ExploreSouthernHistory.com - Grace Church in St. Francisville, Louisiana
ExploreSouthernHistory.com - Grace Church in St. Francisville, Louisiana
Grace Church in St. Francisville
The landmark church survived the Civil War and has
stood for more than 150 years in the historic West
Feliciana Parish town of St. Francisville, Louisiana.
Grace Church
The cornerstone of the church
was laid by Bishop Leonidas
Polk and it survived shelling
by Union gunboats during the
Civil War.
Historical Marker at Church
The church traces its history
back to 1827, making it one of
the oldest Protestant
churches in Louisiana.
Grace Church of West Feliciana Parish - St. Francisville, LA
The Day the War Stopped...
A St. Francisville Landmark
The church and cemetery are
shaded by a magnificent
grove of oaks.
Copyright 2011 by Dale Cox
All rights reserved.
A beautiful brick structure in the charming
St.Francisville Historic District, Grace Church
is the second oldest Episcopal church in

The church has been active since it was first
organized on March 15, 1827. In 1858,
however, the building took on its present
form when Bishop Leonidas Polk, who would
soon become the "FIghting Bishop" of the
Confederacy, laid the cornerstone for the
unique Gothic structure.

With many of the prosperous merchants and
plantation owners of the area listed on its
membership roll, the new church was
beautifully designed and carefully
constructed. Completed in 1860, the building
was only one year old when Louisiana joined
the other Southern states in seceding from
the Union. The Civil War followed.

Episcopal churches in the South faced
severe retaliation from Union forces during
the war. Many in the North viewed the
church's stand in favor of secession as one
of the root causes of the War Between the
States. As a result, they used Episcopal
churches for target practice, as stables and
vandalized them in other ways over the four
years of the devastating war. Grace Church
did not escape this destruction.

After Union warships ran past the guns of the
nearby Confederate bastion of Port Hudson
in March of 1863, Grace Church suffered the
blasts of their cannon. The church was
repeatedly shelled and sustained heavy
damage from the falling shells and
cannonballs. Its position high on the bluff at
St. Francisville made it an easy target.

Ironically, its visibility to the Union warships
in the Mississippi River made Grace Church
the focal point of one of the most amazing
stories of the Civil War. It was here, as the
town commemorates to this day, that "the
Day the War Stopped" took place.

U.S.S. Albatross, a powerful Federal
warship, had run past the batteries at Port
Hudson several months earlier and had
taken part in several fights and expeditions
along the Mississippi and Red Rivers. On
June 12, 1863, as Union troops continued
their bloody battle to take nearby Port
Hudson, the
Albatross engaged in shelling
the twin communities of St. Francisville and
Bayou Sara.

The ship's captain, however, was in dire
condition. Delirious from fever, Lieutenant
Commander John E. Hart writhed in his
bunk. Then, before any members of his
stunned crew could stop him, he took his
own life.

Hart was a Mason and his officers sent
ashore a boat to see if there were any
Masons in St. Francisville. Flying a flag of
truce, the boat was allowed to approach the
shore by curious Confederates.
When the Union officers explained that they
would like to bury Lieutenant Commander
Hart ashore with Masonic Ceremonies, they
were informed that the oldest lodge in the
state - Feliciana Lodge No. 31 F. & M., was in
St. Francisville. Its Senior Warden, W.W.
Leake, was serving in the local Confederate
forces and was summoned.

The captain of Company C, 1st Louisiana
Cavalry, Leake rode to St. Francisville and
met with the Federal officers. After hearing
their request, he consented in the name of
civility and Masonic tradition.

The surgeon and officers of the U.S.S.
Albatross, with an honor guard of U.S.
Marines, then brought Hart's coffin ashore
and carried it up the ridge to Grace Church.
The deceased Union officer was buried there
with full Masonic honors in a ritual that is
reenacted in St. Francisville each June as
"The Day the War Stopped."
Please click here
for information on this year's observance.

The church was severely damaged in the war
and it took the parishioners nearly twenty
years to restore it. The work was completed
in the 1880s, however, and the Gothic
structure stands to this day.

Grace Church is located at 11621 Ferdinand
Street in St. Francisville. The cemetery and
grounds are open daily. The church is active
and visitors are welcome at its services.

For schedules and more information, please
click here to visit the Grace Church's website.
U.S.S. Albatross
This sketch of the Union
warship was drawn by a
ship's carpenter three months
after "The Day the War
Stopped" at Grace Church  
Click photo to see larger version.(U.S. Navy)
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