Frederic Speed: Union Officer and Prominent Mason
June 01, 2010
On April 13, 1865, Frederic Speed (1841-1911), Union officer, was given the task of processing and arranging transport of released Union prisoners of war back to their homes. In his haste to clear Camp Fisk, Speed counted only two trains of 600 men, rather than the three that came to Vicksburg, Mississippi to meet the steamboat, "The Sultana". Speed thought that the number of men was around 1,300, but the actual figure was much greater - possibly 1,800 men. The steamboat was overloaded.
Mechanical problems with the boiler started in Vicksburg. Later, when the steamboat had just departed Memphis, Tennessee on April 27, 1865, two or more of the boilers exploded. Most of the passengers on board died in the wreckage of the steamboat or in the Mississippi River.
Frederic Speed was court-martialed for his part in this disaster, found guilty, but the case was later overturned. Speed stayed in Vicksburg after the Civil War and became a judge and prominent Mason.
There are several documents in our collection which show evidence of his prominence as a Mason in Mississippi. Fourteen years after the disaster of the Sultana, Speed had taken on the role of a knowledgeable Masonic ritualist. On January 15, 1879, Frederic Speed gave an address at a Lodge of Sorrow, or Funeral Lodge, in Okolona, Mississippi. This Lodge of Sorrow was held once a year in memory the fraternal dead. The purpose of this ceremony was to describe the virtues of the departed brethren. A Lodge of Sorrow renewed the focus on living and was meant to ease the transition to death for Masons. We have an autographed copy of the address that Speed gave at this Lodge of Sorrow (see image to the right).
In 1882, Frederic Speed became Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Mississippi. He gave a detailed address at the 1882 Grand Lodge meetings. Later, in 1905, he was elected to the role of Grand Secretary. A recently acquired autographed letter, written while he was Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Mississippi, concerns Masonic business (see image below). The letter is dated March 1905 and is written to H. H. Hall of Alabama who is interested in obtaining a Masonic certificate.
Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Mississippi, frontispiece, 1883, Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library.
Lodge of Sorrow, held in Okolona, Mississippi..., pamphlet, 1879, Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Call number: 20.M678 1879
Frederick Speed Letter to H. H. Hall, Vicksburg, 1905, Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, A2010/7/1a.