“We talked the matter over and could have settled the war in thirty minutes had it been left to us.”
—My Brethren and Friends, this was an actual conversation, recorded between a Confederate and Union soldier in the summer of 1863—they were both Masons, long-time friends, and were speaking as Brothers during a late-night break between battles.
The irony of this statement, in its simplicity and truth, defies our sensibilities and leads to the question, “why not have made it so?”…sadly, this ended up not being the case, and 620,000 men, on both sides of the “War Between the States”, perished.
As Masons, we are taught early-on, in our Entered Apprentice Lecture, that: “Freemasonry unites men of every country, sect, and opinion—and conciliates true friendship among those who might otherwise remain at a perpetual distance.” Nowhere in history is this truer than with the American Civil War, where fathers, sons, brothers (intended dual application!), and cousins—on both sides, worked diligently to destroy each other and, if time and opportunity permitted, Fellowship and even conduct Degrees during the lulls!
There are perhaps thousands of stories of Brotherly Love and Compassion during the Civil War….here is just one….the application of its lessons pervades who we should be as Masons:
It is told of a story of an Alabama Artillery group, who were resting from a hard-fought battle during the day prior that had lasted into to the late night hours, several being killed or wounded. After traveling to a field on the edge of a thicket of trees, they having assumed it to be a fairly safe place to rest and refresh themselves for the next battle.
The surviving men were exhausted and some fell into a deep sleep, while others engaged themselves in conversations, some inspecting their weapons and ammunition supplies, while yet others were attending the wounded.
A corporal lay back against the trunk of an old pine tree, watching a flock of birds overhead while contemplating his thoughts of how he would prefer death, rather than being incarcerated in a Yankee prison camp, and at the same time admiring the Navy Colt pistol he had taken from the dead body of a Union Captain during the last battle.
He caught a glimpse of a reflection among the trees that he believed might be a weapon. Now being of the highest rank, since the Commissioned Officer had been killed in the last battle, he called out to the men, “To your guns boys, git ready.”
He silently prayed;
“Thou Oh God, know our down sittings and our uprisings, and understand our thoughts from afar off, shield and defend us from the evil intent of our enemies.”
He grimaced in pain as he arose from the scaly bark of that old pine tree. He had been wounded twice in previous battles, the first time by a painful flesh wound to a leg, and the other by a piece of shrapnel from an exploded shell that hit him in the chest, knocking from his feet. When he finally looked at the wound he saw a jagged gash extending from the nipple to the collar bone.
He refused a hospital stay, choosing to remain with his comrades and within his duties as a soldier.
The Corporal again patted the Colt pistol in his waist band with assurance that he would do better with it, rather than with a heavy rifle. As he arose he looked with pride at the Masonic ring his father, now his Masonic Brother, had presented to him when he was made a Master Mason. He again called out to the troops, “Prepare for battle.”
He was suddenly confronted by a Yankee Lieutenant who from the tree line had noted what he perceived to be, a much weakened condition of the Corporal, and was apparently intent on capturing him alive if possible. They fought, and were now bound together in a death grip, both men showing unbelievable strength.
There’s probably no greater human horror than to be locked together with a person whom you know will kill you, if you don’t kill him first. “To kill or be killed” was a simple and familiar saying; but to actually be in that situation gave it much more meaning.
He was struggling to get to the Colt pistol, but being so tightly bound body to body, it was impossible. He somehow garnered a moment of extra strength, and as he pushed on the Lieutenant’s chest, he caught sight of a Masonic emblem, and without hesitation he muttered sounds into the ear of what he now believed to be a brother Mason. On the Lieutenant’s hearing the sounds, the death grip quickly became a brotherly embrace, both men now with tears in their eyes, for what could have resulted had not the discovery been made.
There are many reasons why freemasonry, more than any other fraternal organizations, has survived and thrived throughout the ages. Our Tenants and devotions to them have made this possible. Our rules and customs have encourages us to show kindness and compassion for others, without expectations of anything in return.
The mental structure of which our Ancient and Honorable Craft is constructed, transcends all that would most likely cause a division among non-Masons.
We must live by our Masonic teachings and our values while looking to the inner goodness of a man, rather than that of the outer appearances (The External Qualifications of a Man), or any other distinctions. We must show love and compassion, assist the needy, lift up the downtrodden, and spread Masonic love toward all of God’s people, without regards for ones’ religious faith, political leanings or any other personal differences that are of no business of our Fraternity…then we will have become the Masons we so desire to be.
It is in this vein that I’d like to say a little about our upcoming February Stated Meeting, wherein our featured Masonic Speaker will be Worshipful Brother Bennett Hart, a 50-plus year Mason and Past Master of Manasseh Lodge No. 182 in 2015, Secretary of National Sojouners, Quantico Chapter 44, and is the Secretary of the Civil War Lodge of Research No. 1865. Aside from being an active member of the Red Cross of Constantine, Shrine, Scottish Rite Bodies, York Rite Bodies and Allied Masonic Degrees, WB Hart is the Treasurer of Hay Market Lodge No. 313. Our Brother has spent over 50 years in Defense, Intelligence and National Security experience with over 15 years in the United States Senior Executive Service. He retired from government service serving in the Joint Improvised – Threat Organization (JIDO) to reduce casualties and threat lethality as the Director of Intelligence (J-2) and as Senior Acquisition Executive. Aside from all of this and more, WB Bennett is a leading scholar on the American Civil War and Freemasonry. We are THRILLED that he will be joining us on the 21st!
We will hear this month’s Masonic Moment from our Senior Deacon, Bro. Brian Potvin, as well as a reading from the Constitutions of Masonry from our Senior Steward, Bro. Terry Jones, as will be our monthly inclusion.
Also, we’ll have some brief business before WB Hart’s address, including a Vote on the approval of our updated By-Laws. Additionally, I will share a proposal for your perusal and feedback that we will Vote on in March regarding a By-Laws change in the starting time of our Stated Communications from 7:30pm to 7:00pm. I will share with you my thoughts and justifications for this proposal on the 21st as well—I believe for the “Good of the Brethren”, it’s win-win!
The Brethren of John A. Lejeune are, as we inferred in my opening remarks at Installation, not planning on letting any grass grow under our Masonic feet! Thus far, we’ve had ‘majority’ attendance at Area Leadership Conferences, District Schools, Official Visits, Participation in visiting Lodge’s Degree Work, and some terrific “Fellowshipping”. We have underway(and have started) projects to better the physical structure of our Lodge, including numerous technology enhancements including Internet, large-screen TV’s, Nest thermostats, and soon-to-be wireless alarm systems. Even today, the JAL Brethren are ‘at the Lodge(Yep, early on Super Bowl Sunday!), cleaning the inside of the building) We have prepared to distribute, next week, over 130 sets of hats and gloves to the needy, as the Virginia weather has presented to us over the last weeks! We have completed the first of many “Work Details”, involving cleaning, decluttering, and discarding of “stuff dating back from Time Immemorial”—and we’re just getting started. Even today, as I type, the Brothers are cleaning the Lodge…on the morning of Super Bowl Sunday! We have, under the watchful eye of our Treasurer, Secretary, Trustees, and Officers—created plans for major improvements to the Lodge involving the outside of the building, as well as the internal operations. In other words, we’re excited and busy, and ENCOURAGE and INVITE all of you, if within the Length of Your Cable Tow, if you’ve been existing “under the Masonic radar” in JAL, to come back—see us—and join in the fun! We have some exciting future dates ahead, including visits from our DDGM and our GRAND MASTER, in successive months. Also on the Trestleboard of Life we’ve got plans for a Cave(Cavern) Degree, Fraternal Camping Trips, and travel to other Jurisdictions! A number of us will also participate in the celebration of Illustrious Brother George Washington’s 290th Birthday, at Alexandria-Washington Lodge No. 22(tickets are still available at their website,
Finally, my Brethren, remember to “Be Ye All of One Mind…”as we work for self-improvement. Your Ashlar is always right beside you, right within you, and, as we remember and pay tribute today, February 12th, the exact 1809 birthdays of both Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln (albeit on opposite sides of the “Pond!”), one cannot help but be arrested by the words of the aforementioned Darwin, who, referencing Morality, said: “The moral sense perhaps affords the best and highest distinction between man and the lower animals.”
Until we met again, SOON…
Sincerly and Fraternally,
WB Barry Mensch