• D.C. Freemason

Meeting the Enemy, Their Brothers

Last year, I stumbled upon a curious entry in the ledgers of Washington Royal Arch Chapter, a now defunct Masonic body. The entry contains an early account of life in the District of Columbia during the conflict between states, which pitted brother and Freemason against one another. Masonic records often omit discussions or commentary about politics or religion as both tend to divide or cause disharmony among a Masonic lodge's membership. In fact, members are prohibited from discussing both during lodge meetings, which makes this entry an especially interesting find.

The entry is split into three district parts. First, the author provides a brief overview of the events that led up to the War, evening taking a moment to identify its two causes: Slavery and the act of Secession by the “Cotton States.” The second section recounts the first shots fired at Fort Sumter and the Baltimore Draft Riots. The last section highlights the struggles of life in the District while the war rages on around them.

Throughout the short entry, the author paints a portrait of daily life in a state of uncertainty and discontent. The military presence was overt. A blockade in Alexandria prohibited freight ships from traveling up the Potomac, cutting off access to mail and commerce. Businesses struggled, the value of money and real-estate depreciated twenty-five and ninety percent, respectively. The entry concludes with several clippings collected from Northern newspapers.   

There is a trace of uneasiness and sorrow infused into the author’s words. His final remarks are perhaps the most profound and touching: “And now you see the dashing cavalry hurrying forward with orders, the dull tread of the infantry next falls upon your ear, who are preparing to meet the enemy, their brothers.” The author reminds us that the war was not fought with foreign troops but neighbors, friends, family, and in our case, brothers. 

Full transcript: Incidents During the War of 1861

The origin of this War, or Civil Strife, may be attributed to two causes – one, the slavery question, the North declaring that no more slave territory shall be acquired and slavery to be confined within the States, now sanctioning it, and the south declaring her rights – to be more slave states if they (the people in the territory) so vote it. The second, the secession of the Southern States, who refuse to remain in the Union, under the direction of Abraham Lincoln, who is a sectional Republican President. On the 4th of March 1861 [Lincoln] was inaugurated president of the US, previous to this event South Carolina and other states had declared themselves free and independent and soon after followed the secession of others, until seven (the cotton states) had thrown off their yoke of allegiance to the government and now war preparations began,

The south raised an army and concentrating their forces at Charleston, they began to fortify the harbor, and possess all the forts, lying at or near their city. President [Jefferson] Davis whom they had called to the position of President begin the Commander in Chief, they without any difficulty succeeded in capturing and possessing all the government forts except one and that was “Sumpter.” In this position was placed Major R. Anderson and about 100 men, he refused to evacuate, and they determined to compel him; they did compel him and on the 14th of April he surrendered to the overwhelming members composing the southern army and there was precipitated the war.

Following the surrender, Virginia in her convention passed the ordinance of secession and this only increased the mass passing of the northern men and raised fury to the burning hearts of the southern army. The President [Lincoln] issued his proclamation calling upon the states to furnish men to subdue the southern men who were resisting his power as their magistrate and the troops in coming to this place were met by a mob at Baltimore. On the evening of the 19th and several were killed the next day appeared [Lincoln]’s proclamation declaring all the southern ports blockaded.

The southern boats were seized and a company of soldiers were placed in board of each, the mails were stopped and freights not allowed to pass from Alexandria to this city. Virginia money not passing at any price, twenty five percent being the discount at the bank, the city in the greatest consternation and rumor of all kinds in circulation, business prostrated and real estate depreciated to almost one tenth of its value, one year previously. Our city under the strictest guard and the utmost vigilance, constantly kept at all times could be seen the sentinels pacing silently to and fro before the armories. And now you see the dashing cavalry hurrying forward with orders. The dull tread of the infantry next falls upon your ear, who are preparing to meet the enemy, their brothers. Our Capitol and our public buildings are filled with soldiers