Bells Across the Land

On April 9, 2015, at 3:15 PM EDT, the National Park Service invites you to participate in “Bells Across the Land.” At that time, people will ring bells for the next four minutes–one for each year of the war–to commemorate the surrender of Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia to Ulysses S. Grant, general-in-chief of the Armies of the United States.

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April 7, 1865: “Let the thing be pressed.”

Fresh from victory at Sailor’s Creek, Union forces continued to press westward against the Confederate rearguard. This time it was the Confederates who attempted to set High Bridge on fire, and this time it was the Yankees who doused the flames in the nick of time.

Within hours of Robert E. Lee’s departure from Farmville, Ulysses S. Grant entered the small town. As he had urged Sherman the previous day, “let us finish up this job all at once.” He conveyed his sense of urgency to Meade: “Every moment now is important to us.” But he was not quite sure when the end would come, so he urged his wife Julia that perhaps she should leave City Point and return home to Burlington, New Jersey.

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April 6, 1865: “My God, has the army dissolved?”

On April 6, 1865, Ulysses S. Grant’s two-pronged approach to pursuing Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia paid off handsomely. While Charles Griffin’s V Corps and elements of the Army of the James under Edward O. C. Ord continued to sweep westward in order to cut off the Confederate escape route, Horatio G. Wright’s VI Corps, Andrew A. Humphrey’s II Corps, and Union cavalry crashed into the retreating Confederates in a series of engagements along Sailor’s Creek (sometimes called Sayler’s Creek) east of Farmville. The already disorganized Confederates struggled to escape, but losses were heavy, and several prominent commanders, including Richard S. Ewell, fell captive into Union hands. Bluecoat thrusts found gaps between Rebel columns, facilitating the Confederate collapse, with limbered artillery and wagon trains clogging the retreat path. However, an attempt to burn High Bridge to block off the Confederate escape route to Farmville failed.

Viewing the disaster, Robert E. Lee exclaimed: “My God, has the army dissolved?”

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