Masonic Confederate Imprints
January 31, 2012
In the world of printing history, Confederate imprints occupy their own special category. Defined as anything printed within the Confederate States of America during its existence, Confederate imprints were, broadly speaking, printed between 1861 and 1865. These dates vary state by state, depending on date of secession and whether they were under the government control of the Confederate States of America at the time of printing. I was curious to find out whether we had any Masonic Confederate imprints in our collection. Unsurprisingly, I turned up a number of them, most being annual proceedings of various state-level Masonic organizations.
The Masonic Confederate imprints in our collection contain a trove of primary source material related to Masonic activities in the Confederacy during the Civil War. Many of the Grand Lodge Proceedings include "annual returns" of various local lodges that not only list the number of members, but include the names of the men who were members of the lodge. In some cases, like the 1864 Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Georgia, the individual lodge returns contain a heading that reads "In the Army," listing the members of the lodge that were in the service. These same Proceedings also list the the 19 military lodges that had been chartered by the Grand Lodge of Georgia, lodges created specifically during wartime so that Masons could convene while away from home at war. Owing to the uncertain nature of war, the Proceedings note that the military lodges' "present officers or location are generally unknown at this time."
Perhaps it's no surprise to find that within these Masonic Confederate imprints there is evidence of Masonic organizations in Confederate states seceding from organizations in the Union that they had previously belonged to. One example can be found in the Proceedings of the Grand Chapter of Alabama at Two Annual Convocations Held in the City of Montgomery in December 1861 and 1862. Reprinted in the Proceedings is a letter received from S.A.M. Wood, Grand High Priest of the Grand Chapter of Alabama (and later Brigadier General in the Confederate States Army starting in January 1862 ) who was unable to attend the meetings because he was serving in the Confederate Army as Colonel of the Regiment Alabama Volunteers. In the letter, dated "Head Quarters Forces, (Near) Chattanooga, November 29, 1861," Wood writes, in part:
"The troubles to which our beloved South has been brought by the fury, blindness, and fanatacism of the North, have so occupied my mind and energies, that I have been able to do but little this year in the way of masonic study or action." He goes on to write that he had read and heard that both the Grand Chapter of Georgia and the Grand Chapter of Tennessee had severed ties with the General Grand Chapter. (Most of the state-level Grand Chapters in the United States both before and after the Civil War work under, and comprise a part of, the General Grand Chapter.) Wood goes on to write that "My own opinion is that we in Alabama should sever our connection [from the General Grand Chapter] at once, and, to prevent any trouble in the future, that we should never unite with any General Grand body of a masonic character."
It's not too much of a stretch to see Wood's proposal that his state's Grand Chapter "never unite with any General Grand body" as a sort of Masonic "state's rights" argument, favoring the sovereignty of the state-level Masonic organizations over any national or federal body.
The Civil War is ever-present in these otherwise-often-dry Proceedings. The 1862 Proceedings of the Grand Commandery of Knights Templar and the Appendant Orders of the State of Alabama are all of two pages long, reporting, essentially, that on both days of the annual meeting, there wasn't a quorum present, so they could not have a meeting. Sometimes simply the location of the meeting speaks volumes. The 1863 Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Mississippi begins:
"On Monday, the 19th Day of January, A.D. 1863, A.L. 5863, the M.W. Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the State of Mississippi, assembled in their Forty-fifth Grand Annual Communication, in the Senate Chamber, in the City of Jackson, (their Hall being used as a Hospital for the sick and wounded soldiers of our army)..."
It isn't suprising to read in the 1865 Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Mississippi, under the heading "Destruction of Property, etc." that "the Masonic temples of our State have been robbed and desecrated by the Vandals of the North." But what is surprising is, reading further along, one finds this: "I am truly sorry, brethren, and regret exceedingly, that our own troops, in some instances have done worse than the fiends of the North," with a further explanation that two Mississippi lodges were broken into by Confederate troops and the contents of the lodge mutilated or stolen.
The Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives strives to collect complete runs of Proceedings of every American Masonic body (i.e. Grand Lodge, Grand Commandery, Grand Council, etc.). These Masonic Confederate imprints exist within these larger runs of Proceedings, which we continue to collect today.
From top to bottom:
Proceedings of the Annual Communication of the Grand Lodge of Alabama held in the City of Montgomery, Commencing December 2d, 1861. Montgomery: Advertiser Book and Job Office, 1862.
Proceedings at the Forty-Third Grand Annual Communication of the M. W. Grand Lodge...of Mississippi, held at the Masonic Hall in the City of Vicksburg, January 21, 22, 23, and 24, A.L. 5861, A.D. 1861. Natchez: Daily Courier Book and Job Office Print, 1861.
Proceedings of the Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons of Florida, at an Annual Convocation Begun and Held in the City of Tallahassee, Monday, January 11th. A.D. 1864. Tallahassee: Office of the Floridian & Journal, Printed by Dyke & Sparhawk, 1864.
Proceedings of the Grand Chapter of Alabama,at the Annual Convocation held in City of Montgomery, Commencing December 6th, 1864. Tuskegee: "Semi Weekly News" Book and Job Office, 1865.
Thanks for the question - it's not mundane at all. Organizational structure in Freemasonry can be confusing, especially since there are so many different Masonic bodies. What you are referring to is the Grand Lodge system - which oversees the Blue/Craft/Symbolic lodges in each state. In the U.S. there is, as you indicate, one grand lodge per state, but no national-level grand lodge.
The General Grand Chapter is part of the York Rite (specifically the Royal Arch) - an appendant body of Freemasonry. While each state has a Grand Chapter overseeing local Royal Arch Chapters within the state, there is also a national-level, umbrella organization called the General Grand Chapter, which most Grand Chapters belong to. The General Grand Chapter has been around since 1797.
Today, the General Grand Chapter's offices are in Greeenfield, Indiana.
I hope that helps clear things up. Thanks for reading our blog.
Posted by: Jeff | March 13, 2012 at 09:41 AM
Please bear with me if my questions are too mundane as I am not a mason; but where would a General Grand Chapter have been based? I was under the impression that there was no national organization for the masonic lodges, only state Grand Lodges.
Posted by: Robert S. Brown | March 12, 2012 at 11:04 AM