Albert M. Lea and the Galveston dunes

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 3, 1999

One of the best historical books to be issued this year is &uot;Isaac’s Storm&uot; by Erik Larson.

Friday, December 03, 1999

One of the best historical books to be issued this year is &uot;Isaac’s Storm&uot; by Erik Larson. Proof of this can be seen with the many favorable reviews and excerpts published in several national magazines. Yet, when I read this book, I couldn’t find any mention of Albert M. Lea.

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Larson’s book title, incidentally, is based on a man named Isaac Cline who was the person in charge of the U.S. Weather Service station in Galveston, Texas, back in 1900.

There’s a strong connection between Lea and the island city of Galveston. Part of this connection is based on a poignant incident during the Battle of Galveston on New Year’s Day, 1863, when a father and son who were on opposite sides in the Civil War met for a few tragic moments during a special truce.

In 1861, Albert Lea, a West Point graduate and former officer in the U.S. Army, joined the Confederate Army and served for about a year in his home state of Tennessee. Lea was then sent to Galveston in the fall of 1862 to serve as an engineering officer for the South.

His oldest son, Edward Lea, had been raised by relatives in Maryland after Lea’s first wife died when the boy was three. When the Civil War started, the son was an officer in the U.S. Navy and decided to serve with the Union, or North.

On Jan 1, 1863, father and son met for the first and last time during the Civil War when Confederate forces attacked the Union garrison and naval units based on Galveston Island. One of the warships in the harbor, Lea knew, was his son’s command.

Lea watched the battle that resulted in Lt. Commander Edward Lea being severely wounded. During a truce, Lea boarded his son’s ship, the &uot;Harriet Lane,&uot; for a short reunion.

While Lea was ashore arranging for medical treatment for his son and other Union wounded, his son died.

His last words were, &uot;My father is here.&uot; These four words are engraved on Edward Lea’s tombstone in a Galveston cemetery.

Another part of Lea’s connection with Galveston was emphasized with the following three paragraphs which appeared in a Tribune article I wrote for the July 29, 1986, issue:

&uot;After duty along the Rio Grande River during the later part of the Civil War, Lea moved to Galveston to be near the grave of his oldest son. He operated a book store, did civil engineering, and became involved with railroad promoting and building.

&uot;During this period, Lea served as Galveston’s city engineer and became involved in a controversy that was to lead to one of the worst disasters in American history. A relative wrote to the Albert Lea Tribune years ago, ‘… he protested against the removal of the sand dunes facing the Gulf (of Mexico) to be used in filling the bay for building lots. This protest caused political influence to have him removed. It is interesting to speculate that Galveston paid for this folly, and after the flood, had to build a sea wall where the sand dunes had been,’

&uot;In 1900 a hurricane swept over Galveston Island and over 6,000 people died. Lea’s stubborn position had been confirmed cataclysmically nine years after his death.&uot;

Copies of the 1986 article were sent to the Galveston Public Library, the Corsicana (Texas) Daily Sun newspaper, and a person in Houston who was reportedly doing research on the 1900 Galveston disaster. I’m now confident that this researcher wasn’t Erik Larson.

Albert Miller Lea left Galveston in 1874 and moved to Corsicana, a small city located between Houston and Dallas, where two of his younger sons were living. And that’s where the man this city is named for died on Jan. 16, 1891.