Freemasonry During the Civil War: Acts of Treason? Part One
Submitted by Illustrious Companion Kevin A. Wheeler, District Inspector 4th District, Grand Council of Illinois
Editor’s Note: This is the first part of a paper which will be released in a nine part series. Additional parts will be posted over the upcoming weeks.
IC Kevin A. Wheeler
There have been many efforts that have analyzed, various aspects of the American Civil War; similarly there have been a great many writers who have completed research regarding Masonry and its role(s) during the Civil War. However, there are not many who have completed research or who would dare to say that some of the acts considered to be relief or charity that were extended to Masons by Masons while on opposite sides of the battlefield, treasonous. In the article written by Roberts (1968), entitled Masonry Under Two Flags the author describes the impact that Freemasons had on the war, by describing the fact that there were hundreds of generals and thousands of soldiers that were Masons, in both the Union and Confederate Armies. Roberts (1968) goes on to discuss how Masons not only failed an attempt to prevent the War, but also were the ones responsible for the first shots fired which ultimately started the war. Some authors acknowledge that some of the acts committed by Masons to help one another during the war would have been considered treason if caught, however “The histories of warfare since the founding of Freemasonry record numerous acts of military courtesy to foes attributable to fraternal ties”. (Brickman, 2010, p. 1) Time and time again it is apparent that the acts of relief or charity to a fellow Mason during the Civil War would have been considered treason, two different situations discussed by Brickman directly depict treasonous acts. The first is of a Confederate Lieutenant who swapped out two prisoners who were chosen for death after discovering that they were in fact Masons. (Brickman, 2010) Another, is an instance where Confederate Masons allowed or assisted in the prison escape of a Union Army Solider and fellow Mason, ironically the Mason was said to have mysteriously escaped after becoming a Master Mason, at a confederate lodge in Savannah, GA, and escaped following that Meeting. (Brickman, 2010) The focus of this research paper will be in describing and analyzing the tons of information depicting the various acts of relief and charity extended by both sides of the Civil War by Freemasons, and to provide one potential solution, as to why those acts were not prosecuted nor treated as treasonous acts.
The critical considerations are relevant in addressing this problem. Laws and ethical factors relate to whether some of these instances can even be considered treason at all. Diversity factors include, where they believe they were performing their Masonic duties and obligations in helping a fellow brother Mason, whereas if they were helping anyone other than a brother they would have surely been tried for treason and at those times hung or submitted to a firing squad. National Factors include how these situations may have impacted the country as a whole, especially during the healing and rebuilding of the nation following the end of the Civil War.
The first portion of this research paper deals with all the information regarding Freemasons during the Civil War Era, to include identifying many situations where the Masons impacted all aspects of the war, from the presidency to Congress to the front lines. I will do this by conducting a data analysis collected through books, and research articles, and the use of Masonic Journals via the Philalethes Society; a Masonic Research Organization. The second portion of this research paper will explore the evidence that suggests that Masons on both the Confederate and Union Armies committed treason when assisting each other throughout the Civil War. Given that they were enemies on opposing sides, the question becomes, why those treasonous acts were never prosecuted, nor ever mentioned as such by a court of law.
There is tremendous evidence from various articles collected from the Internet, as well as periodicals from the Philalethes Society, and books written by both Masons and non-Masons alike. These articles depict multiple situations throughout the Civil War that involve Freemasonry and the impact it had on the events that occurred before, during, and after the war. Such evidence suggests that treason was in fact committed many times by Masons by way of aiding a fellow brother Masons in one form or another. One example of a treasonous act involves a Mason who was a Confederate Surgeon who tended to the wounds of a Mason in the Union Army following the Battle of Bull Run, where all other Confederate Surgeons ignored him. (Howey, ND) In the same article written by Howey (ND), the suggestion of treason is more strongly presented where we are introduced to the story of L.J. Williams a Fellowcraft Mason who was a Union Soldier that was in a Confederate Prison Camp, and let out of prison to receive his Master Mason’s Degree however, he mysteriously escaped prison that very same night.
In an article entitled Brotherhood in the Crucible written by Brickman (2010), the author tells of various stories about how Masons during the Civil War were treated differently than other soldiers on either side when discovering that their enemy was a Brother Mason. In addition to the story of L.J. Williams, we learn of an unconfirmed story of how Troops on either side who were Masons that became prisoners were given permission to roam the prison grounds freely. (Brickman, 2010) Brickman (2010) also tells of a story were a Union Officer gave his word as a Mason allowed the opportunity to visit his sick mother. The last case depicts a Confederate Soldier who was imprisoned and afforded to conduct his regular business so long as he promised upon his honor as a Mason to return to Johnson’s Island Prison, which he did. (Brickman, 2010)
All the information regardless of what may have been the truth, as some of the information is unconfirmed it is still overwhelming. After carefully evaluating the information contained throughout these sources I first came to the conclusion that the Government may have ignored these acts of treason, perhaps because those who committed such acts were Masons. However, considering the fact that whenever a supposed or actual act of treason was committed the identities of those who were involved were never discovered; or there was a covered-up, but in any sense it is difficult to prosecute and/or confirm some of the facts.
But to be honest, I probably should not be thinking this way because I am a Freemason who happens to be a former U.S. Marine, and I would hope that such acts of charity to a fellow brother Mason would not be considered to be treason, but rather an honorable act in the eyes of the brotherhood. Putting myself in their place during the Civil War, my feelings would have been, as long as I had not given any secrets or information that can harm my country, or cause the country to lose a battle or worse the war, could assisting a brother Mason in need still, be considered treason? In the one hand, I believe the evidence that I will provide not only suggests, but also can in most cases prove that Masons throughout the Civil War when encountering a brother Mason in a destitute state committed treason. On the other hand, I am glad that these possible acts of treason were not prosecuted. The reason I believe this, is not only because I am a Mason, but also because at the end of the day the Civil War in my opinion was less of a war and more of a fratricidal conflict. (Bennett, 1990) Regardless of what we discover regarding these supposed acts of treason committed by Masons while assisting one another during the Civil War, or if we can choose to reconsider what we view as treason, this research paper will evaluate the information without making conclusions, and attempt to give valuable information as to the explanation of why these acts should or should not be considered treason.