Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

January 1, 2013

Corsicanan to be honored 150 years after Civil War

From Staff Reports
Corsicana Daily Sun

Corsicana — On Saturday, Jan. 5, members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and other patriotic organizations will join local historians, members of St. John’s Episcopal Church, Masons, and family descendants at Oakwood Cemetery to honor one of the historic figures buried in Navarro County — Albert M. Lea. Ceremonies sponsored by the William Henry Parsons Camp #415, Sons of Confederate Veterans, will begin at 2 p.m.

In a war filled with tragedies, Lea’s story in the Civil War is among the most touching.

It began in the early morning hours of Jan. 1, 1863. Galveston, which had been occupied by Union forces, was recaptured by Confederates under the command of Major General John Bankhead Magruder in one of the most daring operations of the conflict. Its impact, too, was long lasting, giving Texas an important link with the outside world until war’s end.

But for Lea and his family, the battle held more personal significance. Settling his wife and three children with relatives in Corsicana, Lea had become a Confederate soldier. By New Year’s Day, 1863, he was a Major on Magruder’s staff. At the Battle of Galveston’s conclusion, he was among Confederate officers who boarded the captured Union ship, U.S.S. Harriet Lane, in Galveston Harbor.  

Some 150 years ago Tuesday, there occurred one of the most poignant moments in Texas history. Major Lea found his oldest son, Edward, dying on the ship’s deck, wearing a blue uniform. Lt. Commander Edward M. Lea, U.S.N., had remained loyal to the Union, and now father and son were on opposite sides.

Knowing that his son was fighting against him in this battle, Major Lea sought the young Federal officer as soon as the guns fell silent. Despite their differing national loyalties and conflicting military duties, family bonds were unbroken. After the Major had found him, the young Lea’s last words expressed obvious comfort in the love of parent and child, “My father is here.”

The following day, Jan. 2, 1863, Major Lea buried his son, who like the father, was a Mason. Numbered among the casualties also was the younger Lea’s commanding officer, naval Commander Jonathan M. Wainwright, the grandfather of the World War II general. Wainwright also was a Mason.

The significance for Texas Masonic history was underscored when Confederate Major and Mason Lea conducted Masonic rites at the burial of his son and Commander Wainwright on Galveston Island. As all were devout Episcopalians, Lea also read the Burial Service from that denomination’s Book of Common Prayer, in the absence of an Episcopal clergyman.

Lea’s name has become forever linked with this sad story, but this was a remarkable and accomplished man. While his post war life was spent mainly in Corsicana, his years before the War had taken him throughout the country. A West Point graduate, he was a schoolmate of Jefferson Davis. He later became a renowned explorer and gave what is now the state of Iowa its name. The city of Albert Lea, Minnesota is named for him because of his explorations there.

Recognized in the nation’s capital for his abilities, he was Acting U.S. Secretary of War in 1841 and again in 1850. Afterwards, he rose to prominence as a railroad executive working on expanding the small rail network in Texas. An accomplished engineer, he designed the first St. John’s Episcopal Church building in Corsicana, and he and his wife are honored in the present edifice with a beautiful stained glass window. At age 84, he died in Corsicana on January 16, 1891.

The public is invited to attend the ceremony at 2 p.m. Saturday at Oakwood Cemetery.

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Material for this story was submitted by Rob Jones.

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