Bell Rang End of Civil War

By Doug Thomsen

Published in the Daily Mail. Transcribed by Arlene Goodwin


The date was Monday, April 10, 1865. America’s bloodiest war had ended the day before, on Palm Sunday. The place was Oak Hill and the man was Henry Howard Bates, pastor of the Episcopal Church. After he received word that the Civil War had ended (from a man passing through the village), the Reverend Bates went to the belfry in his church and tolled the bell for a half hour to bring the joyous news to the people of the village.

The bell was just thirty years old and had been made by Lewis Aspinwell. Aspinwall was a bell maker in Albany from 1823-48. His first foundry was at 18 Beaver Street. He then moved to Green and South Market Streets. This foundry was destroyed by fire April 17, 1828. He then moved to Beaver and Hallenbake Streets, and the foundry there was destroyed by fire on June 13, 1835. It was at this last location that it is believed that the Oak Hill bell was made.

There were Aspinwall bells in other areas as well. In 1831 Aspinwall made a bell for the Episcopal Church of Rochester that weighed 2600 lbs. In 1835 he made a bell for the Second Dutch Reformed Church of Albany, at the weight of 2737 lbs.

Aspinwall, who died in 1888, had two sons, William F. and L. Augustus. It was L. Augustus who invented the famous Aspinwall potato planter.

When Pastor Bates rang Aspinwall’s bell that spring day, he brought relief to the small village. Its loved ones would soon be coming home. But there were those standing in front of the church with saddened hearts and fond memories of men who would not be returning, and were instead buried in some far off Southern field. The Pastor probably experienced both emotions of elation and sadness for he himself had spent two years in the war. He was a chaplain in the 22nd New York State Volunteers from 1861-3. He helped soothe the wounded and suffering soldiers and said many prayers over the boys’ graves.

Henry Howard Bates was the youngest of seven children of David Ward Bates and Susan Howard. Henry was born November 23, 1808 at Benson, Vermont. He grew up in the valley between the Green and Adirondack Mountains. Later in life he met his best friend Eunice S. Basom, who had been born Dec. 18, 1811 in the village of Orwell, Vermont. Eunice was later to become Mrs. Henry H. Bates.

Meanwhile, Henry received an education at Andover, Massachusetts and Union College, Schenectady, New York. While in college, he was influenced by a Professor Potter to assume the Episcopal faith.

After college, Mr. Bates went on to the General Theological Seminary in New York City to study for the ministry and on March 7, 1840 he married Eunice in Orwell, Vermont. That same year he and his wife moved to his first parish in Blandford, Massachusetts, and four years later he was transferred to Warehouse, Connecticut, where he was pastor for eight years. He then moved on to the Episcopal Church at Tariffville, Connecticut for six years. And in 1858 he and Eunice were sent to the parish of the Church of the Messiah in Glens Falls, New York.

Pastor Bates was at the Church of Glens Falls when the many men of that era, was very patriotic and joined the 22nd New York State Volunteers to help preserve the Union. He mustered in as Chaplain on July 4, 1861 at Troy at the age of 53. He served under one of his church wardens, Colonel Walter Phelps, when the 22nd moved off to the seat of the war.

After a Union defeat at the Second Battle of Bull Run, Chaplain Bates was taken prisoner by the Southern forces, while tending to the wounded. While a prisoner he was marched three days in front of the Rebel Army and was later released by General Wilcox. It is believed that his release took place because he and General Wilcox were both Masons. Chaplain Bates was returned to Union lines without his pistol, overcoat or satchel.

Time passed and Pastor Bates’ two year enlistment was over. He returned to Albany and was mustered out June 19, 1863. He went home to Glens Falls in very poor health. If you weren’t killed on the field of battle or mutilated under a surgeons knife, there was always disease to befall you. In the Civil war, disease killed more troops than all the muskets, cannons or bayonets of the great battlefields. Be you a private or a General, you could not escape it. They drank bad water, had a poor diet and spent cold, wet days and nights with no cover.

As I have mentioned, Reverend Bates came back from the war a very sick man, and in four and a half years, his life would leave him. But first, he would be sent by Bishop Potter to the parish of Oak Hill, New York to recuperate in the fresh air and sunshine of the Catskill Mountains.

The mountain air and sunshine did not help Pastor Bates get well, and even the treatments by Doctors Elias Whittlesay of Durham and Jacob H. Norwood of Preston Hollow would not alleviate Rev. Bates’ chronic diarrhea and dysentary. But as sick as this compassionate man was, he still preformed his duties as minister and chaplain of the Masonic Lodge. He was of average height and his rugged physique was eroded by his illness. Seymour A. Frayer, a vestryman from Connecticut who worked in the Oak Hill church, stated that the pastor was a mere skeleton.

Although sick, he still provided the people of Oak Hill with spiritual guidance as he had guided the soldiers on the battlefields, never thinking of himself. He was very respected far and wide and his love was returned by many. On January 14, 1868, he suffered no more; in the presence of this wife and Dr. Frayer, he died and returned to his God and Savior, Jesus Christ. As a hand of God and Jesus he had brought comfort to many.

In the churchyard where he last labored, he was laid to rest beneath a monument in his memory, erected by the Masons of the village.

These two men have been dead for many years now: Lewis Aspinwall, whose bells brought the people to church, and Henry Howard Bates, who brought the people to God.


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