.com