Christopher G. Peña(1)
At 4:15 p.m. on June 11, 1863, a single shot was heard coming from the captain’s stateroom aboard U.S.S. Albatross whilst on patrol on the Mississippi River above Port Hudson near the port town of Bayou Sara, Louisiana. A wardroom steward rushed into the room to discover the body of Lt. Commander John Elliot Hart lying on the floor with a trail of blood oozing from just behind his right ear. He immediately summoned the acting assistant surgeon, William J. Burge, who pronounced Hart dead. Lying beside the body was Hart’s Colt revolver with one of its barrels discharged.(2) His unexpected death that afternoon ushered in a strange series of events over the next twenty-four hours that culminated in an unique truce between warring sides during the American Civil War and helped establish an enduring friendship between Northern and Southern Masonic Lodges.
Bayou Sara and her sister community of St. Francisville had a history of sharing fates, good and bad, because of their proximity to one another. By the fall of 1860, both towns, situated in West Feliciana Parish approximately thirty miles north of Baton Rouge, were the quintessential examples of prosperity resulting from hard work, their ideal location along the river, and an economy based upon cotton, some sugar, and slavery. According to 1860 census data, slaves constituted approximately eighty percent of the total parish population, and their labor produced tremendous wealth in the parish prior to the Civil War. By the start of the war, total assessed property values in West Feliciana Parish were estimated to be $8.2 million. As such, the parish was considered one of the wealthiest regions in the state. (3)
Bayou Sara, resting along the eastern banks of the Mississippi River, and St. Francisville, situated atop a bluff less than a mile from the river bank, benefited greatly from the waterway which served as a chief means of transporting produce to and from the region. St. Francisville, in particular, shielded from the threat of rising Mississippi waters during the spring and summer months, became the parish seat and main commercial center of the region. It was once describe as a well groomed town comprised of beautiful homes, spacious gardens, thriving business establishments, and a majestic courthouse to serve the public needs. Serving the religious needs of the community were the Methodist Church in Bayou Sara, Rev. Thomas Donner, pastor, and Grace (Episcopal) Church in St. Francisville, Rev. Daniel S. Lewis its rector. St. Francisville’s partnership with Bayou Sara made it the largest east bank river port between New Orleans and Memphis during the antebellum period.
The strong economic and agricultural ties to slavery clearly made West Feliciana Parish, particularly St. Francisville and Bayou Sara, a hotbed for secession after the election of Abraham Lincoln as president in November 1860. When Governor Thomas O. Moore called for an election to choose delegates to serve at the Louisiana Secession Convention in January 1861, the citizens of West Feliciana Parish overwhelmingly elected men who campaigned for immediate secession from the Union. In April 1861, when war erupted between the North and South, scores of men from the parish eagerly volunteered for Confederate service, including William Walter Leake of St. Francisville.(4) His role in the war would catapult him to the forefront of this story.
By sheer coincidence, William Leake played a pivotal role in the aftermath of Lt. Commander Harts’ suicide and the momentary truce that followed his death. No one before the war could have predicted the meeting of both men – one in death, one on his way to a long and distinguished life, one a Yankee, one a staunch Confederate. But a bond developed nevertheless that transcended political differences. Capt. Leake’s actions displayed that day endeared him to those who knew and loved Commander Hart, including his son, Abraham.
W.W. Leake was born on April 22, 1833, in West Feliciana Parish. Educated at Kentucky Military Institute and Centenary College in Jackson, Louisiana, he had various jobs including a store clerk in Bayou Sara and an agent and cashier of the old West Feliciana Railroad Company before determining that the law was to be his vocation. Successfully passing the bar in 1857, Leake entered the offices of Brever & Collins in St. Francisville where he practiced law until joining the Confederate ranks in late summer of 1861. Meanwhile on December 10, 1857, he married Margaret Emmet Mumford (1837-1904), whose father was a prominent banker in Bayou Sara. The couple had eleven children during their forty-six-year marriage, two of whom were born before the war (Hunter – 1859 and Robinson M. in early 1861), another during the war (James – 1862).(5)
But pivotal to this story was Leake’s association before the war with Feliciana Lodge No. 31, F. & A.M., a Masonic Lodge located in St. Francisville. Seeking admission to the Fraternity during the summer of 1854, Leake was initiated an Entered Apprentice to the worldwide fraternity, whose belief in God and dedication to friendship, morality, and brotherly love transcended any political or national barriers.(6) His membership as a Freemason and the later recognition that Lt. Commander Hart was likewise a brother in the Fraternity played a direct part in the events that transpired on June 11-12, 1863. After the war broke out in April 1861, John Simms Scott (reared in East Feliciana Parish) found himself serving as a very able scout in Virginia for Confederate General John Magruder. His exceptional skill in providing reliable intelligence about the location and disposition of the enemy made him a valuable asset to Magruder and other Confederate commanders in the field. It did not take long to recognize that Scott would make an able cavalry officer. Promoted to colonel, Scott was ordered back to Louisiana during the summer in order to raise a regiment of cavalry. Scott, who at the outbreak of war resided in West Feliciana Parish but owned a plantation across the river in Point Coupee Parish, was well known and respected among the local populace. As such, he was able to recruit easily from within the central parishes of the state.(7)
When the 1st Louisiana Cavalry Regiment was finally organized mid-September 1861 in Baton Rouge, Col. Scott had recruited the services of some nine hundred men from several parishes, including East and West Feliciana. The regiment proved to be one of the most financially endowed units recruited from Louisiana procuring some $500,000 in funds, mainly from an abundance of rich planters living in the region whose sons or relatives had eagerly joined the regiment. Leake joined the regiment on September 12, 1861, and was soon after elected captain of Company C by fellow West Feliciana volunteers who comprised the company’s rank and file.(8)
Following induction, the regiment’s companies were sent to various training facilities in Louisiana for drill and instruction before being re-mustered in Baton Rouge in late October 1861. Soon after, the regiment boarded several steamers bound for Memphis where they disembarked. After several days “in this delightful little city” recalled one soldier, the men boarded a train to Nashville. From there, the men had their horses shod and then rode to Bowling Green, Kentucky, reporting to General Albert S. Johnston whose army was in winter quarters there.(9)
The 1st Louisiana Cavalry remained in Kentucky until February 1862 when a general evacuation of the state occurred. Union forces were on the move in eastern Tennessee threatening to flank the Confederates. Scott was ordered to take his regiment to Clarksville, Tennessee and later to Indian Mound, Tennessee located on the eastern bank of the Cumberland River nearly opposite the river from Confederate Fort Donelson. Scott’s mission was to prevent Union batteries from establishing a strategic position opposite the fort. By the first week of February, Union forces had captured Fort Henry on the Tennessee River and were poised to capture Fort Donelson.
In spite of whatever support Scott offered the Confederacy, Fort Donelson fell on February 16. Soon after, Scott’s regiment was once again on the move, having been ordered to fall back to Nashville. When that city fell during the third week of February, Scott withdrew to Franklin, then Columbia, then Pulaski, Tennessee before crossing the Elk and Tennessee Rivers in northern Alabama relocating to Decatur on March 25. Scott’s only engagement during that time came after his withdrawal from Nashville when he skirmished with Union forces six miles south of Nashville, driving them from the field.(10)
By the first week of April, Scott and his regiment were in Corinth, Mississippi, and were ordered to Shiloh, Tennessee where they were attached to Col. Nathan B. Forrest’s Cavalry on the extreme right of the Confederate line. The ensuing battle fought on April 6-7 left Gen. A. S. Johnston dead, Gen. P. G. T. Beauregard in charge, and his Confederate army in retreat south. Beauregard regrouped his army in Corinth. Meanwhile, Scott was ordered to move his regiment back to northern Alabama battling Union forces near Athens. It was there that events turned negative for Capt. Leake and other officers who questioned Scott’s leadership in the field.(11)
On May 1, 1862, Scott attacked Col. Timothy Stanley’s 18th Ohio Regiment garrisoned at Athens. The ensuing battle caused the complete rout of the 18th Ohio who fled to within six miles of Huntsville. Scott had nothing but praise for Capt. Leake who preformed gallantly during the heated engagement. The defeat of the Union force netted Scott a considerable amount of commissary stores, camp equipage, arms, and ammunition that were left in Athens.
Not to be out done, the following day Col. Stanley sent a cavalry regiment back to Athens, but Scott had already evacuated the town, burned the Limestone Bridge between Decatur and Huntsville, and captured a Union provision train, destroying about twenty cars in the process, and killing or wounding thirty-four of the enemy. Meanwhile, Union forces in Athens, under command of Col. John Turchin and comprised of the 18th Ohio, 19th and 24th Illinois, and the 37th Indiana, retaliated against local residents who had supported Scott’s brief stay. The town was subsequently burned, property stolen, and at least twenty of the women were allegedly raped.(12)
Meanwhile, a Union cavalry regiment caught up with the 1st Louisiana as they were crossing the Elk River, half the men not yet across to the west bank. In spite of being low on ammunition and their horses “very much jaded”, Scott’s troopers skillfully kept the Union cavalry at bay, repulsing two of their charges before the Federals backed off, and the men were able to cross unimpeded. Crossing the Tennessee River by means of a ferry, Scott finally rested his men at Courtland, Alabama, but not before stirring up a sea of controversy. By then, most of his company commanders, including Leake, had had their fill of Scott’s leadership.(13)
Citing Col. Scott’s incompetence and reckless endangerment of his men during the Elk River crossing and other events surrounding the Tennessee River crossing and subsequent loss of the ferry to Union forces, nine of the company commanders left their post in Courtland, traveled to Gen. Beauregard’s headquarters in Corinth, and tendered their resignations on May 22. Beauregard’s reaction was swift. On May 24 Beauregard ordered the arrest and confinement of eight of the nine captains, including Leake, for “having abandoned their commands in the face of the enemy.” The men were sent under guard to Brig. Gen. John H. Forney, commander at Mobile, Alabama, to be confined at Fort Morgan.(14)
The men arrested apparently were never confined in Fort Morgan, but rather stayed in the general vicinity of Mobile under house arrest. Gen. Forney refused to imprison them until he received official charges from Beauregard’s headquarters, which never came. By then, Beauregard was in the midst of evacuating his army from Corinth and retreating south to Tupelo. The general due to poor health was eventually relieved of command, but Beauregard’s relationship with President Davis had soured long before that. With Beauregard no longer in command, Secretary of War G. W. Randolph released Leake and the other officers and ordered them to report back to Col. Scott. This was done, but Leake wrote Randolph on October 12, 1862, that he was tendering his resignation immediately as captain of Company C. He indicated in his resignation letter that he wanted to return home to form an artillery company for the defense of the Mississippi River. Leake’s resignation was received by Major General E. Kirby Smith on October 23, 1862 (the 1st Louisiana Cavalry was under his command at this time), “approved & respectfully refused.”(15)
How Leake reacted to Smith’s refusal to accept his resignation is not recorded, and he reassumed his duties as captain of Company C. By the fall of 1862, however, Col. Scott had been promoted to commander of the Kirby Smith Brigade, of which the 1st Louisiana Cavalry was part. The 1st Louisiana Cavalry remained on station in Kentucky and later in Tennessee during the latter days of 1862 and all of 1863.(16) In the summer of 1863, Leake returned to St. Francisville on furlough.
John E. Hart, the future captain of U.S.S. Albatross, was born in New York City in 1825 and relocated to Schenectady, New York, though it is unknown when and why he relocated there. In one of those peculiar coincidences, it later turned out Rev. Daniel Lewis, the future rector of Grace Church in St. Francisville where Hart was buried, graduated in July 1832 from Union College located in Schenectady.(17)
Little is known of Hart’s formative years except that at age sixteen on February 23, 1841, he was appointed a midshipman in the United States Navy. The following month, at his own expense, he was permitted to join a squadron off the coast of Brazil. By 1842 he was warranted and served aboard U.S.S. Constitution in the Pacific before being released in October 1846 to attend the newly established United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. He passed his midshipman exams August 10, 1847, and graduated from the Naval Academy in 1848, twenty-fourth in his class. His service to country continued, and he was continuously promoted throughout the years, first as master followed by lieutenant – both in September 1855 – followed by lieutenant-commander by the fall of 1862.(18)
Meanwhile, Hart married Harriet Emeline Van Vorst on January 27, 1855 at St. George Episcopal Church in Schenectady where he and Harriet made their home. Their union produced two children in quick accession, Abraham Elliot, born October 16, 1855, and Frank Mitchell, born June 19, 1858, though Frank died six months later. A daughter was born during the war.
Hart’s association with Freemasonry, which eventually led to Leake’s involvement in his burial, came in the summer of 1857 when he sought and was accepted as a member of St. George’s Lodge No. 6 in Schenectady. His father-in-law Abram A. Van Vorst who had been elected mayor of Schenectady in 1852 (and would serve again in 1869 and 1881) was Master of St. George’s Lodge No. 6 between 1855 and1856.(19)
Having served aboard the sloop Jamestown off the coast of Africa in 1856 and New York the following year, in October 1862 Lt. Commander Hart was transferred to U.S.S. Albatross, a screw steamer rigged as a three-masted schooner. Albatross, originally assigned to the Atlantic Blockading Squadron during the spring of 1861, engaged in various actions off the coast of North Carolina before being reassigned to David G. Farragut’s Gulf Blocking Squadron in July 1862. Placed under the leadership of Commander Henry French, effective August 1, Albatross participated in various actions off the southern coast of Texas, including the blockade of the Rio Grande River, before an outbreak of yellow fever aboard the vessel caused French to order his gunboat to calmer and healthy waters off Pensacola, Florida (based upon the sole recommendation of his surgeon). For his unauthorized actions and for abandoning his blockade of the Rio Grande River, French was reprimanded by Farragut and relieved of duty on October 29, 1862. Lt. Commander Hart assumed command of Albatross, effective that date.(20)
Hart engaged in a series of raids off the coast of Florida between November and mid-December 1862 before sailing Albatross to the mouth of the Mississippi River. By then, New Orleans and Baton Rouge had fallen to Union forces, and the only two obstacles that impeded complete Federal control of the river were at Port Hudson, fifteen miles upriver from Baton Rouge, and Vicksburg, one hundred ten miles further upstream. Between both ports lay the mouth of the Red River. With General U. S. Grant attempting to conquer Vicksburg and General Nathaniel Banks in cooperation with Farragut’s navy attempting to isolate Port Hudson, Albatross participated in the Port Hudson siege between May and July 1863.(21)
Having successfully bypassed Port Hudson on the evening of March 14, 1863, in a daring maneuver orchestrated by Farragut’s flagship, U.S.S. Hartford, in cooperation with Hart and other naval commanders, Albatross patrolled the waters above Port Hudson during the spring and summer 1863 campaign engaging Confederate batteries at Grand Gulf, Mississippi, in March and attacking Fort DeRussy located on the lower Red River in early May. Rear Admiral Farragut had high praise for Hart’s leadership during that period.
Between June 1 and 11, 1863, Albatross patrolled the Mississippi River just north of Port Hudson, engaging the northern Confederate batteries at Port Hudson only once during that time – the predawn hours of June 11, before breaking off the attack at 5:30 am and sailing north to Bayou Sara. When Albatross arrived opposite Bayou Sara at 6:30 am, she found three Union steamers in the vicinity. Other vessels came and went from the region during the course of the day. Nothing remarkable transpired during Albatross’ brief stay. Then at 4:15 pm, a single pistol shot was heard coming from Hart’s stateroom.(22)
Hart’s death was unexpected, but not totally a surprise, one speculates. According to Dr. William Burge, “Capt. Hart had been suffering for several days from an attack of remittent fever, with frequent paroxysms of excessive despondency.” He added in a letter he wrote to Dr. F. M. Foltz, the fleet surgeon, “In fact[,] for several months past, he [had] been subject at times to great depression of spirits.” The source of his despondency was best explained when a suicide note was found under a vase on his bureau, a note which was not detected that morning when Hart’s steward was cleaning his room. “It [read] as follows,” Burge informed Foltz: “I am a dyspeptic. Will God forgive this rash act? It has been a mania with me for years. God knows my suffering.”(23)
Hart likely suffered from what is medically referred today as gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD, a chronic condition where gastric acid ascends the esophagus causing severe heartburn. Today GERD can be treated easily with pharmacological agents and/or surgery, but during the mid-nineteenth century, there was little long term relief from the malady, and lying flat in the bed during an attack only intensified the chest pain experienced. Without effective treatment, the esophagus over time could become ulcerated, exacerbating the pain when eating or drinking. In the end, GERD could be quite debilitating.
There was no immediate plan to stay in the Bayou Sara region after the death of Hart. The executive officer in charge of Albatross (at that point), Theodore B. DuBois, immediately made plans to turn the vessel about and sail downriver in order to link up with Hartford, the flagship, then under command of Commodore James S. Palmer. But in doing so, DuBois grounded his vessel on a mud bar. In spite of the best efforts of several steamers in the region, including Bee, to break free, Albatross remained struck. DuBois needed quickly to inform Palmer of the death of Lt. Commander Hart, and he sent a message via the steamer Bee that sailed downriver with the news. The message requested further instructions regarding the matter.(24)
At 8:30 pm, Albatross finally broke loose of the mud bar and started its journey downriver and later was met by Bee returning from its rendezvous with Hartford. Bee had instructions from Palmer ordering Albatross to return immediately to Bayou Sara, which was done. The vessel arrived and anchored opposite the town at 10 pm. Ensign William Harcourt was dispatched on shore for the purpose of procuring an airtight metallic coffin for Hart’s remains to be transported to New Orleans. There were likely plans to send Hart’s body back to Schenectady for burial, but no metallic coffin was found. Harcourt returned to Albatross sometime between 12 midnight and 4 am. Commodore Palmer subsequently ordered Hart’s remains to be buried there.(25)
Having failed to obtain a suitable coffin for transport and not wanting to consign the remains of Lt. Commander Hart to the muddy waters of the Mississippi River, the officers aboard Albatross, some of whom were Masons, including Dr. Burge, decided to seek a Masonic burial on shore, if the population was so inclined and there were local Masons, if agreeable to the idea. Hart prior to his death had made it known, in casual conversation one supposes, that he wanted a Masonic burial.
While under a flag of truce, sometime between 4 am and 8 am, Executive Officer DuBois went ashore at Bayou Sara to investigate if any Masons lived in the area that were willing to conduct a Masonic burial for Lt. Commander Hart. Accompanying Dubois was (likely) a small Union party, though there is no mention in Albatross’ log of such a party accompanying Dubois ashore. Dubois found two Masonic brothers, Samuel and Benjamin White, natives of Indiana who lived in Bayou Sara. They retained their membership in their northern Lodge, but were acquainted with the Feliciana Lodge No. 31 in St. Francisville. They informed Dubois (and the others) that the Lodge Master, S. J. Powell, was absent serving in the Confederate Army, but the Lodge’s Senior Warden, Brother W. W. Leake was in the vicinity (on furlough, it turned out), and they would make an effort to locate and communicate DuBois’ wishes to him, which was done.(26)
When the White brothers found Leake and communicated to him the nature of the situation and that there were brother Masons aboard Albatross that could vouch for Hart, Leake gladly and without reservation accepted the responsibly of Hart’s Masonic burial. It made no difference to Leake that Hart was fighting against the Confederacy. His Masonic bond and duty as an officer to Leake meant a higher calling toward civility than might be expected otherwise. Leake instructed the White brothers to tell the Union officers to bring Hart’s body ashore. In the meantime, he would attempt to round up as many Masons in the area that could be found. He expected the White brothers to participate at the funeral, as well.(27)
Clad in the officer’s uniform of the United States Navy, Hart’s body was taken ashore at Bayou Sara sometime between 12 noon and 4 pm by Dr. Burge, two other Masons, one of whom presumably was DuBois, and a squad of Marines at trail arms. Meeting them under a flag of truce at the top of the hill wasCapt. Leake, three other members of Feliciana Lodge No. 31 (all that could be found), and the White bothers, all clothed in their Masonic aprons and Leake in the Master’s jewel. The Union Masons identified themselves, and then this peculiar Union-Confederate party marched to Grace Church, where the body (confined within a plain wooden coffin) was laid to rest in a plot prepared in Grace Church cemetery. Reverend Dr. Lewis, pastor of Grace Church, read the Episcopal service, followed by the Masonic burial ritual conducted by Brother Leake as Acting Master of the Lodge. The war, for all intents and purposes, was suspended that day in St. Francisville – Friday, June 12, 1863 – as Masonic brothers from North and South bid farewell to one of their own.(28)
After the service, Dr. Burge and the other Union officers “expressed their gratitude to the Lodge and members present and cordially invited [the party] to accompany them on board [Albatross] and partake of their hospitality, which was declined,” Leake later wrote. Dr. Burge then offered to supply his Masonic Brothers with medicines from among his stock of drugs and supplies, but that, too, was declined with thanks. Soon after, the Union party departed St. Francisville, unmolested as they walked back to their awaiting transport boat. In spite of Leake’s refusal, Dr. Burge gave a few medicines to Samuel White, anyway, which were accepted. Dr. Burge was clearly moved at the show of Southern hospitality during so strange of time.(29)
That evening, Albatross departed the waters off Bayou Sara heading south toward its rendezvous with Hartford where Dubois boarded the flagship (for a brief time) likely to inform Palmer of the day’s event. Albatross then headed south where she participated in the naval shelling of Port Hudson.(30) The Confederate bastion held out until the second week of July, capitulating to General Banks only after having hearing of the surrender of Vicksburg of July 4. How long Captain Leake remained on furlough in St. Francisville is unknown. His Confederate military records stored in Washington, D.C. are incomplete. Union troops continuously filtered through the region during the siege of Port Hudson, and Leake would have had to keep a low profile while visiting his family during that period. A furloughed Confederate soldier was not immune to imprisonment if captured by the enemy.
Having served in various regions of Tennessee during 1863 and Georgia in early 1864, the 1st Louisiana was reassigned to the District of South Mississippi and East Louisiana by March 1864. Elements from the regiment skirmished with Union forces in the area of Baton Rouge in early March and attacked Mount Pleasant Landing, Louisiana, south of Port Hudson in mid-May. On June 21, 1864, Leake was reported on duty while stationed in Clinton, Louisiana.(31) Then his military service record goes silent. What transpired for Leake between June 1864 and the end of the war, and when Leake was discharged is not recorded. His service to the Confederacy ended, nevertheless, by late spring 1865, and he returned to St. Francisville where he lived out his life.
If there were any lingering animosity toward the Yankee intruders to his community during the war, and there is no indications that there was, Leake never allowed it to block what he thought was his sacred and lifelong duty to care for the gravesite of Lt. Commander Hart. He was the first person to adorn the grave with flowers and to keep the grounds orderly, a tradition that continued well past the death of Capt. Leake in 1912. On at least three occasions per year, April 6, June 3 (Memorial Days of the North and South at the turn of the century), and All Saints Day, November 1, fresh flowers were placed at Hart’s gravesite by the Daughters of the Confederacy. At first the grave was marked with a plain wooden cross, which over the years rotted away. In the early 1900’s the Federal Government replaced it with a simple marble headstone, but only after the urging of the citizens of St. Francisville and the Daughters of the Confederacy to do so, a strange request to say the least, given that St. Francisville was viewed by some Yankees as a “hotbed for secession” during the Civil War. But the citizens’ insistence that Hart’s gravesite be better served with a marble, not wooden marker, served as a testimony to the community’s respect for Leake and the enduring bond he had toward his fallen Mason brother.(32)
It was also a testimony to the town’s own sense of decency, in spite of what its citizens had endured during the war, many of whom were still alive at the turn of the century. No greater reminder of the calamity of war could a citizen recall than what befell St. Francisville on January 16, 1864. After calling for the town’s evacuation, the Union Navy shelled the place for almost four hours, causing great destruction in the process and damage to Grace Church itself. The bombardment was in retaliation for the arrest of John Mann, a Unionist and civil officer of New Orleans. Brig. Gen. Wirt Adams, commanding Confederate forces in the vicinity of St. Francisville, claimed Mann was a deserter from the Confederate army who was duly captured in the streets of Bayou Sara on January 9. His refusal to release Mann triggered the naval barrage. The town, which Union officials thought complicit in the arrest, paid the ultimate price for their alleged involvement.(33)
The incident was significant to this story because by the late 1930’s, the 1864 navy shelling was erroneously reported to be the work of Albatross while under command of Lt. Commander Hart. Rather than occurring in January 1864, the date of the bombardment was moved up to June 1863 to coincide with events leading to the suicide death and subsequent burial of Hart at St. Francisville. The fabricated twentieth century version surrounding Hart’s death had Albatross shelling St. Francisville, then Hart committing suicide, perhaps remorseful over the order he received to shell the town, and Leake consenting to the burial, in spite of the horrific damage done to the town by Albatross while under command of Hart.(34) Union troops moved in and out of the Bayou Sara – St. Francisville area during the summer of 1863, but there is no evidence and no reference in the log of Albatross to suggest that the ship participated in the shelling of St. Francisville while under command of John Hart.
Though the evidence indicates that Hart and Albatross had no hand in the destruction of St. Francisville, it should not diminish what occurred on June 12, 1863. During Hart’s funeral service, the war stopped in St. Francisville, if only for a few hours. And what Capt. Leake and the other Lodge brothers did for the mortal remains of Lt. Commander Hart reverberated far beyond the borders of West Feliciana Parish. When DuBois later communicated to Abram A. Von Vorst, Hart’s father-in-law, that Hart had been buried with full Masonic honors in St. Francisville, St. George Lodge No. 6 in Schenectady responded in kind, passing a resolution expressing their deep gratitude and thanks to Feliciana Lodge No. 31 for what they had done, in spite of the current difficulties. (35)
Forty years later on August 25, 1906, Abraham, who was seven years old at the time of his father’s death, wrote to William Leake to explain that the kindness he demonstrated that day, long ago, had made a profound impression on him and upon all others who came to learn of the event. Not learning of Leake’s true identity until after the death of his mother, Abraham was somewhat apologetic to Leake for not having communicated with him sooner. Capt. Leake appreciated his letter and wrote back on September 2 informing Abraham that he had no personal knowledge of the particulars of his father’s death. “It was sufficient to know that he was a Mason and requested to be buried with Masonic honors,” Leake wrote to Abraham. He was not altogether truthful with Abraham. The truth of the matter is that Leake was told by Samuel White that Hart had committed suicide, and Leake said so in a report he wrote on May 31, 1906, to members of Feliciana Lodge No. 31, a report that chronicled events leading to and including Hart’s burial ceremony.(36)
In retrospect, it was probably not in Leake’s nature to add unnecessary anguish that surely Abraham experienced regarding the circumstances of his father’s demise. In his letter Abraham told Leake that his baby sister had died just a few days before his mother received information about his father’s death. His mother had been sick and the added tragedy compounded her grief and ill health. Abraham probably knew that his father had committed suicide. At the time of his death, it was announced in various northern newspapers, and his mother surely kept something regarding the matter, passed on to Abraham after her death. For Leake, it would have benefited no one, especially Hart’s son, to bring up the suicide. Leake was clearly too considerate a man to do so.(37)
Leake lived a long and honorable life. After the war he returned home to resume his law practice, choosing only to take cases on the side of the defense. It was a conscious decision on his part not to become a prosecutor. His association with Feliciana Lodge No. 31 lasted until his death in 1912. During that time he was elected Worshipful Master in 1867 and 1868, its highest office and also was elected Grand Senior Warden of the Grand Lodge of Louisiana. In 1879 Leake was elected as a delegate to the State Constitutional Convention (April 21-July 23), and between 1880 and 1882 served as state senator representing the Feliciana parishes. From 1896 until 1904 he served as a judge in the State Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. In 1905, when People’s Bank was organized in St. Francisville, Judge Leake was chosen as president, a position he served until his death.(38)
William Walter Leake died unexpectedly on Saturday evening, January 20, 1912, at his county home, Pecan Grove, in St. Francisville. He was seventy-eight years old. Leake was buried at Grace Church cemetery the following afternoon, a stone’s throw from Hart’s 1863 burial site. Leake’s obituary in the New Orleans Daily Picayune read in part, “Grace Church was filled to capacity by both white and black, who came to pay their respect to this venerable man.” The following month, Bayou Sara Chapter No. 11, Royal Arch Masons, a Masonic Appendant Body that Leake was a member of, honored William Leake by passing a resolution in his honor. By then he had accumulated a lifetime of friendships and remembrances. In part the resolution read, “Companion William W. Leake was noted for his charitableness and friendliness. Never was an appeal for charity turned away by this Companion. He gladly and cheerfully gave whenever there was evidence of want. His happy disposition and lovable character won for him a host of friends in this community.”(39)
At the time of Leake’s death, forty-eight and a half years had passed since Capt. W. W. Leake had officiated at the Masonic funeral of Lt. Commander John Elliot Hart. Forty-four years later on January 8, 1956, their bond would forever be sealed when a stone monument was laid atop the gravesite of Lt. Commander Hart and dedicated “IN LOVING TRIBUTE TO THE UNIVERSALITY OF FREE MASONRY.” Both men’s names and a brief history of their service to country and their connection to Masonry were inscribed on the marble plate, dated A.D. 1955. A host of Masonic dignitaries and invited guests attended the event, including Lodge members from St. Francisville and Schenectady, New York, along with Mrs. Camilla Leake Barrow, one of Capt. Leake’s daughters.(40) The Masonic fellowship continues today. Beginning in the summer of 1999, Hart’s 1863 burial has been reenacted annually in St. Francisville, with members of both families in 2007, and Masonic Brothers from North and South participating.
The fallen warriors at long last honored and forever connected to one another lay at peace in the majestic and beautiful grounds that lay in the shadows of Grace Church in St. Francisville, Louisiana. Both men, Lt. Commander John Elliot Hart and Capt. William Walter Leake, once combatants, are now forever brethren in a place where the war stopped, if only for a day, so many years ago.
Albatross – Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships (Department of the Navy – Naval Historical Center, Washington, D.C.) from http://www.history.navy.mil/ danfs/a5/albatross-i.htm, retrieved 01/17/2008.
Bergeron, Jr., Arthur W. Guide to Louisiana Confederate Military Units 1861-1865, (Baton Rouge, 1989).
Burge, William J. to J. M. Foltz, June 12, 1863 - death certificate for Captain John E. Hart, RG 52, Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, entry 31, Certificates of Death, Disability, Pension, and Medical Survey, NARA, Washington, D.C.
Callahan, Edward W. (ed.). List of Officers of the Navy of the United States and of the Marine Corps from 1775 to 1900. (Haskell House, 1969).
Carter, Howell. A Cavalryman’s Reminiscences of the Civil War, (Port Hudson, LA 1979).
“Condensed History of the 1st Louisiana Cavalry Regiment, CSA,” 1st Louisiana Cavalry Regiment, CSA, from http://tcc230.tripod.com/lacavreg/index.html, retrieved 02/18/2008.
Dew, Charles B. “The Long Lost Returns: The Candidates and their Totals in Louisiana’s Secession Election,” Louisiana History, Vol. X, No. 4, Fall 1969, pp. 353-369.
“ ‘Dixie’ Brethren Decorate Yankee Grave in Louisiana,” The Royal Arch Mason, Vol. III, No. 2, June 1949, pp. 39-43 (reprint from the files of the Times-Picayune, New Orleans, LA, October 24, 1937).
DuBois, T. B. (executive officer, U.S.S. Albatross) to Commodore Palmer, June 11, 1863 and Commodore James Palmer to Rear Admiral D. G. Farragut, June 11, 1863, RG 45: Naval Records Collection and Library, entry 45, Letters Received from Commanding Officers of Squadrons, NARA, Washington, D.C.
Gremillion, Nelson. Company G, 1st Regiment Louisiana Cavalry, CSA (Lafayette, LA, 1986).
Leake, William W., Capt. Co. C., 1st Louisiana Cavalry, CSA, Military Record, NARA, Washington, D. C.
Log of the U.S.S. Albatross, June 1-13, 1863, RG 24 Bureau of Naval Personnel, Entry 118, Logs of U.S. Navy Ships and Stations, NARA, Washington, D.C.
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1. Christopher G. Peña, RN, MSN, is Associate Professor of Nursing at Nicholls State University, Thibodaux, LA, earning a BA History from Nicholls State University in May 2006. He has authored numerous works on the Civil War in Louisiana and was an adjunct instructor of History at Nicholls State University in fall 2006. Special thanks goes out to Robert Leake, great, great grandson of Capt. William Walter Leake, for sharing research material and his critique and grammatical assistance in preparing this paper.
2. “ ‘Dixie’ Brethren Decorate Yankee Grave in Louisiana,” The Royal Arch Mason, Vol. III, No. 2, June 1949, p. 40 (reprint from the files of the Times-Picayune, New Orleans, LA, October 24, 1937), hereafter referred to as ‘‘ ‘Dixie’ Brethren Decorate Yankee Grave”; William J. Burge to J. M. Foltz, June 12, 1863 - death certificate for Captain John E. Hart, RG 52, Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, entry 31, Certificates of Death, Disability, Pension, and Medical Survey, NARA, Washington, D.C. , cited hereafter as Burge to Foltz, June 12, 1863; T. B. DuBois (executive officer, U.S.S. Albatross) to Commodore Palmer, June 11, 1863 and Commodore James Palmer to Rear Admiral D. G. Farragut, June 11, 1863, RG 45: Naval Records Collection and Library, entry 45, Letters Received from Commanding Officers of Squadrons, NARA, Washington, D.C.
3. Seebold, Herman de Bachellé. Old Louisiana Plantation Homes and Family Trees,1941. Pelican Press., New Orleans (reprint as box set in 2004), Vol. 1, p. 251, cited hereafter as Seebold, Old Plantation Homes.
4. Charles B. Dew, “The Long Lost Returns: The Candidates and their Totals in Louisiana’s Secession Election,” Louisiana History, Vol. X, No. 4, Fall 1969, p. 369; Seebold, Old Plantation Homes, pp. 249-251; William W. Leake, Capt. Co. C., 1st Louisiana Cavalry, CSA, Military Record, NARA, Washington, D. C., cited hereafter as Military Record of Captain Leake, CSA, NARA.
6. A War Episode, Feliciana Lodge No. 31, F. &A.M., a pamphlet, Abram Feltus Barrow Family Papers. MSS 3696.3745, 7:60, Box 1, Folder 21, Special Collections, Hill Memorial Library, Baton, Rouge, LA, cited hereafter as A War Episode. According to this pamphlet, date unknown, but printed after 1955, Leake was remembered (in 1908) for his fifty-five years of service to the Masons. Initially chartered as Feliciana Lodge No. 46 by the Grand Lodge of Kentucky in August 1817, attempts were made to re-charter the lodge under the jurisdiction of the Great Lodge of Louisiana. This was finally accomplished in March 1828 when Feliciana Lodge No. 31, Free and Accepted Masons was chaptered (from “Masonry in West Florida Parish” from http://feliciana31.com/ historical4.html, retrieved 12/31/2007).
8. “Condensed History of the 1st Louisiana Cavalry Regiment, CSA,” 1st Louisiana Cavalry Regiment, CSA, from http://tcc230.tripod.com/lacavreg/index.html, retrieved 02/18/2008, cited hereafter as Condensed History of the 1st Louisiana Cavalry, website; Arthur W. Bergeron, Jr., Guide to Louisiana Confederate Military Units 1861-1865, (Baton Rouge, 1989), p.39; Service Records of William Walter Leake, NARA, Washington, D.C. Other parishes included in the 1st La. Cavalry were Avoyelles, Catahoula, Concordia, East Baton Rouge, Iberville, Point Coupee, and Rapides.
10. Condensed History of the 1st Louisiana Cavalry, website; Nelson Gremillion, Company G, 1st Regiment Louisiana Cavalry, CSA (Lafayette, LA, 1986), p.4. Arthur W. Bergeron, Jr., Guide to Louisiana Confederate Military Units 1861-1865, (Baton Rouge, 1989), p.40, Howell Carter, A Cavalryman’s Reminiscences of the Civil War, (Port Hudson, LA 1979), pp. 22-24.
15. Military Record of Captain Leake, CSA, NARA; Howell Carter, A Cavalryman’s Reminiscences of the Civil War, (Port Hudson, LA 1979), p. 30; Christopher G. Peña, Scarred By War: Civil War In Southeast Louisiana (Authorhouse, 2004), p. 152.
18. Still a Brother: The Yankee Grave That Dixie Decorates, Francis I. Karwowski, from http://www.stgeorgeslodge.org/hart.htm, retrieved 12/31/2007, cited hereafter as Still a Brother, Francis I. Karwowski, website; Edward W. Callahan, ed., List of Officers of the Navy of the United States and of the Marine Corps from 1775 to 1900, (Haskell House, 1969), p. 250.
20. Ibid.; Albatross – Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships (Department of the Navy – Naval Historical Center, Washington, D.C.) from http://www.history.navy.mil/danfs/a5/albatross-i.htm, retrieved 01/17/2008, cited hereafter as Naval Historical Center Albatross website; Official Records of the Union and Confederate in the War of the Rebellion Navy 30 vols.: Washington, D.C., 1894-1927; rpr, Harrisburg, Pa., 1987, hereafter cited as ORN, Series I, Vol. 19, Farragut to French, October 7, 1862, p. 265, French to Farragut, October 4, 1862, p. 290; Farragut to French, October 29, 1862, p. 324.
22. Log of the U.S.S. Albatross, June 11, 1863, RG 24 Bureau of Naval Personnel, Entry 118, Logs of U.S. Navy Ships and Stations, NARA, Washington, DC., cited hereafter of Log of the U.S.S. Albatross.
23. Burge to Foltz, June 12, 1863, Death Certificate of Captain John E. Hart. RG 52: Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, entry 31, Certificates of Death, Disability, Pension, and Medical Survey, June 1842-January 1896, NARA, Washington, D.C., cited hereafter as Burge to Foltz, June 12, 1863.
24. Log of the U.S.S. Albatross, June 11, 1863; DuBois to Palmer, June 11th , 6:30 P.M., RG 45: Naval Records Collection and Library, entry 45, Letters Received from Commanding Officers of Squadrons, NARA, Washington, D. C.
28. Ibid.; Log of the U.S.S. Albatross, June 12, 1863; Report from W. W. Leake, May 31, 1906, “To the Worshipful Master, Wardens and members of Feliciana Lodge No. 31 F. & A. M.” - typed version of a handwritten report in possession of author. Cited hereafter as Leake Report, May 31, 1906. Leake remembered only two of the three names in his 1906 letter – William Town and Felix V. Leake – besides the White brothers. In the “’Dixie’ Brethren Decorate Yankee Grave in Louisiana” article it mentioned that the body was first brought to the Lodge house where Leake performed the Masonic burial ritual, then transported to the cemetery for burial. Leake made no mention of this in his 1906 report of the burial. There is no mention of the Lodge house ritual found in any other primary source.
32. ‘‘‘Dixie’ Brethren Decorate Yankee Grave,” p. 43; A War Episode, Barrow (Abram Feltus) and Family Papers, MSS 3696.3745, 7:60, Box 1, Folder 20, cited hereafter as A War Episode, No. 2; Foster to Porter, with enclosures, January 23, 1864, ORN , Vol. I, Vol. 25, p. 708.
37. A War Episode, No. 2 – A. Elliot Hart to William W. Leake, August 25, 1906 and W. W. Leake to
39. “Judge Leake Buried,” January 23, 1912, Daily Picayune, New Orleans, Louisiana; Resolution on W. W. Leake’s Death, Hall of Bayou Sara Chapter No. 11, Royal Arch Masons. Barrow (Abram Feltus) and Family Papers. MSS 3696.3745, 7:60, Box 1, Folder 20, Hill Memorial Library, Baton Rouge, LA.