The seven-year-old boy and his mother heard the big guns booming in the distance. Every day the sound lashed the air and seemed nearer and nearer each time. Nevertheless, the boy’s father kept his regiments in the trenches and every attempt to break his thin lines cost the enemy more and more.
One sad day, the boy’s mother drew her son to her lap and with bracing breath said “Archie, your daddy was killed today by a shell burst while defending his position; never forget he fell defending us.”
Archie’s father had been at war for three long years. His actions brought only admiration from his superior officers and affection and confidence from his men. His courage, honesty, fairness, and fortitude were known to all.
He was a leader of men, bold and aggressive, yet compassionate and fair. On the last day of the great battle of Chickamauga, Georgia, his inexperienced regiments stood toe to toe with the enemy, men falling on every hand, but the general never wavered, striding up and down the line encouraging his soldiers and providing the kind of leadership that few possess.
In the final campaign of the war, the general again had made himself an exemplar of courage. His position in the trench line was the most exposed in the entire army and thus the most dangerous and difficult to hold. In one of the many artillery barrages against his line, Archie’s father was killed by an exploding shell. The entire army mourned the loss of the gallant officer.
When the war came to an end five months later, Archie and his mother moved to New York, the land of their former enemy. Throughout his formative years, Archie was told again and again the stories of his father’s courage and fearless leadership. His mother never tired of reminding him that he should follow his father’s character and example. Archie listened intently.
When he came of age, Archie sought and received an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point. Perhaps he could exceed his father’s service in the army? But military duty was not in Archie’s future. He failed at math and was suspended. Reinstated a few months later and given a second chance, he failed yet again. Unable to complete his army course, Archie turned to real estate ventures and made his fortune.
His father’s presence never left him and Archie would take his own family to the battlefield sites of his dad’s fighting career. On one of those excursions he discovered that the Chickamauga battlefield was not being satisfactorily interpreted. He determined to research and write the book that would tell all the truth about that great battle.
He moved to Washington D.C. to be near the archival material germane to his research of the battle. The president of the United States gave him carte blanche to use all the historical resources the government had to offer.
Upon completion of the first volume, Archie went alone to Europe for a vacation from the arduous research. If he couldn’t be a hero, he could at least leave his father’s legacy for all to see. For his passage home to America, Archie booked a first class ticket on the RMS Titanic.
When the ship struck the iceberg, the vacationing author sprang into action, helping ladies to the lifeboats and handing babies down to their mothers. He rushed below desks, searching for the infirm and and unaccompanied in order to guide them to the lifeboats. Not expecting to survive himself, he instinctively did all in his power to save women and children.
Although he went down with the ship, Archie was somehow able to surface and climb aboard an upside down lifeboat floating nearby. He took command of the survivors, directing them to maintain the balance of the disabled craft all night long. Exhausted but alive, the weary crew led by Archie were rescued the next day.
This hero of the sinking of the Titanic had acted just like his father would have, motivated by the same ethos and spirit of selfless sacrifice in the crowed hour in which he was called upon to courageously give himself up for others. The hero’s name was New York City businessman Archibald Gracie, son of General Archibald Gracie, late of the army of the Confederate States.
The Archibald Gracie’s came to America from Scotland soon after the War for Independence. They settled in New York City, building Gracie Mansion, a magnificent home which still stands and is the official residence of the mayor of New York City. The second generation Archibald Gracie moved to Mobile, Alabama representing a London-based bank.
The third generation Archibald Gracie, Archie’s father, graduated from the U.S. Military Academy but served only two years before resigning and joining his own father in Mobile. When the Civil War erupted, he commanded the 43rd Alabama Regiment, and next an entire Brigade. He was a hero of the bloody battle at Chickamauga Creek in North Georgia from which he went on to serve in the Petersburg trenches before Richmond, Virginia. He was killed defending the capitol.
The fourth and last generation Archibald Gracie of which we write grew up in New York City among his father’s family. His mother, southern-born, never ceased to tell the stories of his fathers bravery and the values of his patrimony.
The acts and self-sacrifice of his ancestors whispered in his ear, animating his spirit, as the unbearable cold numbed his body on that fateful night in the north Atlantic. There are thousands of souls who lived and are now living because Gracie was inspired by those stories and the virtues they imbued.
Bend thy ear to your ancestors, they too have a story to tell.