Episode 68 The Day The War Stopped in St Francisville

In June 1863, a group of Union and Confederate forces agreed to a truce and united for the funeral of Union Lieutenant Commander John Elliot Hart. The events surrounding the day are known in St. Francisville, Louisiana as The Day the War Stopped

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Freemasons, or masons as they’re commonly known, are deeply rooted in American history. Founding Fathers George Washington, John Hancock and Ben Franklin were members with 13 of the 39 men who signed the Constitution identifying as masons.

What are freemasons? Well, that’s a complicated question that often leads you to wild conspiracy theories. the fraternal order has always been shrouded in secrecy that’s fostered suspicion.

Some often cited conspiracies include the belief that Masons provoked the French and American Revolutions in partnership with the Illuminati) and the belief that they’re connected to murders of those who questioned the order or it’s members.

To be clear, there is no concrete, fact based information that proves any of those wild conspiracy theories.

Freemasons are secretive. They don’t divulge much about their order. Only that they are a brotherhood of like-minded individuals who meet regularly for spiritual and intellectual enlightenment.

It’s said that the principles of brotherhood and looking for the common good in man is why masons have stood the test of time. They are asked to show compassion and kindness. Even as the Civil War was pitting brother against brother, there were many accounts of masons showing kindness and pausing for moments of peace and acts of kindness between Union and Confederate troops during the Civil War.

It was the brotherhood of masons that motivated Union and Confederate forces to pause during one of the bloodiest months of the civil war. In June of 1863, a group of men united for the funeral of Union Lieutenant Commander John Elliot Hart. Known in St. Francisville, Louisiana, as “The Day the War Stopped”

U.S.S. Albatross sketch. Drawn Sept. 5, 1863, by
William M.C. Philbrick. Image: US Naval Historical Center

The town of St. Francisville had been established in 1809. It was known as the “town two miles long and two yards wide” because it had been built along a bluff that overlooked the Mississippi River and the Bayou Sara Creek.

Bayou Sara had been settled by French colonists in the early 1790s. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Bayou Sara grew into one of the largest antebellum ports along the MIssissippi due to its convenient location between Natchez and New Orleans. But Bayou Sara would eventually be forced to move its markets up on the bluff above their town because of flooding from the MIssissippi. Over time, flooding and several fires consumed Bayou Sara which led to the few remaining structures being moved up onto the bluff into St. Francisville.  

The thriving town’s wealth was fueled by local plantations and reflected in the construction of Grace Episcopal Church. 

Grace Church, St Francisville Photo: Shannon Ballard

The gothic style church was constructed thanks to the support of wealthy plantation owners in the surrounding parish who were delighted that the church was one of the finest in the state. 

The cornerstone for the church had been laid in June 1858 by Bishop Leonidas Polk who earned the title of “Fighting Bishop from Louisiana”because he served as a bishop and a General in the Confederate Army.

Grace Church, St Francisville Photo: Shannon Ballard

In June of 1863, as the Siege of Port Hudson continued, Bayou Sara and St Francisville structures and homes would suffer damage, including Grace Church.

It’s estimated 30,000 Union troops were fighting against 6,800 Confederates during the siege. The resulting battles led to some of the bloodiest fighting in the Civil War. The USS Albatross assisted Union forces by shelling positions along the river north of the Confederacy’s fortifications. 

Union Lieutenant Commander John Elliot Hart

As the siege of Port Hudon was underway, Elliot Hart was aboard the USS Albatross but he was not of sound mind and not in command. If you read the official government record of Elliot Hart’s service, it notes that Hart died in battle on June 11, 1863.  Hart’s crew knew it was not as simple as that.

Since the Albatross had anchored above Port Hudson in early June, Hart had been suffering. He was delirious from fever for days. The cause of the fever is not known, some believe it was related to a previous injury Hart had suffered in battle, other believe it was tropic fever. What is certain, is that ss the siege was underway, Harts crew were concerned for the commander because he seemed to be out of his mind with fever, confined to his quarters and suffering. 

On June 11, 1863 a crew member heard what sounded like gun fire coming from Hart’s quarters. The Albatross executive officer, Theodore Dubois ran into Hart’s room and found the commander had, in a state of delirium, shot himself with his pistol. 

Within hours of his death, Harts crew, who held him in high esteem, made the decision to honor Hart and prepare for his burial, which would lead them to make an unusual request of Confederate forces and Grace Church. 

Episode Sources

St. Francisville Historic District. National Park Service.
John E. Hart Letters. US Naval Academy Digital Collection
The Day the War Stopped. Friends in St. Francisville Blog. 8 April 2008
The Yankee Grave That Dixie Decorates. Fransic Karwowski, Historian
A Masonic Truce in Louisiana. Explore Southern History
Freemasons Call On Public to Join Centuries Old Tradition Amid Coronavirus Outbreak. Newsweek. 23 March 2020

Music

Theme Song “Dark & Troubled” by Panthernburn. Special thanks to Phillip St Ours for permission for use 

Additional Music

“Relaxing Piano Music”, “Elegy” and “Bittersweet” by Kevin MacLeod. “I Am A Man Who Will Fight” by Chris Zabriske. “St Francis” by Josh Lippi and the Overtimers. “Terrier Waltz” by Nat Keefe and the Bow Ties. Licensed under Creative Commons



Categories: Civil War, folklore, history, legends, Louisiana, southern podcasts, southernmysteries

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