Rev. Emeritus Ken Sawyer’s Remarks for “Bells Across the Land”

These remarks were delivered on April 9, 2015, at a commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War. 


This nation-wide bell-ringing event is the idea of the National Park Service. “For the past four years, [it] and many other organizations and individuals have been commemorating the 150th anniversary of the [American] Civil War….They write that “In conjunction with a major event at Appomattox Court House National Historical Park the…. Service and its partners invite communities across the nation to join in this commemoration.”

Hence, here we are, soon to go up into the belfry, not all the way, but far enough to reach the rope that causes the 1814 Paul Revere bell to toll. Anyone who wants to can climb the stairs that lead from the choir loft to the first level and take a turn at pulling the rope and ringing the bell, which is going to go on from 3:15 until 3:19, to symbolize the four years that the war lasted.

This commemoration has just begun, with bells ringing for four minutes at 3:00 back at Appomattox, where 150 years ago today Generals Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee met to discuss the terms of surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, the Confederacy’s most successful and dangerous. The end of the War itself came not long after.

I have been borrowing phrases from here and there, and in the little time we have I will share a few more, and invite you all back here after the ringing to share other stories and information. But you can find lots to read about the period and Wayland’s relationship to the War, starting with the piece by Lois Davis in Wayland A-Z. I also profited by a presentation she made at the Historical Society, which includes some of the basic facts:

“Over the war years, about 130 men connected to Wayland served in nearly 30 different regiments of infantry, several artillery batteries and cavalry units and the Navy. They enlisted for periods ranging from 3 months to 3 years or the end of the war. They served throughout the South, from Virginia to Louisiana, although some of them never got out of Boston harbor. Their individual terms ranged from a few weeks to over 4 years….

“[Twelve] soldiers [from Wayland] died during the war, 5 from disease, one from a combination of disease and wounds, one a prisoner of war and four in battle. Twelve soldiers were captured, one only briefly, but 11 of them spent time in Confederate prison camps.”

The remembrances of those who fought and returned were collected in a sizable book, published in 1871, when efforts to erect a monument were abandoned. Dick Hoyt has excerpted some of the accounts, and lent me the book. It includes reflections like, “Mr. [George Gilbert] Kemp regarded the war, on the whole, as a great good; and is sincerely glad to have aided the consummation by his personal presence in the army as a soldier.”

“With a hearty aversion to the rough scenes of war, [George Anderson Spofford] sees, in the great good accomplished, ample satisfaction for all the unpleasant appliances and perilous exposures to which his soldier-life subjected him.”

With help, you can find another presentation to the Historical Society years before by Mary Trageser in the on-line account of the curriculum prepared for the middle and high schools by the Historical Society’s Local Studies Center. There is as lot to be found there, including two religious statements from the days preceding the outbreak of war.

The first is an 1837 petition from 49 women of the Trinitarian Church to the House of Representatives. This was the fourth such petition originated by the minister, Lavius Hyde, and his wife, each urging the abolition of slavery in lands under federal control – two states-to-be and the District of Columbia, as well as an end to the slave-trade nation-wide.

It concludes, “We also respectfully announce our intention, to present the same petition, yearly, before your honorable body, that it may be a memorial of us, that in the holy cause of Human Freedom, we have done what we could.”

Not long after, who should arrive in town but Lydia Maria Child, the famed abolitionist, to care for her father and live here for 25 years. She did not join either church, although during the war she worked with the many women from both churches and others providing for the troops. She did attend this one, though, because its minister was Edmund Hamilton Sears, who said, for example, in the course of an 1856 sermon:

“[Slavery] injects its poison through all the veins of the republic, making the government [bend] to its will, and [spreading] barbarism and ruffianism under the forms of law, when it can, and in defiance of all law when it cannot…..

“Out of the present crisis there are two paths that open before us and only two. One is through violence and revolution… It is a terrible remedy! But if there is no other, it comes to that in the end.

“We have moral and religious duties. There is no peace for the country, no safety for northern institutions, no safety for us and our children, no security for the civilization of the age, until slavery is gone.”

And gone it became, but at a terrible price.

There was certainly joy in Wayland when the war was won. I wish I could tell you that Maria Child’s husband David climbed a 60-foot elm tree with an American flag and sang the Star Spangled Banner, as I had remembered. But actually, that happened when news came of the decisive victory at Gettysburg. Still, he must have been as happy.

Lois Davis notes that “Wayland had a general reception for the returning soldiers on July 4, 1865. A service of thanks was given for freedom and peace, and the joy of seeing the returning veterans was mingled with sad remembrances of the fallen.”

I hope the bell was rung. Probably so.

I read that “the sound of bell ringing [a tradition from Europe] could signal both celebration and mourning.” That Paul Revere bell gets rung for joy at weddings; it was rung in celebration when the hostages were freed in Iran; and when there is a death, as people arrive for the memorial service, it is rung once for every year of the person’s life, a custom since the 17th century.

Just so, writing about today’s event, Bells Across the Land, the Parks Service suggests that “These reverberations will not only mark the end of the bloody conflict in which more than 750,000 Americans perished, but communities may ring their bells in celebration of freedom or a restored Union. Others may use the occasion as an expression of mourning … for the fallen.”

May our own bell’s tolling bring to mind the effort and ultimate success of Waylanders who served, here or in the field; the sacrifice and sorrow of war; and a renewed commitment to peace and to freedom for all.