Freemasonry During the Civil War: Acts of Treason? Part Seven
Submitted by Illustrious Companion Kevin A. Wheeler, District Inspector 4th District, Grand Council of Illinois
IC Kevin A. Wheeler
Integrated Literature Review/Critical Analysis
In the article written by Justine Love (ND) entitled Freemasonry And The Civil War – A House Undivided, Love describes the war as “the single most divisive event in our nation’s long history. No other war, political event, or national crisis has ever approached the levels of animosity and hatred that the Civil War caused. Brother fought against brother. Fathers against sons. Families were forever split over the idealism of the War” (p.1) He goes on to mention how many organizations were split and/or destroyed as a result, however, Freemasonry remained undivided. (Love, ND) In his article Love (ND) attributes the lack of division regarding Freemasonry to three things, the first because of the age of Freemasonry, which some would argue is from time immemorial; Second, because membership is by choice, and third due to the rules found within the craft, mainly to avoid politics. Love (ND) goes on to describe Pickett’s Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg, where you have opposing Generals Armistead and Hancock who were brother Masons and best friends, being at West Point together before the war, more concerned about the wellbeing of one another than of themselves. Love’s (ND) article continues by talking about how in Masonry you can be of any faith, how we can trace the craft to the building of King Solomon’s Temple, how the Grand Lodges in America tried to prevent the Civil War, the trade guilds during Operative Masonry, the origins of Speculative Masonry, how following the 1960s membership in Freemasonry began to decline, yet despite all the trials and tribulation Freemasonry withstood, Masonic Brothers still remain undivided and maintain “Those three tenants Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth” (p. 6).
In the twenty-Sixth degree of the AASR-NMJ, we first come across a scene where we see Generals Armistead, Johnston, and Hancock talking about the conflict at hand which would eventually lead to the Civil War, and discussing how it can possibly be prevented. During that conversation, Johnston states “in my opinion, it can be prevented… Provided there are men of goodwill on both sides-Freemasons, if you will. This is what gives me hope that the standoff can be resolved without war. You see both commanders at the scene – Major Anderson of Kentucky and General Beauregard of Louisiana – are honorable men and brother Masons. I am confident that neither would unnecessarily provoke military action”. Johnston goes further by stating that as Masons we should be able to depend on one another to do the right thing, regardless of personal views, and says “not even the scourge of war can dissolve our obligations as Masons”.
Later in the degree we have Generals Armistead after discovering that he was to face his best friend General Hancock on the battlefield during Pickett’s Charge, exclaimed, “Win, how sorry I am…. Please, dear God, not Win… not Win”. In the last scene of the degree, we are introduced to Captain Bingham as he describes General Armistead’s last moments to General Hancock who is in the hospital as he himself was wounded during the famed charge of the Battle of Gettysburg. Once he received the information he asked Bingham for the details, and upon learning the bravery and accomplishment exhibited by his best friend, brother, and enemy, he was excited, yet saddened regarding the loss of life. Then Captain Bingham describes General Armistead’s last moments with General Hancock and says, “Seeing that he was a general officer, I hurried to his side to give what aid I could. He was badly wounded, but still conscious. His concern was for you. He said, “Tell General Hancock, General Armistead sends his compliments.” When I told him you were no longer on the field. . . that you had been wounded, he became greatly distressed. He said, “Oh dear God, not both of us, not both of us.” (Struggles with emotion) Before he lost consciousness he said, “Tell General Hancock how sorry I am, how very sorry I am.” Despite being enemies on the battlefield both General Armistead and general Hancock had a deep respect and shared brotherly love for one another being more concerned for their brother Mason’s wellbeing than that of their own. The scene where Captain Bingham is thereby General Armistead’s side is what we know today as the Friend to Friend Masonic Monument, located at Gettysburg. This is clearly a powerful degree, but for the purposes of proving my point in regards to committing treason, did Capitan Bingham commit a treasonous act by rendering aid to his Masonic brother?