Freemasonry During the Civil War: Acts of Treason: Part Six

Freemasonry During the Civil War: Acts of Treason?  Part Six
Submitted by Illustrious Companion Kevin A. Wheeler, District Inspector 4th District, Grand Council of Illinois

IC Kevin A. Wheeler
IC Kevin A. Wheeler


Integrated Literature Review/Critical Analysis

In the article entitled Echoes from the Civil War written by Bro. Henry L. Zelchenko; the author writes about the mercy that was extended among brethren who were captured by the other side during a time where prisoners were being food-deprived and at times tortured. In this article the author notes, “how atrociously prisoners were treated” (p. 1) Bro. Zelchenko goes further stating “The heroic acts of mercy and brotherly love which southern Freemasons exercised towards the northern prisoners at the risk of their own lives tend to absolve the population of the South of the brutalities committed against the northern soldiers by some of the southern leaders” (p.1) The author continues by describing how while churches of all denominations ignored these atrocities it was the Freemasons who exhibited humanitarian aid to a fellow brother, by way of food, including vegetables which were considered priceless at the time, materials to build tents, Masonic burial rites, tender, and good officers when receiving medical treatment. Bro. Zelchenko then describes these acts of charity to a brother to be acts of treason. “As in all wars, so it was also during the Civil War: any compassionate attitude toward, or any human treatment of a prisoner of war, could be interpreted as an act of treason. Nevertheless, our southern brethren very often risked their lives in order to seek out and help a brother Mason who at that time happened to be in the ranks of the enemy”. (p. 1)

In the article entitled Civil War: Brotherhood Among Soldiers written by Hohenstein, J. (2009) the author described an instance where Masons from the Confederate Army conducted a degree on Brother from the Union Army. It seemed that the Yankees had among them a young fellow who had passed through the Fellow Craft Degree before shipping out. The Yanks were just sitting around slapping gnats when it occurred to one of them that, just maybe, there was a nearby lodge that could test him in the Fellow Craft Degree, and raise him to the degree of Master Mason. As luck would have it, there was indeed a lodge in Savannah that would soon be conducting a Master Masons Degree. One morning, not too many days later, a detail of Confederate Cavalry slipped across the Savannah River into South Carolina and traveled through Bluffton to the shore opposite Hilton Head island. From there they escorted one Fellowcraft Mason and, I believe, a number of Master Masons of the northern persuasion, safely through the confederate lines, and back through about 35 miles of confederate defenses to Savannah, where the candidate and his witnesses were delivered into the lodge. The records note that this Brother was indeed proficient in the Fellowcraft Degree, and he was raised to the degree of a Master Mason. That night, another detail of the confederate cavalry, no doubt brothers to a man, slipped back across the Savannah River and safely escorted their brothers back to Hilton Head.

In the article entitled Masons at The Battle of Gettysburg, written by Munn (ND) the author describes several events leading up to the greatest battle of the Civil War The Battle of Gettysburg, and how Masons played a pivotal role in it. The author describes several instances where Masons on opposing sides of the battlefield extended compassion to one another these instances are as follows.

Twenty-seven months before the Battle of Gettysburg, the first shots of the War Between the States were fired between Masons.  Confederate Brigadier General P.G.T. Beauregard fired on Union Major Robert Anderson, defending Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina. Beauregard was a Mason and Knight Templar from New Orleans, Louisiana. Anderson was a Mason from Trenton, New Jersey. As the war began with shots fired between Masonic brothers, so did the greatest battle of the war. It was in the morning hours of July 1, 1863, when Lieutenant Marcellus Jones fired the first shot that began the Battle of Gettysburg. Jones, a Mason from Wheaton, Illinois, used a Sharps 52-caliber breech-loading rifle, invented and manufactured by Christian Sharps, also a Mason. The shot that Jones fired was directed at Confederate troops led by Brigadier General Henry Heath, also a Brother Mason.

During the furious fighting, Morrow was struck in the head by a Confederate bullet. Later, a Confederate surgeon, identifying himself as a Mason, decided that Morrow’s scalp wound was “too serious” for him to be marched away as a prisoner-of-war. This act of Masonic compassion probably saved Morrow’s life. Running out of ammunition, and without reinforcements, Chamberlain knew that the next confederate attack would destroy his line and cause the loss of the Federal Armies’ strong defensive position. It was then that Chamberlain, a man schooled in religion and language, ordered his men to fix bayonets and charge the attacking confederates in a swinging barn door-like maneuver. His unorthodox attack shocked the Rebels, causing them to scatter in hurried retreat. Chamberlain was a Mason. He would later receive the Congressional Medal of Honor in recognition of his courage and heroism at Gettysburg.

As the Confederate tide swept closer to the Union line, a sergeant in the 14th Virginia Infantry came upon some Union skirmishers huddled in the tall wheat, which had been cut off from their retreat. The Virginians would have been fully justified in killing the Union soldiers. They were the enemy! But the sergeant recognized a Masonic sign the sign of distress thrown by one of the Yankees and ordered his men to pass them by. Luckily for them, the Virginia Sergeant, Drewry B. Easley, was a Mason.

Come with me, to that chill, damp, Easter Sunday morning on April 9, 1865, in Appomattox, Virginia, when over 112,000 well-fed and well-equipped federal soldiers surrounded the 26,765 starving, ragged Confederates—all that remained of the once invincible Army of Northern Virginia. It was a time for the Yankee’s to shout and cheer! It was a time to celebrate. It was the end of the war—the bloodiest, in American casualties, that the world had ever seen or would ever see again. 618,000 men became casualties. But, the killing years were finally over! No one would have disputed the Yankee’s right to scream, shout and cheer. But when Confederate General John Gordon brought his battle-hardened Stonewall Brigade on the field to lay down their guns and furl their tattered flags, Union General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain ordered his men to give their former enemies a full military salute. It was an honorable and heartfelt act. It was the first act to heal the wounds of a nation and a Mason gave it! It was an act that uplifted the spirits of every man present. But then what would you have expected? Remember that both Joshua Chamberlain and John Gordon were Masons, representing a brotherhood that was never divided, now dedicated to a nation indivisible.