Freemasons and the Battle of Gettysburg

The Battle of Gettysburg, which took place from July 1st. to July 3rd. 1863, is the most famous, most bloody, and in many ways the most significant battle of the U.S. Civil War from 1861 to 1865. Robert E. Lee took his Confederate Army of Northern Virginia on a controversial invasion of the Northern States in an effort to alleviate Virginia from having armies continue to fight there, and so in an effort to bring the Union Army of the Potomac out of its fortifications, to a climactic battle that could end the war and result in independence for the Confederate States of America.

Abraham Lincoln understood the significance of Lee`s invasion of Pennsylvania, and he appointed Union Major General George G. Meade to lead the United States army, with orders to prevent any attack on Washington, D.C., or Baltimore, Maryland.  General Meade led his army into northern Maryland, while General Lee split his army into different parts with missions leading to the hoped for capture of Harrisburg, the capital of Pennsylvania, with other missions to follow. However, Lee did not realize that Meade`s army was as close as it was, until June 28th. Then, he issued orders for the parts of his army to regroup at Cashtown or Gettysburg. 

In the meantime, some of Lee`s army was camped near Gettysburg, and some of Meade`s army was in Gerrysburg. They clashed briefly on June 30th., and again in much larger numbers on July 1st. Both sides through in reinforcements, until the July 1st. battle became a very large battle, very hard fought by both sides. At the end of the day the force of overwhelming numbers resulted in a Confederate victory for that day.

The union army regrouped on the hills and a ridge south of Gettysburg, in a very strong position, under the leadership of Major General (and Brother) Winfield S. Hancock, one of the most widely admired generals of the Civil War. On July 2nd., General Lee attempted to defeat the Union army by attacking both ends of it, in another extremely hard fought day with thousands of casualties.

One of the most significant events of that day was the defense of a hill called Little Round Top by a Maine regiment commanded by Colonel (and Brother) Joshua L. Chamberlain. When his men ran out of ammunition, knowing that if he gave up his position the entire battle might be lost, he ordered a bayonet charge that might have been suicidal. Instead, he won a highly praised victory, plus a Medal of Honor, and fame that resulted in his being later elected Governor of Maine four times.  The climax of the battle took place on 3rd. July. After a quiet morning, in early afternoon General Lee ordered the most massive cannon attack ever on the North American continent. Then, he ordered about 12,000 men to attack the centre of the Union position, across about a mile of open country. Both sides generally showed great courage in facing each other, realizing that this might be the event that would decide the war and the fate of the country.  Among the leaders of this event, known as Pickett`s Charge was Confederate Brigadier General, (and Brother) Lewis A. Armistead.  The leader of the Union force was the Union Major General (and Brother) Winfield S. Hancock. Armistead and Hancock were both career soldiers, and before the Civil War they were friends when both were U.S. Army officers in California. Both were also Freemasons. When the Confederate attack reached the Union line at Gettysburg, there was fierce fighting. General Armistead was shot twice, and as he went down he gave a Masonic sign asking for assistance. A fellow Mason, a Union officer named Henry H. Bingham, then a Captain, later a higher officer and Congressman, came to Armistead`s assistance and offered to help. Armistead reportedly asked to see and talk with his friend General Hancock, but was told that Hancock had been very badly wounded just a few minutes earlier.  

Armistead knew that he was seriously wounded and gave Bingham his Bible and Masonic Jewels to keep safe. Union Brother Bingham then helped Confederate Brother Armistead off the field and to a hospital, but Armistead died two days later.  General Hancock, recovered and resumed his command later in the Civil War. This incident of a Freemason who was a Union officer helping a Freemason who was a wounded Confederate officer, is one of the greatest examples of the ideals of Freemasonry in action.

In 1993, the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania completed and dedicated a monument on the Gettysburg National Cemetary, with the co-operation and support of the United States Government., that shows Bro. Hancock assisting Bro. Armistead.  This statue is extremely dramatic, and is called the Masonic Friend to Friend Masonic Memorial.

In the words of Sheldon A. Munn, one of the Freemasons who helped bring about the construction of this monument:  

"The Friend to Friend Masonic Memorial, at Gettysburg will help demonstrate to the world that Freemasonry is, indeed, a unique fraternity; that it's bonds of friendship, compassion and brotherly love withstood the ultimate test during the most tragic and decisive period of our nation`s history; it stood then as it stands now, as A Brotherhood Undivided."