Freemasonry During the Civil War: Acts of Treason? Part Three
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 entitled Masons During the Civil War written by John Howey (ND.) we witness several acts of Masonic Charity that occurred in the American Civil War, which I would argue can be viewed as acts of treason. The stories are those of compassion that occurred in various battles from one brother to another at a time when there was nothing more than hatred and brutality. In the first story we are introduced to Union Colonel W.H. Raynor who had been injured and taken prisoner at that Battle of Bull Run, and was being poorly treated refused medical care. However, while being guarded by a Confederate Solider, J.H Lemon, noticed Col Raynor’s Masonic pin, him being a Mason himself, fetched him some ice for his swelling head wound and said “I can only hope to get the same treatment from your men if I ever fall into their hands. If you will relieve the distress of a suffering Brother Mason when in your power, I shall be well paid”. (Howey, ND. p. 2) In this article Howey also describes an instance that occurred at the battle of Gettysburg, and by some may have been considered treason. Here we find the famed Confederate General Armistead who after being wounded received assistance and taken to a hospital, after giving the sign of distress, by Union Capitan Bingham. (Howey, ND.)
In another case involving Union Colonel Henry A. Morrow and a Confederate Surgeon at the battle of Picket’s Charge, the surgeon refused to take the Brother Mason who he exclaimed was too seriously wounded to endure prison, thus saving his life. (Howey, ND.) One of the most seemingly noticeable cases of what can be labeled as treason in this article can be seen with the story of Brother L.J. Williams. Williams received his first and second degrees at Downsville Lodge No. 464 in New York prior to the war, but was captured and imprisoned near Savannah, Georgia. While in prison after communicating with his friends, members of his lodge got in touch with Zerubbabel Lodge in Savannah and requested that they confer his third degree, which they accepted. One night Brother Williams was taken from the prison and conducted to the lodge room in Savannah. He only had his blue tattered uniform to wear, a token of his sympathy with the cause he believed in. The officers of the lodge were all in Confederate gray. Although brothers on opposite sides of the battlefields of the South, they were all brethren. He was then and there raised to the sublime degree of Master Mason and acclaimed a full Brother and friend to those who wore the gray. Later that night Brother Williams escaped. When asked how he managed to escape he exclaimed, “You might put it down as an escape, but wasn’t an escape strictly speaking. They put me in a boat and carried me off some distance. Then they deposited me on neutral soil between the lines” (Howey, ND. p. 3) Williams never knew who assisted him in his escape but said his name was Hiram.
In a series of articles written by Weathers (ND), the author describes instances that occurred throughout the Civil War where Masons were true to their Masonic obligations and to our Masonic teachings, even while performing their duties as military fighting men. During that Civil War, approximately 410.000 soldiers were imprisoned in prison camps and it has been estimated that about 56,000 of them were Freemasons. When Masons were confronted with a wounded and distressed brother, they did all they could to provide comfort and compassionate assistance. I’ll here cover just a few examples of those reports that demonstrate the kindness and concerns shown for their Masonic Brethren. In some cases without regard for which side they were fighting on. The Masonic sign of distress was witnessed and responded to quite frequently during those troubling times. While Lt. Col. Homer Sprague, a 13th Connecticut Volunteer was taken prisoner, enduring a long march to the prison; Sprague became so exhausted that he collapsed into a ditch. (Weathers, ND.) A Confederate Officer allowed him to ride in the ambulance for the remainder of the journey. With some difficulty, he was able to climb into the vehicle. He there learned that the driver was also a Brother Mason. This Brother said to Sprague, “as a Mason I will feed you to the very last crumbs of my food, but as a soldier I will fight you till the last drop of my blood. Sprague replied, I hardly know which to admire most, your generosity as a Mason or your spunk as a soldier”. (Weathers, ND. P. 3)
In the same article written by Weathers, (ND) we learn of Hunter McGuire in 1863, a physician and commissioned officer in the Union Army, who resigned his commission and enlisted in the Confederate Army as a Private. This was because while still serving within the Union Army and while trying to evade capture by Confederate forces, he tried to jump his horse over a fence. Both he and the horse went down and were captured. He gave the Masonic sign of distress. A Confederate officer recognized the sign and ordered a temporary cease-fire while he and his horse were cared for. This event convinced him to resign his commission in the Union Army.
There was many times in which the Masons demonstrated compassion for the suffering of their Brother Masons. Union soldier John Copley with the 49th Infantry was captured by the Confederate troops and confined in a military prison camp. (Weathers, ND.) It was soon after his capture, that all of the Masons in the camp were gathered up and moved together into a separate barracks, where thanks to the Masons of the local area, they also had somewhat of a plentiful and better diet than did the other prisoners. (Weathers, ND.) Being known as “The White Apron Men” as the Freemasons were often referred to in those days, were known to remain true to their Promises, they were allowed the liberty of roaming about the camp based solely on their word to not attempt escape.
On one occasion a Mason was approached by a non-Mason stated that he and his friend were very hungry, not having eaten in three days. Without comment, he walked on, but in the afternoon he again spotted the man, and without saying a word to him, dropped a package at his feet. When the man opened it, he saw food and drink, plentiful enough for both he and his friend to nourish them. After the war, one of those men wrote, “I was not a Mason during the war, but what I observed of the compassionate ways of the Masons, I was induced to join this beneficent order, and I was made a Mason in 1866”. I vowed to pattern my conduct by what I had there observed, especially of how they truly cared for each other. Those Masons were treated with respect, and they were trusted based on their integrity of character”. (Weathers, ND. P. 40) He went on to say that it was just as well that he had not been a Mason at that time. Not being bound to such a promise, he was able to escape and made his way to safety. (Weathers, ND.)