The Day the War Stopped
St. Francisville, Louisiana
An 1863 re-enactment
Day the War Stopped
The Day The War Stopped
by Anne Butler

     On June 13, 1863, a young wife in Schenectady, NY, happily reads to their small son a loving letter just received from her husband commanding a federal gunboat so far from home. Cannons booming to the South, he relays his pride in his little craft for successfully running the Confederate blockade on the Mississippi River at Port Hudson. But more than wartime news, the letter relates the simple pleasures prized amidst the fighting…the fresh milk enjoyed each time the crew spots a cow grazing near the riverbank, the plentiful ripe blackberries, the puppy put ashore to be trained, the litter of kittens produced by the ship's mouser, the dreams of a cool sip of claret to ease the stifling heat.

     At the same time on this hot summer day, a mournful procession struggles up the hill from the Mississippi River to St. Francisville, Louisiana, high atop the bluffs, staggering under the weight of a coffin covered with an American, not Confederate, flag. In the coffin…the body of the young husband…naval officer, gunboat commander, and Mason whose last request had been that his body not be consigned to the river but accorded decent burial with Masonic rites.

     How would they be received in this little Victorian rivertown, this decidedly southern town, which they’d just been shelling with their heavy batteries? Join us to find out as St. Francisville commemorates with drama and living history The Day The War Stopped, one of the Civil War's most touching and unusual moments.

     Some 138 years after the actual event, with descendants of some of the original participants in attendance, the burial of Commander Hart will be re-created in Grace Church cemetery, where the Union officer's grave remains today, shaded by towering live oaks, the air perfumed by ancient sweet olive. Other activities take place just across the street at the home of one of the state's oldest Masonic Lodges, begun in 1817.

     The commemoration begins Saturday, June 15, at 10 a.m. with a lively parade through the heart of historic downtown St. Francisville along Ferdinand St.,  In the reviewing stand will be Masonic dignitaries including Frank Karwowski representing Commander Hart's St. George Lodge in Schenectady, New York.

     Lunches will be available from noon to 1, with BBQ served up by the Masons and other local restaurants offering specialties in the general vicinity of the Lodge. Scouts will be selling cold drinks. Lunch will be followed by the dedication of a time capsule to WW Leake, Senior Warden and Confederate soldier, and Lt. Commander John E. Hart, fellow Mason and Union soldier whose death on June 12, 1863, halted the Civil War for a brief moment and proved that brotherhood can surmount all obstacles. A dedication at the will take place at the Masonic Lodge, just across from the Courthouse, where the time capsule is buried. To be opened by Feliciana Lodge #31 on the bicentennial of the burial in the year 2063, the capsule contains artifacts furnished by state Masons and local citizens.

     Right across Ferdinand St. at Bishop Jackson Hall, parish hall of Grace Church, at 2 p.m. a play will feature Valerie Barnes as Hart's young wife, Valerie's son Brooks as the Harts’ child Elliott, and another local actor as her father who interrupts her letter reading bearing sad tidings. The play was described by its author, former Grace rector Rev. Kenneth Dimmick, as a "historic impression," and this year is directed and narrated by old pro David Barnes.

     The play will be followed by a re-creation of the Hart burial in historic Grace cemetery, with local Mason John Rarick taking the role of Confederate Masonic leader W. W. Leake and his compatriot Frank Karwowski of Schenectady’s St. George's Lodge representing Masonic shipmates of Hart, Joe Savell as Episcopal minister the Reverend Dr. Lewis, and as Mrs. Lewis, Shirley Ditloff, who now operates a Bed & Breakfast in W. W. Leake’s historic townhouse. It was the bell tower of Grace Church which proved such a tempting target visible above the treeline as Commander Hart’s federal gunboat, the USS Albatross, having broken through the Confederate blockade on the river at Port Hudson along with Admiral Farragut’s vessel, shelled Bayou Sara, St. Francisville and the very church where its commander would soon be buried.

     Following the drama and burial, the a Military Band will give a rousing concert in Parker Memorial Park downtown at the intersection of Commerce and Ferdinand Sts., and at 7:30 p.m. the beautifully costumed Vintage Dancers will perform period dances to appropriate melodies of the era in Bishop Jackson Hall.

     Sponsors of The Day The War Stopped include St. Francisville Overnight Bed & Breakfasts, Grace Episcopal Church, Feliciana Lodge No. 31 F and AM, the Town of St. Francisville and St. Francisville Main Street program. These folks have worked hard to present an authentic experience for visitors emphasizing St. Francisville's unique and fascinating history.

     This is heritage tourism at its best, and the entire day will be filled with fun and educational activities for the whole family. St. Francisville is noted for its gracious antebellum plantation homes, many of which are open for touring, as well as its delightful overnight accommodations, quaint shops and wonderful restaurants, so many visitors will want to make a full weekend of it. There is no fee for participating in any of the Day The War Stopped events, but donations will be gratefully accepted to help defray the costs. The St. Francisville Overnight Association will have commemorative T-shirts for sale to help with costs as well.

     For additional information, contact John Rarick at 225-635-3483, or Shirley Ditloff at 225-635-4791; detailed online information is available at www.mastermason.com/thedaythewarstopped/

Schedule of Events 10:00 am Parade - numerous Bands, Drill Teams and Shriner vehicles
12:00 pm Lunch - at Masonic Lodge
1:00 pm Dedication of the Arch
2:00 pm DRAMA - "The Day the War Stopped" at Jackson Hall
2:30 pm Masonic procession - from Masonic Lodge to Grace Church Cemetery
2:40 pm Full Masonic burial - at Grace Episcopal Church Cemetery
5:00 pm Band Concert at Park
7:30 pm Louisiana Vintage Dancers - at Jackson Hall

Once again the Historic District of St. Francisville, Louisiana will be the site of the re-enactment of the Masonic burial of Union Gunboat Commander John E. Hart in Grace Episcopal Church Yard. For additional information contact jrarick@bellsouth.net, telephone : 225-635-3483 or Post Office Box 1924, St. Francisville, LA. 70775


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