Freemasonry During the Civil War: Acts of Treason? Part Four
Submitted by Illustrious Companion Kevin A. Wheeler, District Inspector 4th District, Grand Council of Illinois
IC Kevin A. Wheeler
Integrated Literature Review/Critical Analysis
Ill. Bro. Todd E. Creason and Midnight Freemasons Contributor in his article entitled “Was a Freemason Responsible For the American Civil War?”, argues that the Civil War was started due to the lack of action by then President Buchanan a as he would put it a “not so famous Mason”. In his article he describes the first shots at Fort Sumter that predate the start of the civil war. In my opinion this article is not existential proof that a Freemason was the cause of the Civil War, but it does show a role played by one. As Ill. Bro Creason stated President Buchanan “could have, and should have done more to prevent the war between the states”. (Creason, T. E., 2012)
Brotherhood in the Crucible written by Ken Brickman (2010) was a very well put together article. In this article Brickman speaks about how our Masonic obligations are not supposed to conflict with any of our duties, however he brings up the question as to whether or not that this is the case, especially when considering some of the instances during the Civil War. Brickman stated “The histories of warfare since the founding of Freemasonry record numerous acts of military courtesy to foes attributable to fraternal ties” (p. 1). While examining various incidents the author notes an instance were the membership of the Grand Lodge of Indiana sought to expel a brother simply because he was choosing to join the Confederate Army, however the Grand Master denied such request, stating “Obligatory Masonic duties would not conflict with a Man’s duties to his country, whatever subjective understanding of country he might entertain” (p. 2).
Brickman (2010) also describes the story of Bro. L.J. Williams, the Fellowcraft who escaped after receiving his Master mason Degree while a prisoner of the Confederate Army. What caught my attention was the fact that he stated while referring to the aided escape of Bro. Williams, “by aiding him, his benefactors put themselves at greater personal risk than he had experienced as a prisoner, as aiding an escape was punishable by drum-head court-martial with, in those times, a likely sentence of death”. (Brickman, 2010. p.3) He goes further by stating that those who assisted Williams violated their duty to country in favor of their Masonic duties. Additionally, he suggests that there was no pressure or urgency to render further assistance than that of the courtesy degree. In yet further proof that Masonic charity and treason during the Civil War were closely related we note the story where two of seven condemned men were replaced from the execution line because they signaled to Confederate Capitan Richard P. Montjoy that they were Masons.
In the article entitled April to April: Masons and Knights at the Beginning and End of the Civil War written by Sir Knight Richard F. Muth (ND.), Muth describes just that. Bro. Todd Creason stated the start of the war was the fault of a Mason, but it my opinion it was more than one who was at fault. President Buchanan a Past District Deputy Grand Master, can be to blame for not easing tensions and getting a hold on things after shots rang out in January of 1861 and prior to the first shots of the war in April of that same year. But the start of the war can also be attributed to Brigadier General and Sir Knight Gustave Toutant Beauregard of the Confederate Army and Major Robert Anderson the Union Officer in charge at Fort Sumter, who had been friends but both refused to back down as tensions rose, the rest became history. Ironically enough, at the end of the war on April 12, 1865 the same day the war began just four years prior, Major Anderson raised the American Flag above Fort Sumter. Muth goes further by telling us about the Masonic brother Brigadier General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain after the war became one of the major proponents for reconciliation efforts and a public speaker, supporting that cause.
In the article entitled Masons at the Battle of Gettysburg written by Munn (1999) we are introduced to various situations where Masons from both sides of the war faced each other on the battlefield, from the beginning to the very end. In fact, Union Lieutenant Marcellus Jones, a Mason from Wheaton, Illinois was attributed with firing the first shots at troops led by Confederate Brigadier General Henry Heath. (Munn, 1999) Bro. Heath was the Senior Warden of Union Brigadier General W.B. John C. Robinson during his year as Worshipful Master of Rocky Mountain Lodge, a lodge that unfortunately surrendered its charter due to the war, despite over two hundred new lodges being formed throughout the war. (Munn, 1999) A Virginia Sergeant, upon happening upon some Union Troops ordered his men to pass them by after noticing the one of them giving the Masonic sign of distress. (Mann, 1999) At the end of the war, Union General and Mason Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain ordered his men to give a full military salute to the surrendering Confederate General Bro. John Gordon and his men, “It was the first act to heal the wounds of a nation and that greeting was given by a Mason!” (p. 2) Munn (1999) also describes Pickett’s Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg where we are told the story of two famed Generals, Armistead of the Confederate Army and Hancock of the Union Army, friends and Masonic brothers yet stood on opposite sides of the battlefield. After Armistead was wounded he received aid from another brother mason, one of the Union Army and under Hancock’s command, Capitan and brother Bingham. (Munn, 1999) Munn (1999) goes further by describing this act as “one of the greatest examples of the ideals of Freemasonry in action” (p. 4) In fact it was that very incident which inspired the memorial we know as the friend to friend memorial described by Munn (1999) as follows, “the Friend to Friend Masonic Memorial, at Gettysburg will help demonstrate to the world that Freemasonry is indeed, a unique fraternity; that its bonds of friendship, compassion and brotherly love withstood the ultimate test during the most tragic and decisive period of our nation’s history; it stood then as it stands now, as A Brotherhood Undivided” (p. 4). Although I agree with the above statement wouldn’t assisting a wounded enemy be considered treason?