Saturday, January 28, 2012

Galveston Research Summary #11 - "My Father is Here" (Death of Edward Lea)

In his book, Battle on the Bay: The Civil War Struggle for Galveston, historian Ed Cotham justly declared the episode I describe below as one of the most “heart-stirring stor[ies] in the whole Civil War," and I can't disagree.

That episode was the death of Lt. Cmdr. Edward Lea, U.S.N., during the Battle
of Galveston, made all the more tragic because his father, Albert Lea, was on the opposing side in the very same battle.

As a follow-up to my previous post (here) on my recent tour of Galveston's historic cemeteries, in this post I share some photos of the headstone of Edward Lea in the Old Episcopal Cemetery.

The basics of the story have been related in Galveston newspapers and other Battle of Galveston lore since the day of the battle, New Years Day 1863, but typical is this passage in the July 28, 1886 issue of The Galveston Daily News:

Captain Wainwright, of the [Harriet] Lane, was killed while giving orders from the bridge of his vessel. The command then devolved on Lieutenant Commander Edward Lea, who gave orders to the man at the wheel to steer so as to avoid the onset of the Bayou City, but he was too slow, and one of the finest ships of war belonging to the United States was captured with pistols and shotguns in the hands of Texas Horse Marines.

The tragic death of Lieutenant Lea, who had been mortally wounded soon after taking command, was an event long to be remembered by every participant in the battle.He died in the arms of his father in the cabin of the Lane. Major A. M. Lea, the father, belonged to the Confederate army, and read the burial service of the Episcopal Church over the open grave where his son and Captain Wainwright were buried in the same grave.

The remains of Captain Wainwright were removed to the North soon after the war closed, but the grave of Lieutenant Lea can be seen in the Episcopal Cemetery at Galveston, covered with a plain marble block inscribed:

Lieut. Commander, U. S. N.
Born 31st January, 1S37.

Killed in battle January 1, 1863.
"My father is here"

The concluding words were the last ones he uttered. This event made a strange impression and showed the horrible features of
the Civil War of 1861.

There is more to the story, of course: Edward's refusal to join the Confederacy, his estrangement from his father, Albert Lea's own contributions to American history (the Minnesota town Albert Lea is named for him), and some orders for Edward drawn up on the very day he fell in battle.

You'll learn more about this story in my own forthcoming book on Galveston in the Civil War, coming from The History Press later this year.

Until then, enjoy the photos. And Remember.


Mark said...

No matter how often I hear these stories, it's so crazy to think of family members on opposite side, but that's part of what makes it still so intriguing today. Neat post!

Jim Schmidt said...

Mark - thanks so much! And you are can't make this stuff up...poor Lt Commander Lea got orders for his own boat the very day he died.

Jordan Forest said...

I used to talk about him and his father a lot as a Galveston tour guide. His story should be remembered!! His heart lives on....