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Masons During the Civil War

Written by: John Howey

One of the first acts of Masonic Charity to occur in the American Civil War occurred at the First Battle of Manassas or Bull Run on July 21st, 1861. This act was reported in the Boston Masonic Monthly which started publishing in November, 1863, and was edited by Edward L. Mitchell.

Colonel W.H. Raynor of the 1st Ohio left his command and in the company of two sergeants went to fetch water at a nearby creek. Suddenly, as they neared the stream, they heard the yell that eventually became known as the Rebel Yell and the thundering hoofs of hundreds of horses. Colonel Raynor instinctively raised his pistol just as a buckshot from a pistol hit the instep of his foot and numbed it. Finding a large tree nearby he dropped upon his knees behind it and watched the battle rage around him. A horseman fired his pistol at Raynor and missed and then as he passed by struck Raynor with his sabre. Lights flashed through Raynor's brain and he fell to the ground senseless looking almost dead.

After a period of time Raynor, slightly becoming conscious, realized that someone was tugging at his clothes. Bewildered he leaned upon one elbow and realized that a Rebel soldier was stripping the dead. He had already taken Raynor's pistol, sword, canteen, and cap and was trying to take his coat. The robber, being startled at the resurrection of the man he was trying to rob, jumped on his horse and rode off.

Later coming completely to his senses, Raynor realized he was surrounded by the Confederate cavalry. Two cavalrymen seeing him standing there grabbed him between their horses and dragged him off a considerable distance. Finally one lifted him and placed him in front of him on his horse. They rode till they came to a group of Rebel wounded. There he was placed upon the ground and a group gathered around him cursing him and calling him names. Being weak from the loss of blood and in considerable pain, he just laid back and ignored them. His being quiet caused even more of a commotion to the point that one angry wounded Confederate fired his pistol at Raynor but missed. Then the Southerners argued over this cowardly act. By this time, Raynor had almost wished that the ball had pierced his brain.

Raynor was soon lifted behind a Rebel cavalryman and carried to the junction about four miles away. Here fresh Confederate troops were unloading and heading to the battle. Raynor was again met by verbal abuse.

It was now early evening and the Southern wounded from the front were being treated at the junction in a stable. Raynor was taken first to a surgeon who refused to treat him because he was a Yankee and who said that he had enough others to take care of from his own army. Finally another more compassionate surgeon was found and his wounds were taken care of. He was made as comfortable as possible. His guard, J.H. Lemon of Radford's Cavalry truly acted the part of the good Samaritan. Lemon somewhere found some ice and put it on the pounding head of Raynor and inquired if Raynor needed any money.

In response to Raynor's expressions of gratitude, pointing to the Masonic pin on Raynor's shirt, Lemon replied, "I can only hope to get the same treatment from your men if I ever fall into their hands. If you will relieve the distresses of a suffering Brother Mason when in your power, I shall be well paid." Lemon then mounted his horse and rode away.

The next morning Raynor was removed to a barn that contained 20 other Union officers, and he learned the full extent of the Confederate victory.

An example from a unit which also belongs to our famed Iron Brigade of which we belong. Colonel Henry A. Morrow commanded the 24th Michigan of the 1st Brigade (Iron Brigade) of the 1st Corps. Wounded during the fighting on the first day at Gettysburg, he was captured by the Confederates. As the Confederates prepared to retreat after the disastrous Pickett's Charge, a Confederate (also a Mason) surgeon decided that Morrow's scalp wound was "too serious" for him to be taken along as a prisoner. He also figured that he would get better care in the North. The surgeon probably saved his life due to the hardships of prison life.

Another example: L.J. Williams of Harvard, New York, enlisted in the 114th New York Volunteers at the beginning of the Civil War. He received the Entered Apprentice and Fellowcraft Degrees in Downsville Lodge No. 464 prior to his leaving home.

Later during the war he was captured and imprisoned near Savannah, Georgia. While in the prison, he communicated with his friends in the North. His lodge in New York through the proper officials got in touch with Zerubbabel Lodge in Savannah and stated that they would consider it a favor if the lodge in Savannah would confer the Third Degree on the Fellowcraft Brother Williams.

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 on opposite sides in the struggle going on on 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 about his escape he would "smile peculiarly. You might put it down as an escape, but it 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." From there Williams was able to find his friends. Williams never knew who exactly helped him escape. He considered it as their secret and it was never disclosed. Williams stated: "I know exactly to whom I may attribute my escape, His name is Hiram."

An example of how a lodge was saved: After 4 years of war, the weary and almost defeated Confederate Army was retreating and leaving the Confederate capital of Richmond to its own fate. As the army retreated, fires broke out in all sections of the city. Hoodlums, deserters, and criminals, with no law and order, began to pillage the city.

Just as the city seemed to be doomed, a Union cavalry unit swung up Franklin Street. The bearded colonel looked warily at the riff raff around him who were about to fire a building which bore a sign "Masonic Hall." Taking command of the moment, he halted his troopers and ordered that an adjutant "have all Masons wheel out of column." Almost half of his force moved out. From this group he ordered a suitable guard to protect the Masonic Temple. The column reformed and resumed its ride. Later General Godfrey Weitzel, a Mason, gave the order, after a request by the Lodge, to continue the guard. The building saved is said to have been the oldest purely Masonic building in America with records dating back to 1787, and the historic building itself was built in 1785 by Richmond Lodge 10. The Grand Lodge assembled here after its formation in Williamsburg until its move in 1869.

R.W. Houghton in a report relates a slightly different story to the saving of the lodge in Richmond, or he could be referring to a different building. Emanuel Semon reported that Major A.H. Stevens, the Provost Marshal of Richmond, raised the first Union flags over the city of Richmond and that immediately after doing so went looking for the Masonic Lodge. Brother Semon was one of the first he met there and Semon stated that he had "quartered against the approach of cowans and eavesdroppers for the last 25 years." Major Stevens immediately sent Semon a guard and made sure that the officer of the guard was a Mason. He also sent a guard to Semon's home, Semon's daughter's home and to a number of other Masons' homes in the city.

A third account exists of the saving of the Masonic Hall. In the history of Lodge Francaise No. 53 A.F. & A.M. published in 1874 their Tiler, Brother Thomas Angel, was commended for saving the temple. Recognizing that his duties as Tiler not only pertained to "guarding the entrance" but also to the general protection and "covering" the lodge from all harm, Brother Angel with "commendable zeal, energy and presence of mind" took action even with the Federal troops bearing down on the city of Richmond.

After conversing with Grand Secretary Dove of the Virginia Grand Lodge, he proceeded to collect all the jewels and what clothing he could find from every lodge in the city and deposited them in the Masonic Hall on Franklin Street. Angel then proceeded to dress himself in the "time honored badge of a Mason" and took his place at the door of the Temple. The Northern troops respected the guard placed at the Temple by Major Stevens. The guard under the command of another Mason, Sergeant Gibbs, remained with Brother Angel day and night for three months.

THE FINAL ACT BY A MASON IN THE CIVIL WAR

It was an April morning three days after General Robert E. Lee had surrendered to General U.S. Grant. The Southern troops, led by General John B. Gordon, a Mason, were marching in columns towards the Northern troops who were standing in formation waiting for the Southerners to stack arms and fold their flags. Suddenly a shifting of arms is heard. Gordon looked up with alarm. There was nothing to fear. General Joshua Chamberlain had ordered his troops to assume the position of "honor answering honor." Immediately, the Confederate troops snapped to attention and returned the honor. It was the first act to heal the wounds of a nation that had spent four years and 618,000 lives in civil war. That command of "honor answering honor" was ordered by a Mason.

Major General Joshua Chamberlain was a member of United Lodge #8, Brunswick, Maine. After the war, he became Governor of Maine from 1866-1871 and President of Bowdoin College from 1871-83.

And for my closing example, we go back a few years but now we are again on our own state's soil in Gettysburg, and perhaps the best example of the ties of brotherhood which occurred on the battlefield at Gettysburg. This battle, the turning point of the War, saw 93,000 Federal troops doing battle with 71,000 Confederates. Of those numbers, more than 35,000 were killed or wounded in the three days of fighting from July 1 to July 3, 1863. Of the men who fought, 17,930 were Freemasons, including the roughly 5,600 who became casualties.

One of the most famous events and one that I have mentioned earlier that occurred at Gettysburg was the huge Confederate infantry push known as Pickett's Charge. On July 3, Pickett (a member of Dove Lodge #51, Richmond, Va) led nearly 12,000 men on a long rush across open fields towards the center of the Union line on Cemetery Ridge. It has been called the last and greatest infantry charge in military history.

One of the men leading that charge was Brigadier General Lewis Addison Armistead, CSA. He was a member of Alexandria-Washington Masonic Lodge #22 in Alexandria. Originally from North Carolina, he had attended West Point, and fought with the US Army for a number of years before resigning his commission to fight for the Confederacy. During that time, he had occasion to serve with now Major General Winfield Scott Hancock, USA (Charity Lodge #190, Norristown, Pa.) while both men were in the west. The two had become good friends. However, with Armistead's resignation, it had been nearly two and a half years since the two men had had any contact. Until Gettysburg, that is.

It was Hancock who had taken command of the fragmented Union troops on Cemetery Ridge on July 1, and organized them into a strong front that had withstood three days of pounding from the Confederate guns. And it was his position, in the center of the Union line, that was the focus of Pickett's Charge. General Armistead led his men and vaulted the stone wall, yelled "give them cold steel" and headed for the cannons that had until recently been firing on his men.

As he laid his hand on one of the guns of the 4th US Artillery, the 69th Pennsylvania Infantry fired upon the gray coated General and the men who had followed him. Many went down including Armistead. He was heard to cry for help "as the son of a widow." Colonel Rawley W. Martin of the 53rd Virginia lay near by and witnessed as some of the men of the 69th Penna. Rose up and came to Armistead's aid. Captain Henry H. Bingham (Chartiers Lodge #297, Canonsburg, Pa.) physician and Mason, was brought to assist Armistead. Armistead inquired of his friend and Masonic Brother General Winfield Scott. Learning that Hancock had also been wounded, he entrusted to Bingham his Masonic watch and personal papers to give to his friend and Brother General Hancock. Two days later Armistead died in a Union hospital on the Spangler farm of his wounds.

Bingham survived the war and in fact won a Congressional Medal of Honor in 1867. He retired in 1867 and went on to become a member of the United States Congress where he served for 33 years. He died in 1812 at the age of 70.

General Hancock survived his wounds though it was a long time until he returned to the Army. He later commanded the Department of the East of the United States Army and died in 1886 still in command. In 1880, he had lost an attempt for the United States Presidency to James Garfield.

There were other instances like this, I am going to insert two of them here.

In the battle for Galveston, Texas a young Union naval officer who was a Mason was killed on board one of the Union vessels.

An armistice was sought and given for his burial at sea and his father, a Confederate officer, attended the funeral on board.


Masonic Burial by the Enemy

On June 11, 1863, the Federal gunboat Albatross, with Lieut. Commander J. E. Hart of St. George's Lodge #6 in New York in command, wasa anchored on the Mississippi River opposite the town of Bayou Sara (some accounts say St. Francisville) which is 15 miles above the Rebel fortification Port Hudson. The gunboat was part of the ships laying siege to Port Hudson, Louisiana. Commander Hart had been in a delirium for many days and was confined to quarters. A shot rang out and the Ship's executive officer Theodore E. Dubois and the doctor found the commander dead.

The officers of the ship not wanting to bury their commander in the river sent a flag of truce ashore to discover if there was a local Masonic Lodge. William W. Leake, the acting Master of Bayou Sara lodge was approached by Captain Samuel White, who lived near the river, to hold a Masonic Funeral for Commander Hart.

Brother Leake replied, "As a soldier of the Confederate Army, I think it is my duty. As a Mason, I know it is my duty." On June 13th, a few members of the local lodge in Masonic regalia gathered and met the procession of 50 men from the Albatross under a flag of truce at the top of a hill. Brothers Benjamin F. and Samuel F. White of Bayou Sara, the surgeon and the two officers of the gunboat who were Masons were in the procession along with a squad of marines at "trail arms."

Leake and the local Brothers marched in front of the corpse to Grace Episcopal Church Cemetery and buried Brother Hart in the Masonic Section with military and Masonic honors with the service of the Episcopal Church read over him. Brother Leake led the Masonic part of the services. The US Surgeon and officers asked the Brothers to join them on the Albatross for dinner but they declined. The surgeon then offered Brother Leake to supply him with medicines for his family. Brother Leake declined but later the surgeon sent a few medicines to Leake through Brother Samuel White.

Hart's grave was marked with a wooden head plate for many years, and eventrually a permanent marker covering the whole grave was dedicated. This marker states: "This monument is dedicated in loving tribute to the universality of Freemasonry."

In Closing,

I was born in antiquity, in the ancient days when men first dreamed of God. I have been tried through the ages, and found true. The crossroads of the world bear the imprint of my feet, and the cathedrals of all nations mark the skill of my hands. I strive for beauty and for symmetry. In my heart is wisdom and strength and courage for those who ask. Upon my alters is the Book of Holy Writ, and my prayers are to the One Omnipotent God, my sons work and pray together, without rank or discord, in the public mart and in the inner chamber. By signs and symbols I teach the lessons of life and of death and the relationship of man with God and of man with man. My arms are widespread to receive those of lawful age and good report who seek me of their own free will. I accept them and teach them to use my tools in the building of men, and thereafter, find direction in their own quest for perfection so much desired and so difficult to attain. I lift up the fallen and shelter the sick. I hark to the orphans' cry, the widows tears, the pain of the old and destitute. I am not church, nor party, nor school, yet my sons bear a full share of responsibility to God, to country, to neighbor and themselves. They are freemen, tenacious of their liberties and alert to lurking danger. At the end I commit them as each one undertakes the journey beyond the vale into the glory of everlasting life. I ponder the sand within the glass and think how small is a single life in the eternal universe. Always have I taught immortality, and even as I raise men from darkness into light, I am a way of life. I Am Freemasonry.

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