The Military and Freemasonry
James M. Pollard, JW
Cherrydale Lodge No. 42
Freemasonry came to the new world in large part with the military Lodges attached to various British regiments. Thus, it is that almost from the very beginning to this country Freemasonry and the military have gone hand in hand through our history. Unfortunately, the written history of our Fraternity in the early years is almost non-existent.
The Warrant or Charter of the early military Lodges was usually given to the Regimental Commander and all of a Lodge's furniture, ornaments, lights, jewels, etc., as well as the Warrant itself, was usually limited in size to that which could be carried in one small military chest. Membership in these Lodges was usually limited to officers of the regiment; normally, civilians were not admitted although in some few cases this rule seems to have been overlooked.
The first Warrant for a military Lodge was issued by the Grand Lodge of Ireland in 1732 to the First British Foot Regiment. Within a few years the Grand Lodge of Scotland and both the Grand Lodge of England, Modern and Antient were issuing Warrants to military Lodges. By 1755, twenty-nine Warrants had been issued by theses for Grand Lodges combined. The naval service was not very active in the formation of military Lodges, with only three such lodges known to have existed, all being warranted by the Modern Grand Lodge of England.
There were also military Lodges formed on the continent of Europe but these did not follow the form of the English Lodged. The continental Lodges were all stationary in nature rather that traveling Lodges. This, I think, was mostly due to the empire building of the British, as opposed to the continental power staying mostly land locked to Europe.
The first record of a military Lodge Warrant being issued in the new world happened during the French and Indian Wars. It was issued by the then Provincial Grand Master at Boston to the 28th British Foot in an expedition against the French at Crown Point. Several other such Lodges followed and during the American Revolution one was issued to a Lodge named the "Movable Lodge."
During the American Revolution there were 10 Lodges working in the American army. One of these Lodges was the American Union Lodge and that Lodge exists to this day under the Grand Lodge of Ohio as American Union Lodge No. 1.
There were at least two instances during the war in which some of a British Lodge's furniture, Warrant and jewels were captured by the Americans. In both known cases there is also a record of these items being restored to their owners by an honor guard under a flag of truce.
One item of interest to the Marines is that the same Tun Tavern of Marine Corps fame was also the early home of the Masons of Philadelphia.
The War of 1812 found no military Lodges being formed, I suspect in large part because most of the fighting was of a naval nature and what ground fighting there was more of the naval raid nature than that of an extended land campaign.
During the Mexican War there were at least 12 traveling military Lodges formed and at least two of them accompanied our army to Mexico, although nothing is known of their work. One of these Lodges was from Virginia, Virginia Military Lodge 1 being attached to the Virginia Regiment of Volunteers. All of these Lodges worked under dispensation and none of them were ever chartered.
During the War of Northern Aggression, or War Between The States, there were, depending on the source, between 77 and almost 200 military Lodges. Virginia is reported to have had from 7 to 28 Lodges with the southern armies. Indiana led the list with 37 Lodges in the north and Texas is estimated to have had some 50 military Lodges, although firm records do not exist to support that figure.
Several Grand Lodges issued no dispensations, feeling either that the military Lodges were making Masons who could not have gained admission back home, or that such Lodges were an infringement on the Grand Lodge where the troops were stationed.
Of local interest in this respect is the action of the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia following the union occupation of Alexandria, Virginia early in the war. This happened in 1862 when several residents of Alexandria petitioned the Grand Lodge of D.C. for a dispensation to form a Lodge to be known as "Union Lodge." It was stated that there was no Lodge working in the city, that the Charter of Alexandria-Washington Lodge had been ransacked and forced to disband. The Grand Lodge of D.C. granted this dispensation and this act was to cause strained relations between the two Grand Lodges for some years. Not until after the war was this problem resolved by the merger of these two Lodges.
Many Grand Lodges, and also Grand Master, came to regret what later was regarded as their too liberal issue of dispensation and never again would anything like the number issued during this period of our history be repeated. This was due in part to the lack of any reports or returns to the Grand Lodges by most of the military Lodges.
The Spanish-American War found only two military Lodges, one from Kentucky and one from North Dakota, although California granted three dispensations for formation of Lodges in the Philippines, which later led to the formation of the Grand Lodge of the Philippines.
World War 1 saw only a few military Lodges granted dispensations. Only three were granted for work within the United States. Nine more were granted for work in France and Germany during the occupation. There were also four dispensations issued but never used. By this time there were only 17 Grand Lodges which favored military Lodges, Virginia being one of them, while there was an equal number which were opposed to such Lodges with 15 additional Grand Lodges whose attitude was unknown.
With the return of the Charter of Lahneck Military Lodge Number 1186 to the Grand Lodge of Texas in July of 1922, the last military Lodge in the United States ceased to exist. Although there were several requested for dispensations during World War II, none were granted. To find military Lodges today we must look to those chartered under the Grand Lodge of England and there are still some of these in existence.