Listen to the Masonic Central Podcast with Michael Halleran on his book Better Angels of Our Nature.
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The reality of the The Better Angels of Our Nature
The Better Angels of Our Nature dissects the war in its many facets into a sensible approach to the myths of Freemasonry and its part in the Civil War, from the very top in correspondence of Grand Lodges, first about preserving the union and later to sovereignty of action, to the rank and file interaction of soldiers on the lines spared by a token, a word, or a gesture, and to the gewgaws made by prisoners of war while being held in some of the harshest of p.o.w. camps. What Halleran captures in his work is not so much the acts of mercy between soldiers (of which he details many), but the agent of that mercy – Freemasonry.
Underlying the details of the book is the idea that the power of the fraternity and its ability to transcend lines acting in a way greater than that of organized religions, such that in times where even local denominations avoided helping those in desperate need, the bonds on Freemasonry, and the invisible connection between brothers, would prevail. In one instance, Halleran details the delivery of food and necessities to prisoners, not out of the compassion of similar religion, but out of the brotherhood in the craft all on the simple sign of a gewgaw. But, as much as the Better Nature leans on the leverage of membership, it almost equally illustrates the aversion brothers had to leverage it for their benefit. And for those such as Union prisoner John L. Ransom who witnessed Masonry in action noted in his diary the things to do following the war to include: “…visit all the foreign countries that prisoners told me about…wear silk under clothing, join the masons.”
The Friend to Friend Masonic Memorial monument located in the annex of the
Gettysburg National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
One of the prime examples that Halleran uses to dissect the problem of the past and illustrate the point of the layers of mis-telling is the exchange between General Armistead and Captain Bingham, to which Halleran says
“…the legend of Armistead’s dramatic Masonic death scene simply did not happen.” “There was no Masonic huddle with Doctor Bingham, ho hand-off of a Masonic bible, and no meeting with Hancock.”
All of which may come as a shock to the system to any armchair historian, but in painstaking detail, Halleran pieces together Armistead’s wounding, those closest to him, and what they said about those moments on the battlefield and the events immediately following his demise several days later.
Despite the retelling of the greatest Masonic tale of the Civil War, what Halleran does uncover are an even greater number of instances where brotherhood works to save wounded soldiers, save a family from starvation, and in one instance where the war stops for a day to bury a fallen brother in a Masonic service attended by both sides of the conflict. The Better Angels of Our Nature illustrates the profundity of the fraternity to its practitioner of the age, leaving us with the question if the modern soldier of Masonic affiliation encountered a brother across the lines, would it have the same ability to lay down hostilities to appeal to their fraternal bonds?
Halleran tells a compelling story about the fraternity and the Civil War and how The Better Angels of Our Nature