Several years ago, I reviewed an older book, which I found to be excellent. It was called A House Undivided. I had followed this up about a year later with a similar book, in that the subject matter was the same. However, this particular book, The Better Angels Of Our Nature - Freemasonry In The American Civil War, is not so much a collection of colorful anecdotes as the previous book had been. Instead, it was a real investigation into Civil War stories, verified using real scholarly work. Many Civil War stories have embellishments and unbelievable outcomes. This new book cleared it all up.
In the first chapter, it opens up with a doorbuster. Using all the resources available and even written accounts, Halleran proves that Hancock and Armistead's highly regarded story never happened. This story, forever memorialized in the "Friend To A Friend" Masonic Memorial at Gettysburg, and also the basis of the 26th Degree in the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, is false. It's a great story, but it just isn't true.
After that substantial disappointing blow, the book goes on, and I prepped myself for further disappointments. But my disappointment was staved off. Instead, I had confirmation after confirmation of even more amazing stories regarding the influence of the gentle Craft in wartime. In fact, many of the stories which were confirmed were more fantastic than any other stories I had heard before. Stories that pulled at your heartstrings and made you think about the times and situations these Brothers had been in. Cover to cover, the book draws you in.
The book's overwhelming and underlying question or theme seems to be-- "What was it about the Masonic Obligation that superseded the rules of war?". This was a question that the book guides you into asking yourself as you hear story after story of verified fraternalism on the battleground. Stories of soldiers "accidentally" escaping and lodges being fashioned in prison. Even enemy officers of those prison camps attending the prisoner based lodges—all verified through journal entries and cross-referenced in other journal entries by the actual Brothers who were there!
Mike Halleran even goes to the lengths of inspecting sources that were not Masonic. Journal entries by the profane of the period. In these entries, the profane complain that Masons got better treatment and even were let go on occasion—it was "unfair." These profane often wrote in their journals of how, when the time would present itself, they too would join the fraternity out of witnessing the bonds that had been on display to them during the war.
The book does a fantastic job of verifying, separating truth from colorful anecdotes, and disproving Masonic "whoppers". I say this book is a must-read. Where "A House Undivided" brings you the fairytales, perhaps this book brings you the straight dope on what happened, and in the end, this book proves we are indeed the greatest fraternity in the world.
Just recently, the book has been released for the first time as a paperback. If you've been waiting to pick this book up, now is the time. It's never been more accessible. Pick up the book at this link.
RWB Johnson is a Co-Managing Editor of the Midnight Freemasons blog. He is a Freemason out of the 2nd N.E. District of Illinois. He currently serves as the Secretary of Spes Novum Lodge No. 1183. He is a Past Master of Waukegan Lodge 78 and a Past District Deputy Grand Master for the 1st N.E. District of Illinois. Brother Johnson currently produces and hosts weekly Podcasts (internet radio programs) Whence Came You? & Masonic Radio Theatre which focuses on topics relating to Freemasonry. He is also a co-host of The Masonic Roundtable, a Masonic talk show. He is a husband and father of four, works full time in the executive medical industry. He is the co-author of "It's Business Time - Adapting a Corporate Path for Freemasonry" and is currently working on a book of Masonic essays and one on Occult Anatomy to be released soon.