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Museums, battlefields, churches and schools will recognize the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War with the ringing of bells today.

The first bell will ring about 2:08 p.m. central time at Appomattox Court House National Historical Park in Virginia, where Gen. Robert E. Lee and Gen. Ulysses S. Grant met to end the war. The bell will toll for four minutes — one minute for each year of the war — which began April 12, 1861, and ended April 9, 1865.

The bells at Appomattox Court House will then be echoed by the ringing of bells for four minutes, beginning at 2:15 p.m., at battlefields, churches and other sites across the country.

"This historically happened," said Ernie Price, chief of education director at Appomattox Court House National Historical Park. "We see letters all the time from mid-April 1865 from people, particularly in the north, that would reference hearing bells ringing in town once the news of Lee’s surrender had got to Hartford, Connecticut or wherever."

The Bells Across the Land program was born when a Cedar Creek Battlefield park ranger called Price with the idea of ringing bells to connect other Civil War sites with the site of the battle that ended the war. 

"There's 95,000 soldiers that end up at Appomattox, north and south, but there's hundreds of thousands of soldiers that were in these same armies, but that didn't make it to Appomattox and their wars ended at places like Cedar Creek, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg and Richmond," Price said. 

"So we thought the idea was brilliant, and we thought this is great because we feel like Appomattox is a culmination site. It's not just a battlefield. It also represents the whole war leading up to that point."

Price said he has been "absolutely amazed at the response" from places across the country which will join in the commemoration. The Liberty Bell in Philadelphia will not ring, but Price said it will be tapped at 2:15 p.m.

Mike Jones, the director of the Gen. John A. Logan Museum, will ring the bell at Murphysboro United Methodist Church to commemorate the ending of the war that took the lives of 620,000 United States and Confederate soldiers.

Jones learned about the program from a comment left on his museum's Facebook page and has encouraged churches, schools and other organizations around Southern Illinois to join him in the ceremonial ringing of bells.

"Wouldn't it be neat if bells rang across Egypt?" Jones said. "Being a part of that moment will be exciting to me. It kind of makes you a part of something. You're playing a part in that history."

Before the bells ring at Appomattox Court House, impersonators of Lee and Grant will come out of the McLean House where the two generals met April 9, 1865, to discuss the Confederate surrender.

When Lee and the the other Confederate soldier impersonators leave the yard and ride away, the bells of Appomattox Court House will ring.

Price said the meeting between the two generals, who were both West Point graduates, was "very cordial." 

"I think it's hard for us in today's media world to understand how surreal it was for Lee and Grant to be in the same room with each other," Price said. "These are the two giants of the war. They became the supreme generals and then to think that they just walked into this man's parlor and sit down and speak with one another was just unbelievable."

When Lee left the confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, the city was in flames and he wasn't sure if his wife, who was living in the city, had survived, or if his son had been killed in the battle at Sailors Creek.

But Price said Lee put aside his personal issues and gracefully surrendered, refusing the temptation to let the conflict "devolve into guerilla warfare." 

"He was a pretty impressive guy and yet at that moment, managed to not just surrender the army, but to do it gracefully and do it in such a way that the confederate soldiers left Appomattox with their heads high, anxious to go home and as he said, with the knowledge that they had done everything that was asked of them," Price said.

"They had done their duty, even in the loss. Lee said that they did their job and that meant everything to them."

The ringing of the bells is not intended to be a celebration, Price said, but a commemoration, with the ending of the war meaning "a lot of different things to a lot of different people."

"We're not ascribing the meaning," Price said. "We're just marking the moment."

Price said remembering how the war peacefully ended can be helpful for a country that remains divided on many issues.

"There's always political turmoil in the nation, there's always political discourse, perhaps in recent years it's as hot and heavy as ever," Price said. "It's good for us to remember there was a time when it was actually worse, and we came out of it and we survived it intact."

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Chris Hottensen is the entertainment and features reporter for The Southern Illinoisan.

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