The Better Angels of Our Nature: Freemasonry in the American Civil War
By Michael A. Halleran
(August 2010 Civil War News - Web Exclusive )
Photographs, glossary, notes, bibliography, index, 240 pp., 2010, University of Alabama Press, www.uapress.ua.edu, $24.95.
This is a readable and well-documented study that achieves the author's goal of illustrating "how the fraternal bonds of Freemasonry influenced men in the midst of America's greatest calamity."
Michael Halleran, a Mason, has produced a much more professional, documented and interesting work than its primary predecessor, House Undivided: The Story of Freemasonry and the Civil War (Allen E. Roberts, 1961). In an effort to show that Masonry "in many small ways helped to ameliorate the suffering and misery in America's Civil War," he has assembled intriguing stories of Masons helping other Masons and their families - but rarely anyone else.
After dispelling most of the Masonry-related myths surrounding the famous near-death scene involving Confederate Brig. Gen. Lewis A. Armistead at Gettysburg, the author proceeds to provide chapter after chapter of detail on Masonry's influence at the individual level.
He describes Masons on each side obtaining special treatment while injured or dying in combat (being given water, emergency care, or a respectable burial), while imprisoned (being given provisions or allowed to escape), while in danger of being captured or killed, or while being robbed by enemy soldiers.
Once their Masonic affiliations were revealed, Masonic soldiers received special treatment amid the suffering, death and starvation of their non-Masonic comrades-in-arms.
Some of the more moving examples involve Masonic burials attended by soldiers on both sides hours after active fighting, Masons' widows having their households saved from ransacking and Union soldiers moving a Rebel Mason's body off the field at Gettysburg while under Rebel fire in order to provide a decent burial.
Halleran also provides a thought-provoking discussion on the history and still-unresolved issues surrounding the development of segregated Black Masonic lodges across America. Finally, he touches on the complex issue of competing oaths and conflicting loyalties of soldier-Masons- an issue worthy of greater study.
Highly recommended for all Masons and for those interested in the unique phenomenon of a fraternal connection overriding military and sectional duties and prejudices.
Reviewer: Edward H. Bonekemper
Book Review Editor Ed Bonekemper, adjunct military history lecturer at Muhlenberg College, is the author of four Civil War books.