Review: The Better Angels of Our Nature: Freemasonry in the American Civil War

by James Durney on April 15, 2010 · 0 comments

The Better Angels of Our Nature: Freemasonry in the American Civil War
by Michael A. Hallern

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 232 pages
  • Publisher: University Alabama Press; 1 edition (February 16, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0817316957
  • ISBN-13: 978-0817316952

Civil War history tells a consistent story of Masons appealing for aid and answering these appeals.  We instantly recognize these stories.  Often we dismiss them as part of Nineteenth Century life, age of chivalry or reconciliation mythology.  This book is not a compilation of those stories but a historical look at Freemasonry during the war.  Stories of appeal and aid are the foundation but they are not the book.

This scholarly look at Freemasons starts with the founding of the United States runs through 1865.  While the emphasis is on the Civil War, we get the necessary background to understand the why of what we are reading.  The author has an excellent narrative style.  He conveys information in an easy to read and understand way.  This produces an enjoyable reading experience that makes the scholarly aspects seem less so.

The basic format of a chapter is stories of Masons aiding Masons.  Using this as a starting point the author expands on this to encompass an area of the war.  We look at providing burials, aiding families, helping the wounded and providing care to prisoners in camps.  Chapters are fully footnoted and there is a good Bibliography.

The Prolog covers the story of Lew Armistead at Gettysburg.  The author calls this the “most famous Masonic” story of the war.  He carefully examines the stories separating the probable from the impossible.  In doing so, he clears up some misconceptions while showing how the truth helped build the myth.

This book will expand your understanding of the people and their experiences.  It is a serious history of a small part of the war that was very important to those involved.  It is well worth reading and should be a valued part of your library.

Editor’s Note: Jim is a highly ranked reviewer of American Civil War histories on many book seller’s sites.

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