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The Better Angels of Our Nature

Freemasonry in the American Civil War

Michael A. Halleran

Publication Year: 2010

The first in-depth study of the Freemasons during the Civil War
 
One of the enduring yet little examined themes in Civil War lore is the widespread belief that on the field of battle and afterward, members of Masonic lodges would give aid and comfort to wounded or captured enemy Masons, often at great personal sacrifice and danger. This work is a deeply researched examination of the recorded, practical effects of Freemasonry among Civil War participants on both sides.
 
From first-person accounts culled from regimental histories, diaries, and letters, Michael A. Halleran has constructed an overview of 19th-century American freemasonry in general and Masonry in the armies of both North and South in particular, and provided telling examples of how Masonic brotherhood worked in practice. Halleran details the response of the fraternity to the crisis of secession and war, and examines acts of assistance to enemies on the battlefield and in POW camps.
 
The author examines carefully the major Masonic stories from the Civil War, in particular the myth that Confederate Lewis A. Armistead made the Masonic sign of distress as he lay dying at the high-water mark of Pickett’s charge at Gettysburg.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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Contents

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pp. vii-

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Preface

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pp. ix-xii

The Better Angels of Our Nature: Free masonry in the Ameri can Civil War is a myopic view of the Ameri can Civil War. No battles are dissected here, nor are grand strategies explained; rather, this study examines the intersection of Free masonry and warfare. I have striven, to the extent possible, to rely...

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Acknowledgments

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pp. xiii-xiv1

No book is entirely the product of an author, and without the contributions of many learned and generous people, this narrative would have not have been possible. For assistance in various archives, I am particularly beholden to Candy Johnson and the superlative staff at the William Allen White Library..

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Introduction

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pp. 1-7

At dawn on New Year’s Day 1863, Confederate Gen. John B. Magruder attacked federal forces occupying Galveston, Texas. It was a combined- arms assault using infantry and artillery coordinated with Confederate Navy “cotton- clad” gunboats—riverboats, fitted with guns and using bulwarks...

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Prologue “The Widow’s Son”—Lewis Armistead at Gettysburg

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pp. 8-30

The circumstances surrounding the death of Brig. Gen. Lewis A. Armistead at Gettysburg are the most famous Masonic “incident” of the American Civil War. According to the legend, Confederate General Armistead, a friend and Masonic brother of Union Gen. Winfi eld Scott Hancock, faced...

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1 Masters and Fellows

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pp. 31-48

The history of Free masonry is beyond the scope of this work, yet in order to determine its infl uences during the Ameri can Civil War, some brief explanation of the institution is required. Variously known as Free masonry, Masonry, or the Craft, its beginnings are lost to history. Although its...

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2 Plures Ex Uno

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pp. 49-60

More than any other confl ict, the Ameri can Civil War was a war between brother Masons. When secessionist forces fired on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina, on 12 April 1861—Confederate Gen. P. G. T. Beauregard, a Freemason and a Knight Templar,1 drew his..

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3 “If That Is MasonryI Will Take Some of It Myself”

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pp. 61-77

Returning from a raid at Grenada, Mississippi, in August of 1863, the 9th Illinois Infantry passed through the village of Holly Springs, and the officers of the 9th were nervous. Recent operations in Mississippi had shown the citizenry to be openly hostile to Union troops, and several towns had...

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4 Saving the Life of the Enemy

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pp. 78-97

During the war, Masonic aid took many forms. In some instances, fraternal courtesies extended only to Masonic funeral ceremonies; in others, Freemasons spared the homes and possessions of brethren in enemy territory. A great many accounts, however, tell of members of the Craft who went...

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5 Gentlemen of the White Apron

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pp. 98-127

Approximately 410,000 soldiers were taken prisoner in the Civil War, and roughly 56,000 died in prison.1 The ordeal of Civil War captives is a subject that received considerable treatment immediately following the war, and renewed scholarly interest in the last twenty years. Scores of titles...

Images [Includes Image Plates]

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6 A More Decent Interment

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pp. 140-158

The Masonic historian Albert G. Mackey observed, “when a Mason has reached the third degree, he becomes entitled to all the rights and privileges of Ancient Craft Masonry. . . . These are the rights of membership, of visitation, of relief, and of burial.”1 The rights of visitation and membership

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7 All Passions Laid Aside?

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pp. 140-158

After the fall of Vicksburg, there was a lull in the fi ghting along the Mississippi. Federal offi cers encamped along the river received a request from citizens of a nearby town to assist them in conducting a Masonic ritual, most of the local lodge being away in the service. The colonel summoned those offi cers and men he knew to be Masons in his command, and an impromptu...

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Afterword

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pp. 159-166

Before he became a Freemason, Benjamin Franklin famously quipped of the fraternity: “Their Grand Secret is, That they have no Secret at all, and when once a man is entered, he fi nds himself obligated, se defendo, to carry on the Jest with as solemn a Face as the rest.”1 Although Franklin later repudiated...

Notes

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pp. 167-192

Glossary of Masonic Terms

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pp. 193-202

Bibliography

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pp. 203-222

Index

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pp. 223-229


E-ISBN-13: 9780817384449
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817316952

Publication Year: 2010

Research Areas

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Subject Headings

  • Freemasons -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865.
  • Freemasonry -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
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