A Focus on Masonic Research, News, and other Tidbits

Homo sum; humani nihil a me alienum puto.

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Angel of Marye’s Heights

If he wasn’t a Freemason - he should have been.

Any reasonably serious researcher, historian, or student of the War Between the States will immediately recognize the title of this article and know exactly to who it refers. Richard Rowland Kirkland was, at the Battle of Fredericksburg (11 – 15 December 1862), a Sergeant serving with Company G, 2nd South Carolina Regiment, Kershaw’s Brigade. His regimental commander - Colonel John Doby Kennedy - was a Freemason and Kirkland’s original company commander when Kirkland first enlisted into Company E of the 2nd South Carolina Regiment. Kirkland’s brigade commander at Fredericksburg was Brigadier General Joseph Brevard Kershaw – also a Freemason. Both Kennedy and Kershaw would eventually hold the position of Grand Master of Masons in their home State of South Carolina. No obvious evidence has been found that suggests that Kirkland was also a Freemason but, if he wasn’t, he should have been.

The following editorial from The News and Courier, by General Kershaw and dated 29 January 1880, tells Kirkland’s story rather well.

Your Columbia correspondent referred to the incident narrated here, telling the story as 'twas told to him, and inviting corrections. As such a deed should be recorded in the rigid simplicity of actual truth I take the liberty of sending you for publication an accurate account of a transaction every feature of which is indelibly impressed upon my memory.Richard Kirkland was the son of John Kirkland, an estimable citizen of Kershaw County, a plain substantial famer of the olden time. In 1861 he entered as a private, Captain J. D. Kennedy's Company E of the Second South Carolina Volunteers, in which Company he was a sergeant in 1862. The day after the sanguinary battle of Fredericksburg, Kershaw's Brigade occupied theroad at the foot of Marye's Hill and the grounds about Marye's House, the scene of their desperate defense of the day before. One hundred and fifty yards in front of the road, the stone facing of which constituted the famous stone wall, lay Sykes Division of Regulars, U. S. A. between whom and our troops a murderous skirmish occupied the whole day, fatal to many who heedlessly exposed themselves even for a moment. The ground between the lines was nearly bridged with the wounded, dead and dying Federals, victims of the many desperately gallant assaults of that column of 30,000 brave men, hurled vainly against that impregnable position. All that day those wounded men rent the air with their groans and agonizing cries of "Water! Water!"

In the afternoon the General sat in the North room upstairs of Mrs. Stevens' House in front of the road, surveying the field, when Kirkland came up. With an expression of indignant remonstrance pervading his person, his manner and the tone of his voice, he said: "General, I can't stand this." "What is the matter, Sergeant?" asked the General. He replied: "All night and all day I have heard those poor people crying for water and can stand it no longer." I came to ask permission to go and give them water." The General regarded him for a moment with feelings of profound admiration and said: "Kirkland, don't you know that you would get a bullet through your head the moment you stepped over the wall?" "Yes, Sir, he said, I know all about that, but if you will let me, I am willing to try it." After a pause the General said: "Kirkland, I ought not to allow you to run such a risk, but the sentiment which actuates you is so noble, that I will not refuse your request, trusting that God may protect you. You may go."

The Sergeant's eyes lighted up with pleasure. He said "Thank you Sir" and ran rapidly down stairs. The General heard him pause for a moment and then return, bounding two steps at a time. He thought the Sergeant's heart had failed him. He was mistaken. The Sergeant stopped at the door and said: "General, can I show a white handkerchief?" The General slowly shook his head, saying emphatically: "No, Kirkland, you can't do that.” "All right, Sir,” he said, “I'll take my chances."

With profound anxiety, he was watched as he stepped over the wall on his errand of mercy, Christ-like mercy. Unharmed he reached the nearest sufferer. He knelt beside him, tenderly raised the drooping head, rested it gently upon his own noble breast, and poured precious life giving fluid down the fever scorched throat. This done he laid him gently down, placed his knap-sack under his head, straightened out his broken limb, spread his over-coat over him, replaced his empty canteen with a full one, and turned to another sufferer.

By this time his purpose was well understood on both sides and all danger was over. From all parts of the field arose fresh cries of "Water, for God's sake, water!" More piteous still, the mute appeal of some one who could only feebly lift a hand to say, here too is life and suffering. For an hour and a half did this ministering angle pursue his labor of mercy, nor ceased to go and return until he had relieved all of the wounded on that part of the field. He returned wholly unhurt. Who shall say how sweet his rest that Winter's night beneath the cold stars.

This incident occurred during a bitter cold spell in December when the thermometer fell to zero.

Little remains to be told. Sergeant Kirkland distinguished himself in battle at Gettysburg and was promoted Lieutenant. At Chickamauga he fell on the field of battle in the hour of victory. He was but a youth when called away and had never formed those ties from which might have resulted a posterity to enjoy his fame and bless his country; but he has bequeathed to American youth, yea, to the world, an example which dignified our common humanity. - J. B. Kershaw

Note: General Kennedy of whose Company E., Kirkland was an original member, also testified that "the enemy, as soon as they divined his mission ceased their fire and cheered".

There is nothing much that can be added.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A War Stops for Freemasonry

In the process of some other research, I came upon the story of the events following the death of Brother and Union Navy Lieutenant Commander John E. Hart. At the time of his death on 11 June 1863, Hart was in command of the USS ALBATROSS, a Federal warship assigned to Admiral David G. Farragut’s fleet on the Mississippi River.

I will not attempt to write an article pertaining to Brother Hart’s Masonic funeral, as others have already done a fine job at covering the event. One of the more extensive articles can be found on his home Lodge’s website and I encourage you to read it here.

Friday, October 17, 2008

New Grand Lodge Hall Destroyed

On August 23 of the past year, the cornerstone of the soon to be constructed building that would be the new Masonic Hall for the Grand Lodge - and that of several of the subordinate Lodges in close proximity - was laid in due Masonic form. The Grand Lodge and a large number from the subordinate Lodges, the Royal Arch Chapters, and the Knights Templar Encampment were involved in the procession and ceremony. The Mayor and Aldermen of the city also seemed fit to be present for this occasion – an occasion for which the Freemasons in the Jurisdiction had labored long and hard.

Following the laying of the cornerstone, work on the new edifice began in earnest. Further financing was arranged, building materials were purchased, and builders were put to work. By nightfall on April 27 of this year, the completion of the new Masonic Hall was in sight. This was the first time that the Grand Jurisdiction would be able to enjoy their own building without having to rent a space for their activities.

On that night of April 27, the Craft’s hopes were dashed into ashes. A disastrous fire broke out nearby and, by the next day, nearly one-third of the city was destroyed. The almost completed Masonic Hall was one of the many buildings to succumb to the flames. Several of the subordinate Lodge Halls in the city were also destroyed. The most severe blow, however, came in the form of the destruction of Seyle’s Hall – the location being rented by the Grand Lodge until the new Masonic Hall was completed. Along with Seyle’s Hall, most of the Masonic furniture and all of the records of the Grand Lodge were destroyed – save the minutes from the last two years. The owner of the hall - a member of the Fraternity - did manage to save a chest which contained the Grand Lodge officers’ jewels, collars, and a small selection of the Grand Lodge’s furniture.

At a Special Communication of the Grand Lodge on May 7 of this year, the Fraternity expressed determination and resolved to carry on and renew its quest for a Grand Lodge Hall of its own.

The year is 1838 and the location is Charleston, South Carolina.

Author's Note: In 1838, most of the Lodges in South Carolina were in the city of Charleston. The Craft had only recently began moving in force to the outlying areas of the State. Therefore, the Charleston fire of 1838 was a significant blow to the finances and morale of Freemasonry in the Palmetto State. Moral of the story: There have been some very bad days in Freemasonry, but today ain't one of them.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Masonic Government Applied to Society-at-Large

Think about that title for a moment. What if society-at-large had to live under a Masonic government? Yes; general society is probably too big, too chaotic, and just plain not ready for such a thing - but we can muse on the subject for entertainment and discussion purposes.

Though each Grand Jurisdiction has it own Code and/or Constitution, there are some common strands that can be found in each Grand Lodge and Lodge. Most Masons are already at least partially schooled in the executive powers and roles of Grand Masters and Lodge Masters, the legislative powers and roles of the Grand Lodges and members of each Lodge, and the judicial powers of all of the aforementioned. The dry subject of those powers and roles will not be presented here. Rather, let us concentrate on what happens after a resolution has been passed and becomes Masonic law or an approved decision. It is at that point in the process where we can see a huge difference in how Masonic government works when compared to the governments of society-at-large.

To see this difference, let us use a town in the United States as the sample civil government in the following scenario. Please bear in mind that towns have differing styles of government - such as mayor-council, council-mayor, administrator-council, etc - so this scenario may not fit all towns. In our scenario, the voters have just approved a referendum that calls for a new town park to be constructed. The council and mayor are now obligated to make this happen and they do so by first raising the millage rate on property taxes. After all, it costs money to build a park. They then put the town’s public works department on to the task of building the park. A few town employees, with their earth movers, toil away until the park is built and all of the town’s citizens are now able to enjoy the lovely new recreational site – even though only some of the citizen’s (property owners) paid for it and only a few of the citizen’s (public works employees) built it. In fact, when we look back at how people voted in the referendum, we find that the public works employees all voted against it (their work schedule was already overloaded) and many of the property owners did the same (they are tired of paying higher and higher taxes). Most of the citizens that voted for the new park had to neither pay for it nor actually build it.

Let us now turn to the town’s local Masonic Lodge to see how it handles a similar scenario. The Lodge members have just voted to remodel the Lodge’s dining hall. The floor needs new tiling, new paint is needed, and the curtains are in need of replacement. The project is going to cost a bit of money, so the Lodge also votes to raise the dues (taxes) for the upcoming year. The Master of the Lodge then appoints a work committee, made up of the very members that voted to remodel the hall. The committee toils away with paintbrushes and tile glue until a beautiful dining hall is ready to be used by all of the Lodge members. In this scenario, all of the members pay for the project and the very folks that wanted the remodeled hall actually do the work to make it a reality.

Those two scenarios clearly bring to light the vast difference between civil government and Masonic government. The first scenario shows that groups of people can direct other folks to spend money and exert effort, even though they have to do neither while still enjoying the fruits of someone else’s sacrifice. The Masonic scenario shows how, if the group wants something done, all must sacrifice to make it a reality.

If society-at-large had to live under the rules and regulations of Masonic government, it is probably a sure bet that fewer parks would be constructed.