WV Freemasonry and the Civil War

The following story was told by the late Jack McGinnis, Past Master and former Secretary of Minerva Lodge No.13 located in Barboursville, West Virginia.  Jack related this story during a visit to Western Star Lodge #11 in early 1995.  Some of the details of this account have been historically verified, while some cannot.  Jack’s intent was to demonstrate the historically strong bond between the two Lodges.  To this day, they still refer to each other as “sister” lodges.  This is a story which demonstrates (then and now) the bond of brotherhood and friendship which defines Freemasonry.

Likely, to quell Confederate sympathies in the area; the 9th West Virginia Infantry Regiment established a Union recruiting office and training camp at Guyandotte, West Virginia in October of 1861.  The Union recruiting office was in a building on Main Street across from the existing V.F.W. building.  On November 10, 1861 a combined force of Confederate Cavalry and local confederate militia (called Border Rangers) led by Col. John Clarkson and Cabell County native Col Albert Jenkins, surrounded the town of Guyandotte and attacked this camp.  During the battle, 10 Union and 3 Confederate soldiers were killed.  A total of 98 Union troops and Civilian Union collaborators were arrested and eventually marched to imprisonment in Richmond, Virginia.  

                  One of those who died in the battle was identified as a Mason.  The members of Western Star Lodge (then chartered by the Common Wealth of Virginia Grand Lodge as Western Star Lodge #110) had much influence in the community and decided to perform Masonic Rites.  However, the Worshipful Master of the Lodge, Henry Carter, was away in service due to the war.  The Master of Minerva Lodge No. 57, in Barboursville, West Virginia, agreed to conduct the services. 

                  The brother’s body was taken to a funeral home in Barboursville where it was quickly prepared in the usual fashion.  The body was then transported on a river barge, down the Guyandotte River to Western Star Lodge, which at that time, was located near Water Street and 6th Avenue along the Guyandotte River.  Freemasons from Minerva Lodge as well as both Confederate forces and Union prisoners, and a few citizens of Guyandotte entered the building where they conducted “a lodge of sorrow” led by the Worshipful Master of Minerva Lodge. 

The Masonic record is not clear, so while it is not known for certain, it is believed the assembly then proceeded to the most likely place of internment, the cemetery located just a block and a half away, on 5th Avenue between Water Street and Main Street in Guyandotte.  There the assembly conducted grave side rites and retired.

There are 31 markers in the cemetery most of which are weathered and worn to the point of being illegible.  It is also likely that several graves lay unmarked, the stones having been broken, removed or buried in the more than 150 years since. No map of the cemetery exists therefore it is impossible to say where this Masonic Brother is buried.

On the following day, most of the Confederate forces (led by Col Jenkins) left Guyandotte with prisoners in tow, inroute to Richmond, Virginia.   Some of the 130-150 Union soldiers and recruits managed to escape the initial attack and made their way to a Union encampment at town of Ceredo, down the Ohio River Just West of Guyandotte.

 Having been advised of what was described to them as a “massacre”, Members of the 5th West Virginia Infantry Regiment marched from Ceredo toward Guyandotte. 

A large number of Union troops boarded a steamer, which travelled up the Ohio River to the mouth of the Guyandotte River, where they fired their rifles and a small deck gun at Confederate forces.  However, realizing they did not have the strength of numbers, these troops withdrew and crossed to the Ohio side of the Ohio River, where they assembled additional reinforcements from a local Ohio militia.  These soldiers and militia, together with the main body of troops advancing from Ceredo attacked and entered Guyandotte, driving out the remaining Confederate forces.

Almost immediately, the Union troops began to set fire to the town.  Virtually the entire business district of downtown and most of the homes on the Western side of Guyandotte were set ablaze and burned to the ground.  A few homes were spared and still stand today.  The Masonic Temple of Western Star Lodge was also set ablaze.  One of the Union Soldiers was himself a freemason.  This soldier rushed into the masonic temple while his companions were moving about setting the building afire.  This soldier, being a Mason, knew the importance of certain items and could remove the Jewels, Virginia Charter and a minute’s book before the building was consumed.

Although this soldier’s identity is unknown, it is known that he found a local farmer to whom he entrusted these precious items.  Some years after the war, this masonic soldier returned to Guyandotte and sought out members of Western Star Lodge which now held its meetings in a room above a drug store in Guyandotte.  This soldier did not recall the name of the farmer or know where he lived, but was able to describe him to the assembled members.   Piecing together his identity they proceeded towards the Lesage area which is on the Ohio River North of Guyandotte, where they were able to locate the jewels, Charter and, Minutes restoring them to Western Star Lodge.

The identity of the farmer and location of his farm have been lost to the fog of history.  What is known today is that the story has been repeated many times down through the years.  The Lodge Jewels, original Virginia Charter and minutes were kept in the loft of a barn for several years during and after the war.  Although “outside” the barn protected these items from the elements and allowed them to be preserved until they were finally recovered.

Although the Lodge is now chartered by the Grand Lodge of West Virginia as “Western Star Lodge No.11, the recovery of Its original Virginia Charter, jewels and minutes obviously meant a great deal to the grateful brothers of this Lodge.  To this day, those jewels, the original Virginia Charter and the recovered Minute book are safely housed inside a glass case where they are displayed just outside the lodge room within the present Masonic Temple now located at 222 Richmond Street in Guyandotte, West Virginia.

At the conclusion of dinner on “Past Master’s Night”, the Lodge proudly points out the saved Jewels Charter and Minutes to visitors.  The members of Western Star No.11 then recount the story of how they were saved and use the occasion to impress on their visitors the strong bond that exists in Freemasonry.

 

-Charles E. Kingery; WM, Western Star #11

April 5, 2017.

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