Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

“In sight of the sea, in sound of the surf”

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on January 11, 2013
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An honor guard stands at the grave of Lt. Commander Edward Lea. Lea’s stone (right) carries his dying words, “my father is here.” January 8, 2011.

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One of the most famous, and most poignant, stories of Galveston during the Civil War is that of Albert Lea and his son, Edward. At the outbreak of the war, Edward, an officer in the U.S. Navy, declined to resign his commission and “go south” as many of his comrades did. He remained in the Navy, and in the latter part of 1862, found himself as Executive Officer of U.S.S. Harriet Lane, part of the Navy’s West Gulf Blockading Squadron. Edward’s father, Albert, volunteered his services to the new Confederate commander in Texas, John Bankhead Magruder. As my colleague Jim Schmidt described last year, their paths ultimately converged, tragically, in the aftermath of the Battle of Galveston, on New Years Day, 1863.

After the battle, some of the surviving officers of Harriet Lane asked Major Lea if they could arrange for a Masonic funeral service for their commanding officer, Commander Jonathan M. Wainwright. Lea agreed to take the matter to Magruder, who readily agreed, so a funeral service for both naval officers was hurriedly arranged, with the burial to take place in a donated plot in Episcopal Cemetery. As no clergyman of that faith could be found on short notice, Major Lea himself was asked to preside. Several weeks later, at the request of the Houston Tri-Weekly Telegraph newspaper, Lea described the service:

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LETTER FROM MAJOR LEA.
Brownsville, February 11, 1863.
 
Editor Telegraph – Your note of the 7th ult. reached me yesterday. The dispatch of Gen. Magruder, requesting a copy of the brief address made by me at the burial of my son at Galveston, and your cordial expressions on manly sympathy, oblige me to the effort of recalling the few words spoken under circumstances which alone gave them value. We had gained a signal victory, but others had friends to mourn. The day after the battle, we were burying with solemn ceremony our honored dead. The General courteously ordered all due honors to the Captain and 1st Lieutenant of the captured vessel.
 
The surviving officers of the Harriet Lane asked and obtained the privilege of being pall‐bearers. Thus officers of both nations were mingled together. The national hate, engendered by the war, and especially excited by the recent contest, had shown itself particularly in personal aversion to the unfortunate prisoners, who in their private relations were gentlemen. Owing to my double connection with the two services, they seemed to look to me to be shielded from galling expressions of this feelings, whilst they gratified me by expressions of admiration for the private worth of my poor boy, to whose remains they were making a private visit., when I warned them to prepare to bear patiently some contumely [contempt] on their journey inland. They expressed themselves in such strong detestation of the brutalities of Gen. Butler, and otherwise showed so much proper feeling, that, whilst explaining to them how we justly held them personally responsible for all the actions of a tyrant whom they voluntarily served, I felt prompted to say something that might elicit kindness towards them as prisoners.
 
It devolved upon me to say the burial service for the two deceased officers. I held the prayerbook of my son in my hand, and penciling a few lines in the fly‐leaf, showed them to General Magruder, who approved them. At the grave, the impressive Masonic services, as to the deceased Captain, had been joined by the brethren of both nations. When the sublime office for the burial of the dead of the Episcopal Church was said by myself, for both laid in one grave, and then I added these words, as nearly as I can recall them:
 
“My friends, the wise man has said that there is a time to rejoice and a time to mourn. Surely this is a time when we may weep with those that weep. Allow one so sorely tried, in this his willing sacrifice, to beseech you to believe that, whilst with strong arms and brave hearts we defend out rights, those we meet in battle may have brave and honest hearts as well as ourselves. Brave men are ever generous to the unfortunate. We have here buried two brave and honest gentlemen. Peace be to their ashes. Let us tread lightly o’er their graves. Amen.”
 
Many responded “Amen.” The usual volleys were fired, and we left the gallant seamen to rest t amid the flowers in the cemetery f the Episcopal Church, in sight of the sea, in sound of the surf, where such devoted sailors would love to lie. For the error of following their meteor flag in the service of a cruel usurper and tyrant, they have paid with their lives. May we not forgive this error, and honor them for their virtues as the faithful servants of a once common country, as skillful officers, as honorable gentlemen, and as Christian brethren?
 
Having left Galveston hastily, under orders, soon after the burial, I was denied the desired opportunity of thanking privately many officers and citizens who showed me much kindness when needed.
 
Very respectfully, yours,
 
A. M. LEA.

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Unbeknown to anyone in Galveston at the time, on the very day Edward Lea died, Admiral Farragut had signed an order for him to return to New Orleans to take command of a vessel of his own:

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FLAGSHIP HARTFORD,
Off New Orleans,
January 1, 1863.
 
SIR:
 
You will consider yourself detached from the U. S. S. Harriet Lane and will report to me at this place by the first opportunity, for the command of the mortar boats.
 
Very respectfully, your obedient servant, 
D. G. FARRAGUT,
Rear-Admiral. 
Lieutenant-Commander EDWARD LEA,
U. S. S. Harriet Lane.
 
P. S.–The vessel for your immediate command will be designated on your arrival here.

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Wainwright’s remains were later exhumed and returned to New York, but Edward Lea rests here still, “in sight of the sea, in sound of the surf” — at least figuratively, if not literally.

On Saturday, the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War will conduct a reenactment of the Wainwright/Lea funeral, and host a memorial service for all those who died in the Battle of Galveston. The event will be held at Old Episcopal Cemetery in Galveston, 40th Street and Avenue K, at 10 a.m.

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One Response

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  1. Laqueesha said, on July 13, 2015 at 7:30 pm

    34 star U.S. flag. Now that’s what I like to see!


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