Civil War Freemasonry

Discussion in 'General Freemasonry Discussion' started by Blake Bowden, Dec 27, 2009.

  1. Blake Bowden

    Blake Bowden Administrator Staff Member

    Good read...

    One member of St. George's Lodge, whose death wrote a unique chapter in Masonic history was Brother and Lt. Commander John E. Hart.

    The time was April of 1863. New Orleans was occupied by Butler's army having fallen before the combined forces of the Union Army and Farragut's Fleet. Brother Hart, in command of the USS Albatross, was patrolling the lower Mississippi River opposite St. Francisville a few miles north of New Orleans. At the time St. Francisville was a hot bed of secessionists and a refuge for Confederate soldiers. It is not known by whose order or for what reason, the Albatross opened fire on the town. It is recorded, however, that the bombardment lasted for a considerable time inflicting much damage to the town and particularly to the Grace Church. After the firing ceased, Brother Hart, who had been confined to his small stateroom, stricken with fever, was found dead in his bunk. Conflicting accounts state that he had died from pneumonia or that he had died at his own hand.

    Brother Hart having made it known that he desired a Masonic funeral service, a small boat put out under a white flag in an attempt to make the necessary arrangements. Two brothers, Samuel and Benjamin White who lived near the river and turned out to be Masons, contacted the boat and were informed of its mission. The brothers stated that Captain William W. Leake of the Confederate Army, and Senior Warden of Feliciana Lodge of St. Francisville, was home on leave and would be informed of their request.

    When informed by the brothers White, Captain Leake's reply was "As a Mason, it is our duty to accord Masonic burial to a Brother without taking into account the nature of our relations outside Masonry. Go tell the Union officer to bring his Captain ashore. There are a few Masons in town. I shall find all I can. You two are Masons. I shall want you at the funeral service."

    Brother Leake's response is particularly notable since during the bombardment he had huddled with his wife and three children, under the steps of their brick house as shells burst all around them.

    Presently the ship's boat returned with Brother Hart's body, clothed in his uniform of an officer in the United States Navy. The boat was met by the White brothers and four members of Feliciana Lodge No. 31 of St. Francisville, wearing their Masonic regalia above their Confederate uniforms. The Masons from the Albatross and the Confederate Masons identified themselves to be Masons and the body was borne to the white wooden home of Feliciana Lodge where the ancient Masonic funeral was conducted.

    The body was then carried to the graveyard of Grace Church where amid the shell holes from the dead officer's own guns a grave had been prepared in the Masonic plot. After the graveside service, the shore party from the Albatross saluted and returned to their ship which immediately weighed anchor and steamed down river.

    Captain Leake survived the war, became Master of Feliciana Lodge and lived to be honored for fifty-five years of service to the Craft. Upon his death in 1912, his body was laid to rest beside the enemy he had buried as a brother. Subsequently, the United Daughters of the Confederacy at St. Francisville persuaded the United States Government to place a simple marble headstone on the two graves. On Sunday, January 8, 1956 the special Committee on Burial Places of Past Grand Masters of the Grand Lodge of Louisiana, unveiled a monument which covers the entire grave space, and briefly cites the story, stating in part, "This monument is dedicated in loving tribute to the universality of Free Masonry." Worshipful Brother Eugene W. Baxter, then Master of St. George's Lodge, attended the ceremonies.

    This incident which so vividly displays true Masonic brotherhood, so powerful it could stop a war, if only for a few brief hours, gives one cause to wonder if it could happen today.

    Despite an ever changing world with flights in space, technology increasing at an exponential rate and an ever increasing affluence of life, Masonic teachings of the brotherhood of man have remained unchanged and, if tested, should not be found wanting.

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