Unlikely cemetery mates in Grand Coteau

By Jim Bradshaw

Southern sympathizers still get high blood pressure when they talk of the infamous "march to the sea" during which Union General William Tecumseh Sherman laid waste to a wide swath of the Confederacy.

Alexander Stephens of Georgia was vice president of the Confederate States of America at the time that Sherman's troops swept through his native state.

That's why it's so ironic that Jesuit priests who were close kin to the two men should be buried side by side in Grand Coteau.

The Jesuits opened St. Charles College in the St. Landry Parish community in January 1838, and they have been in Louisiana ever since.

Because of this early and continuing presence in the state, Grand Coteau became the final resting place for many members of the Society of Jesus who died in Louisiana, including Father Thomas Sherman, son of General Sherman, who is buried next to Father John Salter, the grand-nephew of Vice President Stephens.

Tom Sherman was born in 1856. His mother, Ellen Ewing Sherman, was a devout Catholic and Tom and his siblings were reared in the faith.

Tom graduated from Georgetown in 1874 at the age of 18, earned another degree from Yale in 1876, then returned to the family home in St. Louis, where he studied and looked after his father's business.

General Sherman had great plans for his son, and was taken aback in 1878 when Tom decided to join the Jesuits. He did not attend Tom's ordination in 1879.

Tom soon made a name for himself as an orator and served as a military chaplain on the staff of General Ulysses S. Grant II during the Spanish-American War.

When that conflict ended, he continued his career as a speaker and writer and was considered one of the chief apologists for the Catholic faith in the United States.

But then his faculties began to fail. He was sent to California for a rest cure when he began to show signs of a mental breakdown about 1910.

It apparently did some good, but he never returned to his full self. For a time he just wandered along the West Coast and then traveled to Europe.

In November 1931, a niece was sent to look after him, but it was a bigger job than she could do alone. She brought him to the DePaul Sanitarium run by the Sisters of Charity in New Orleans, one of the few Catholic mental hospitals in the country. He died there on April 29, 1933, and his remains were sent to Grand Coteau for burial.

Father Salter's great-uncle, the Confederate vice president, was held in custody in Boston after the war and was visited by young women from the prominent R.H. Salter family.

They were new converts to Catholicism and followed the bibilical injunction to visit the imprisoned. Through those visits, one of Alexander's nieces met and married Richard Salter Jr. They became the parents of Father John Salter.

He was ordained in 1909, became rector of a Jesuit college in Augusta, Ga., then novice master, training aspiring young Jesuits in Macon, Ga.

When fire destroyed the novitiate in Macon in 1921, he moved with his novices to Grand Coteau.

He was traveling in Georgia in March 1933 when he suffered a stroke. After convalescing in Georgia for several weeks, he returned to Louisiana and died in New Orleans on May 2, 1933 — jut days after Father Sherman's death.

Father Salter's remains were also sent to Grand Coteau and, because of the coincidental timing of their deaths, was given the grave next in line in the cemetery.

That is how a relative of the Confederate vice president came to be buried next to the son of the Union general whom Southerners loved to despise.

You can contact Jim Bradshaw by e-mail at jhbradshaw@bellsouth.net or by regular mail at P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589

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