March 19, 2012

Lea Family Divided by Civil War

written by Rosa Morgan

You could cut the tension with a bayoneted saber as Albert Miller Lea asked with contempt, "Son, how can you turn your back on the Southern Cause when it's in your blood to defend it?"Though Albert was a formidable figure in science, engineering, politics, and military endeavors, his son, Edward, stood his ground against him, for he was was an up and coming officer in the Union Navy and confident of his own abilities. With simmering anger Edward pronounced, "I do not desire my family’s love if I can only possess it by becoming a traitor to my country!"
Albert tweaked his mustache, growling, "Know that if you decide to fight for the Old Flag, it is not likely we will meet again except face to face on the battlefield."
With emotions running high, the two men, like many other families torn asunder by the war between North and South, went their separate ways.

At twenty-six years of age, Edward was Lieutenant Commander aboard the Union steamer, Harriet Lane, and one of the first into the harbor to capture Galveston, Texas, in October 1862. There he remained defending the Gulf of Mexico island until the frigid night of January 1, 1863 when Confederates led by General John Bankhead Magruder, made their bold attack.

Armoring the decks of two river steamers, the Bayou City and Neptune, with cotton bales, the Confederates entered the west end of Galveston bay and successfully commandeered Edward's ship.

Mortally wounded, Edward lay on the ship's deck, unaware his father, Albert, was also on the island, but under the command of the Confederate forces. Atop one of the tallest residences near Broadway, possibly Ashton Villa, Albert had observed the Galveston Battle with much trepidation and when the fighting ceased he revealed to Gen. Magruder that his son had been serving on the captured Union ship, Harriet Lane.

Shocked, Magruder responded,"My God! Why didn’t you tell me this before? Of course you must seek him out immediately." By the time Albert found his fatally wounded son, all past grievances had evaporated. Gently cradling his son's head in his arms, he cried with regret, "Edward, this is your father. I am here to take care of you." "Yes, I know," the young commander responded with a sense of relief, "but I cannot move." Torn with fear and indecision, the father reluctantly left his son's side to go ashore and find medical help. When the dying Edward was asked by those in attendance if there was anything they could do to ease his suffering, he calmly answered, "No, my father is here."

Albert didn't return in time to see his son alive, but on the following day with both Confederate soldiers and Union prisoners attending Edward's funeral, he solemnly said above his son's coffin, "Allow one so sorely tried in this his willing sacrifice to beseech you to believe that while we defend our rights with our strong arms and honest hearts, 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."

On an island in the Gulf, in a field of yellow blossoms stands Edward Lea’s gravestone with his last words engraved upon it: "My father is here."

March 5, 2012

Forest Row Hanging

written by Rosa Morgan
My name is John Beatson, a Scotsman who spent the better half of his life finding adventure on the high seas. My wife suffered my absences and my children barely recognized me, and so when I could no longer scale the yards, nor scrub the deck, I begrudgingly came home and bought a little tavern in Edinburgh. It was a respectable establishment with timbered ceilings and inglenook hearth. I accepted no smugglers and prided myself on serving the strongest stout in the shire. However, the time came when I handed the whole kit and kaboodle to my eldest son, William, who suffered the most from me being away. Not long after, he sold the business and bought another, but having fallen into bankruptcy, he sought refuge at Hartfield in Sussex and lived on the wreck of his property.

By this time, I was white haired with purse depleted, and felt all opportunity of exploit beyond me. I was serving as butler with a good family when William approached me with a dubious scheme to restore our joint fortunes. I accepted it despite serious reservations, and on Saturday, 18th July, 1801, we traveled down to Godstone and stayed the night at the coaching inn, "Rose and Crown".

Having not slept a wink due to jangled nerves, we set out in the morn and journeyed south through Blindley Heath to East Grinstead. Upon reaching Wall Hill, Forest Row, we set about our plan, which with several pints belted back had previously glowed with promise.

It was a moonless night, nigh onto the midnight hour when I hunched down beside the road and waited. With knees knocking, I whispered, “William, my boy, ‘tis not too late to alter our course; let us not fall prey to greed and thievery.” I did not hear my lad’s response, for the rumble of the mail coach was upon us, and William, quick as lightning was atop it with a pistol to the driver’s breast. “Your money or your life!” he demanded. It grieved me further that the coachman was a boy himself, and cried most passionately as we left him hog tied.

We made off with our plunder to Hartfield, and with a cornfield as cover, examined our spoils. Never had I beheld so many bank notes in my life, thousands to be sure; and fearful of being detected, we agreed to take only a quarter of it, abandoning the rest.

With £3,500 lining our pockets, we made our way to Westerham, thence to Deptford and onto London. There we lived the lives of kings until we saw handbills offering a reward for our capture, and we thought it prudent to remove ourselves from the country. We made it only as far as Liverpool, where I awoke in bed at the inn and found myself in custody. We were returned to Sussex and ultimately Horsham Gaol, where I had much time to reflect upon the folly of my short lived days as a highwayman.

The next Assizes at Horsham came on 29th March, 1802, where we, as the last pair of mail robbers in Sussex, were brought before Baron Hotham. The judge's words still ring in my ears: “John Beatson, you are to be fed on bread and water till Wednesday next, when you are to be taken to the sight of your thievery, and there hanged by the neck until you are dead; after which your body is to be publicly dissected and anatomized, agreeable to an Act of Parliament in that case made and provided; and may God Almighty have mercy on your soul."

At seven in the morning on 17th April , we were conveyed in a cart with our coffin beside us to where a special gallows had been erected. By a strange twist of fate part of the structure had been stolen the night before, while enough remained to accomplish the deed. A rowdy crowd of nearly three thousand onlookers congregated, hurling insults and rotten fruit at us. Here the blacksmith removed our handcuffs and leg-irons and the Yeoman of the Halter tied the rope around our necks and tied our hands in front, allowing us freedom to pray. The only thing I asked God for was that the hangman had accurately considered my height and weight to calculate an efficient drop.
The hangman, who was a condemned criminal reprieved on condition he execute others, pulled white night caps over our faces, and with the priest's blessing, pulled the lever. I felt the initial yank at my neck, the sensation that the top of my head would burst open, and finally my dear sister Louise pulling on my legs to deliver me from my writhing agony.

With my spirit free of my corporeal body, I hovered above the scene, watching as our bodies were cut down and given to Horsham's surgeons, Messrs. Price and Popay. They took us back for dissection, selling our skin to the tanner and odd bits and pieces as tokens to the public, who were hungry for gruesome entertainment. Dear reader, I tell this as a cautionary tale, so you may be content with life's simple pleasures life: a loving mate by your side and faithful dog at your feet.