Heart of Louisiana: The Day the War Stopped

Published: May. 21, 2014 at 2:20 AM CDT
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ST. FRANCISVILLE, LA (WVUE) - It was an unexpected truce during one of the most intense Civil War battles in Louisiana.  A single death turned enemies into brothers for one brief moment in the town of St. Francisville. FOX 8's Dave McNamara tells us about "the day the war stopped" in tonight's Heart of Louisiana.

For 48 days, Union and Confederate troops fought a bloody battle for control of the Mississippi River at Port Hudson.  Confederate artillery blasted attempts by Union gunboats to pass the fortified river bluffs near St. Francisville.

"Port Hudson held, I think there were 6,000 Confederates defending against 35,000 Union troops," said Paul Martin.

Martin's great-great grandfather fought during the siege, the longest in U.S. military history. But in the middle of the bloodshed, there was one day when the fighting stopped.

It was prompted by a single gunshot aboard the Union gunboat Albatross. The ship's commander, John Hart, who had been suffering from disease and depression, put a gun to his head and ended his life.

With its commander dead, the Albatross anchored on the Mississippi River at Bayou Sara, just below St. Francisville. A Union officer came ashore, hoping to connect with local Masons. He carried a white flag of truce.  Members of the St. Francisville Masonic Lodge agreed to bury the enemy commander, their Masonic brother.

It was confederate Capt. W.W.  Leake who lead the Masonic burial at Grace Episcopal Church in St. Francisville.

"It must've been a very difficult decision for Captain Leake to decide to perform that Masonic service and to actually help the enemy," Martin said.

The lambskin apron is an emblem of innocence and the badge of a Mason.

He was not going to let the outside world's political differences stand in the way of his Masonic duty,  which was to see that a brother had the last Masonic honors they could be given.

Each year, members of the St. Francisville Masonic lodge reenact the burial of Commander Hart.

Allen Hester is master of the St. Francisville Masonic Lodge.

"That day, when those guys came up on shore under a flag of truce, said, 'do you have a Mason? Everything was put to the side and honored the wishes of a fallen brother," Hester said.

Until his death nearly 50 years later, Confederate Captain Leake took care of the gravesite of his former enemy and Masonic brother.  Leake is buried nearby.

"It's very, it's a very emotional thing for me, and I enjoy promoting it and keeping the story alive," Martin said.

After the burial, the fighting resumed for several weeks until Confederate forces at Vicksburg and Port Hudson surrendered.  And after all these years, what hasn't been forgotten, is the day the war stopped.

The Feliciana Masonic Lodge will hold its annual reenactment of The Day the War Stopped June 13-15 at Grace Episcopal Church in St. Francisville.

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