Lexington and Galveston

Dwight A. Moody

 

There’s a road runs straight from Lexington to Galveston—1,039 miles along the highways today; and the man who once traveled it is in the spotlight this week. He started out in New York, but a military commission took him all over, from Michigan to New Mexico and just about everywhere between.

 

It was his brief sojourn in Galveston that made him famous, but it was the longer layover in Lexington that made him happy. And here is the story of how all that happened to General Gordon Granger of the United States Army and what it means for us today.

 

Granger was born in 1821, which means he was just shy of 40 when the Civil War broke out. He began the war as a lieutenant, saw action in Missouri, and by 1862—barely a year after making captain—was promoted to general and given command of the Union Army of Kentucky. It must have been during this period that he fell in love with a lady from Lancaster—Maria Letcher.

 

Before he made it back to the Bluegrass, he distinguished himself in battle after battle, most famously at Chickamauga, south of Chattanooga. When the war was over, he took command of 2,000 soldiers and headed to Texas as the new commandant of that expansive but rebellious territory. It was not yet 20 years a state in the Union, and folks there in 1865 had not yet heard (or obeyed) the news of the war’s end and the slaves’ liberty.

 

He came ashore in Galveston, marched his soldiers down Broadway to the stately Victorian home of James Moreau Brown. It had served as headquarters of the Confederate Army, then the Union Army, and again for the Confederates. So it was appropriate that here, from the second floor balcony, General Gordon Granger read what he called General Order #3: “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United Sates, all slaves are free….”

 

It was an historic moment for the quarter million slaves in Texas and, indeed, for all the people of the United States; for this announcement in this far off region—known then and now for its “Don’t Mess with Texas” mentality—meant that in all the places where people had been held in servitude, there was freedom.

 

It was June 19, 1865.

 

The next year the newly built AME church just down the street from the site of the famous Juneteenth declaration was deeded to its one-time slave membership. A year later, on June 19, 1866, a great celebration was held in that sanctuary to commemorate the fact that, finally, all slaves everywhere in the United States were and ought to be free.

 

They still hold their annual ceremonies there. And in 2018 I was blessed to be on Galveston island on that very day (visiting my son). Accompanied by young minister and former student Rev. Roger Jasper, a native of Galveston but a pastor in Kentucky, I attended the Juneteenth service. We sat on the back row of that sanctuary, squarely behind a row of black men in Union blue uniforms. We listened to the music, the drums, the speeches, the whole affair. When it was over, we gathered outside on Broadway and, led by those men in blue, marched to the site of the old courthouse. There, one of the men unrolled the parchment and read again for all to hear General Order #3. It rained the whole time, but neither I nor anyone gave it a minute’s notice.

 

I departed the Island and returned to my residence in Georgia, 661 miles from my home in Lexington. General Granger went straight to that beautiful city, there to marry his woman and start a family. He left again, under orders from the Army, traveling all the way to New Mexico as its new federal commander. There, in 1876, he died, felled by a stroke at the age of 54.

 

Not even his death could prevent him from returning to Kentucky. He was buried in the beautiful Lexington Cemetery, the spot marked today by a 20-foot obelisk, a fitting tribute to an officer and a gentleman who occupied center stage in a moment of historic drama. On Juneteenth,1865, in Galveston, Texas.

 

(June 2020)