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  • Writer's pictureCheré Dastugue Coen

The Day the Civil War Stopped

Sometimes there's grace even in war.

Grace Episcopal Church Cemetery, St. Francisville, Louisiana

I live in a Georgia town where Union soldiers are buried in a national cemetery and the Confederates in another. Probably not a good idea to put those guys together, even in death.

In St. Francisville, Louisiana, however, it’s a whole other story.

When U.S. Lt. Cmdr. John Elliott Hart was commanding the Union gunboat U.S.S. Albatross, fighting the Confederates along the Mississippi who were entrenched at St. Francisville and nearby Port Hudson in 1863, he became gravely ill.

On June 12, 1863, sick and raging with fever, Hart took his life on board the ship.

Hart was a New York Mason and Masons have their own form of burial. Executive Officer Theodore B. Dubois raised a flag of truce and residents of St. Francisville allowed him entrance into town. Dubois asked if other Masons lived in St. Francisville and would they offer the Union commander a burial with Masonic honors.

The town agreed, Mason residents were assembled and Hart was buried in the cemetery at Grace Episcopal Church by a party of both Union and Confederate Masonic officers. Confederate Army Captain William Walter Leake facilitated Hart’s burial and Grace’s Rev. Daniel S. Lewis conducted the service.

Leake later became a state senator, circuit court judge and newspaper publisher, and he was buried at Grace as well. The quaint country church with its beautiful oak-lined avenues among the tombstones is one of the few places where Union and Confederate officers are buried together.

To celebrate the “Day the War Stopped” when Hart was allowed to be buried with honors, St. Francisville hosts a festival on the second Saturday in June. It began in 1997 when W.B. and Judge John R. Rarick recreated the unifying event, and the event has grown each year attracting Masonic Brothers and Civil War buffs from around the country.

This year’s event will be Saturday, June 12, with members of the Feliciana Lodge No. 31 and St. George’s Lodge No. 6 of Schenectady, N.Y., re-enacting this poignant moment that happening in the midst of the Civil War.

Here’s the schedule for The Day the War Stopped:

9:30 AM The “Day the War Stopped” play performed at Grace Episcopal Church Hall 10 AM

Renactment, corner of Prosperity and Ferdinand streets 10:30 AM Graveside Historical Reenactment 11 AM - 1 PM Third Annual Jambalaya Cook Off on Prosperity Street

Noon - 1:30 PM Vintage dancing and mMusic in Grace Episcopal Church Hall

2 - 2:30 PM Historical Talk at Feliciana Lodge 7 pm to 11 pm Gala at Jackson Hall, 11621 Ferdinand St.

Be sure to stroll through the lovely graveyard and look for both veterans’ graves when visiting Grace Episcopal Cemetery. Notice the beautiful cast-iron gates that date to 1855.

The church is one of the state’s oldest Protestant churches, its congregation dating to 1827, although the church you see today was built in 1893. Grace Church is Louisiana’s second oldest Episcopal parish.

Other prominent citizens buried at Grace Episcopal include:

  • Robert Hilliard Barrow, a four-star general in the U.S. Marine Corps, and Junius Wallace Jones, an Air Force Major General.

  • Louisiana politicians State Sen. Samuel Lawrason, Supreme Court Judge George Mathews Jr., U.S. Rep. John Bennett Dawson and Joseph P. Newsham, who moved to Louisiana after having served in the Union Army during the Civil War.

The cemetery and the grounds are open daily for visitors. Park at 11621 Ferdinand St. in St. Francisville to access both church and cemetery.

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