Born in Tennessee in 1808, Texas hero Albert Miller Lea graduated from the United States Military Academy (West Point) ranked third in his class. He quickly became a highly acclaimed engineer, soldier, and topographer, leading dangerous expeditions to chart Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa. His published works opened the door for East Coast migration into the upper Midwest regions of the USA. Albert Lea, Minnesota, was named after him.
When the Civil War broke out, many of his Academy classmates (Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, etc.) joined the Confederacy, as did Albert. However, Albert’s 25 year old son Edward, a graduate of the Naval Academy (Annapolis), chose to fight with the Union as the commander on the USRC steamer Harriet Lane.
In the twists of war, Albert was assigned to a detachment to plan the recapture of Galveston from the Union Navy. On New Year’s Day 1836, Albert was stationed on a church tower as the Battle of Galveston ensued. In anguish, Albert saw the Confederate gunship Bayou City ram the Harriet Lane. He rushed to find his son mortally wounded and in great pain. Albert knelt next to his son in prayer. When someone asked if he was safe, Edward responded “Yes, my father is here.” Those last four words were later inscribed on Edward’s tombstone in Trinity Episcopal Cemetery in Galveston.
After delivering a stirring eulogy, Albert prayed these words as his son was lowered into the shared grave with Captain Jonathan Wainwright, “This day my soul has been tried. Here is my sacrifice,” pointing to the open grave that held the body of his young son. “Those we meet in battle may also have hearts as brave and honest as our own. We have buried two brave and honest gentlemen. Peace to their ashes. Tread lightly over their graves. Amen.”
After the war, Albert lived in Galveston for four years. He was appointed as the city engineer and served faithfully until being ousted from office by political leaders. Albert opposed the removal of the barrier sand dunes along the Gulf that the city appropriated to fill in various bays for housing. After the 1900 hurricane, many argued that the Island would have been better protected if the city had listened to Albert Lea.
Albert Lea was a strong Christian. His grandfather Luke Lea, and his father Major Lea were both Baptist ministers. His cousin, Margaret Moffette Lea Houston, was a dedicated Believer who prayerfully supported her husband Sam as he embraced the Lord in water baptism.
In 1857, Albert was one of seven men who organized the Episcopal University of the South (Sewanee, Tennessee). In 1875, Albert drew the building plans and led the construction of St. Johns Episcopal church in Corsicana. Still today, a stained glass memorial window is dedicated to him.
Albert Miller Lea died in 1891, and is buried in Oakwood Cemetery, Corsicana. In his final memoirs Albert wrote, “I did my duty as ordered and looked for no approbation or reward but the favor of God.” What an amazing way to live your life.
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