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Bill Thayer

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The following text is reproduced from (the report of the) Twenty-Second Annual Reunion of the Association of the Graduates of the United States Military Academy, June 12th, 1891.

 p59  Albert Miller Lea
No. 633. Class of 1831.
Died, January 16, 1891, at Corsicana, Texas, aged 84.

Colonel Lea was born in Richland, Grainger County, Tennessee, on July 23, 1808. He was educated at Knoxville college; graduated at West Point, fifth in his class, in 1831, and was at once appointed a Lieutenant of Artillery and stationed at Fort Gibson on the frontier; then had charge of the survey and planned  p60 improvements of the Tennessee river; in 1835 was stationed at Des Moines, and soon was sent in charge of an expedition to the St. Peter river in Minnesota with Captain Boone, a son of the famous Daniel Boone, as a guide.

It was in this expedition that he first passed through Freeborn County, entering Moscow Township, passing across the south part of Riceland, striking Albert Lea Lake and crossing to Pickerel Lake, thence to White Lake, where the column halted for dinner. The present Albert Lea Lake they called Lake Fox. Thence they passed southwesterly to the Des Moines river back to the Iowa capital. He resigned from the army in June, 1836, and published a book containing an account and map of his expedition, in which Iowa was first given its name.

In 1837 he was appointed Chief Engineer of Tennessee; then by President Van Buren as Commissioner to establish the Southern boundary of Iowa; thereafter was Locating Engineer of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad; then Chief Clerk in the War Department under President Harrison, and for six weeks was Acting Secretary of War.

At this time the famous Nicollet changed the name of Lake Fox to Albert Lea Lake, the incident being interestingly described in the address of Colonel Lea above mentioned. The name was afterwards given to the city. In 1844 Colonel Lea accepted an important professor­ship in the Knoxville University. Afterwards he went to Texas in the interest of a railroad enterprise, and on the breaking out of the war entered the Confederate service. He was a warm personal friend of Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Jefferson Davis, but an officer who had more influence interfered to prevent the promotion which Colonel Lea's eminent abilities entitled him to receive, although he performed very important service. The tragic death of his son Edward by his first wife, on the Harriet Lane in an engagement at Galveston, while the father was an officer on the opposing side, and the funeral at which the father pronounced the burial service, has been repeated in these columns.​a Since the war Colonel Lea has resided with his daughters at Corsicana.

Colonel Lea was truly a remarkable man, and while his career  p61 is remarkable, and is indelibly engraved in the wonderful history of the country, it would have been still more so with more fortuitous opportunity. He was a great man by nature and education; he was an honest, unostentatious, earnest and thoroughly equipped man, and one who possessed the high esteem and perfect confidence of all who knew him. His name is perpetuated in the title of this noble city, and its citizens who know him and who come to know of him will ever treasure him in affectionate and exalted memory.

Albert Lea, Minn., Standard

Thayer's Note:

a Retold in detail, and movingly, in W. T. Block's 1993 article in East Texas Historical Journal, 32:2:23‑33, A Towering Texas Pioneer: A Biographical Sketch of Colonel Albert Miller Lea.

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Page updated: 5 Nov 13