Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

“Brave Men Are Ever Generous to the Unfortunate”

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on January 6, 2018

On Saturday I have the privilege of giving the address at the annual Battle of Galveston Memorial Service at Old Episcopal Cemetery here. There’s strong participation from the local CW history community; in addition to the host organization, the Lea Camp of the SUVCW, there’s also the camp’s Sarah Emma Seelye Auxiliary, the Sons of Confederate Veterans, United Daughters of the Confederacy, and the Freemasons. The U.S. color guard was composed of Army JROTC cadets from Ball High School.

Here is the prepared text of my talk:

“Brave Men Are Ever Generous to the Unfortunate”

An Address at the Edward M. Lea Memorial Service
Galveston, Texas
January 6, 2018

Andrew W. Hall

 

[Thanks to hosts and guests]

We’re here today to remember Lieutenant Commander Edward Lea, Commander Jonathan Wainwright, and all the others who lost their lives during the Battle of Galveston, one hundred fifty-five years ago. It is, as someone said, altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But it’s also true that funerals, and memorials, are not for the benefit of the honored dead, who are beyond such earthly concerns; they are for the living, for those who remain behind. So today, I want to speak briefly about someone left behind, the man who stood on this spot a century and a half ago, and read the prayer service for his own, dead son – Major Albert Miller Lea.

Albert Lea was a Tennessean of Quaker descent, although he himself was Episcopalian. At the age of 18, in July 1827, he was admitted to West Point on the recommendation of a relative, U.S. Representative Pryor Lea of Tennessee. Albert Lea graduated near the top of his class in 1831, fifth out of thirty-three cadets graduating that year. During his time at the Point, he came to know several other cadets who would go on to be well-known names a generation later. Albert Lea graduated a year behind John Bankhead Magruder, on whose staff he served during the Battle of Galveston, and William Pendleton, who would rise to fame as the artillery commander of the Army of Northern Virginia. He was two years behind Robert E. Lee and Joe Johnston, and three years behind Jefferson Davis himself.

Albert Lea was assigned to the engineers, which was typical practice with West Point graduates who stood near the top of their class. He was sent to the West, which in the 1830s consisting of places like Iowa and Minnesota. After several years he resigned his commission and took up a series of engineering positions with local governments and as a civilian employee of the federal government. In the 1850s he moved to Texas, where he settled in Aransas County working as a civil engineer.

By this time Edward Lea, Albert’s eldest son, had graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, and was actively serving with the fleet. When the war came in 1861, Edward Lea was serving as a Lieutenant aboard USS Hartford in the East Indies. When Hartford returned to the United States, her officers were asked to re-swear their allegiance to the United States. Only two of the six did; one of those men was Lieutenant Lea.

The story of Albert and Edward’s reunion of board Harriet Lane is well known to everyone here today. It is difficult to imagine — unfortunately most of us will never experience — the heavy burden imposed upon Albert Lea when he undertook the sad duty of leaving the burial service for his own son and Commander Wainwright. Beyond the natural grief that any father would have in that situation, Albert Lea must also have wondered if he himself, as one of the officers who had helped plan and execute the Confederate assault, had also played a small, indirect role in Edward’s death.

But there was yet another dimension to Albert Lea’s responsibilities, that cold Friday morning one hundred fifty-five years ago. In addition to his own heavy responsibility, Lea found himself as the protector of the federal prisoners against the gibes and contempt of his fellow Confederates. It was not, as we might like to think today, a situation where men of the opposing armies easily bonded through their shared experience as opponents the battle. Albert Lea was forced to reach deep down, past his own enmity, to extend a hand to men that he and his fellow Confederates held personally responsible for the bloodshed and suffering in the conflict. He made it a point to remind all those present at the burial that their opponents had “brave and honest parts as well as ourselves.” It was incumbent upon the victors to extend a hand to their defeated enemy, and to treat them with dignity. He urged his fellows to “honor them for their virtues and as the faithful servants of a once common country, a skillful officers, as honorable gentlemen, and his Christian brethren.” “Brave men,” Albert Lea reminded his fellow Confederates, “are ever generous to the unfortunate.”

We don’t know how Albert Lea’s words were received by the men, Confederate and United States officers alike. But the speak to a greater truth that comes down to us through the decades, and can guide us through our own times of trouble and challenge. “Brave men are ever generous to the unfortunate.”

Albert Lea reminds us that our success brings with it an obligation to extend a hand to those who have met with failure. Albert Lea reminds us that as victors, we must be willing also to embrace the vanquished. “Brave men are ever generous to the unfortunate.”

We live today in difficult, disputatious times. There have been few periods in our history as a nation that we have been so polarized and divided over myriad issues as we are today in 2018. We are divided by culture and religion, politics and gender, race and ideology. Those are all difficult and perhaps intractable conflicts to solve. But surely we can all understand the experience of Albert Lea 155 years ago on this spot, and take his words as a guide as we go on our separate ways. We are not so divided as the men were stood here then, and if Major Lea could recognize the brave and honest hearts of his opponents, so can we. We can extend the hand of shared interests and come together in support of common goals. “Brave men are ever generous to the unfortunate.”

 

© 2018 Andrew W. Hall, all rights reserved.

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4 Responses

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  1. Steve Green said, on January 6, 2018 at 3:35 pm

    Well said Mr Hall, a fine speech.

  2. Tom Crane said, on January 7, 2018 at 6:57 pm

    Wonderful words. I think you really captured the essence of that event. It reminds me too that our civil war was so much more “civil” than most civil wars. It was through strength of character by men like Albert Lea.

  3. Mike Rigsby said, on January 8, 2018 at 1:37 pm

    Well done Andy. We meant to see your presentations on Capt. Dave McCluskey over the holidays but, unfortunately, had too many conflicts.


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