John R. Fretwell’s Remarks on His Involvement with the
A living history presentation
South Carolina Masonic Research Society
Symposium and Banquet: Freemasonry & The Civil War
April 22, 2011
The First Symposium and Banquet of the South Carolina Masonic
Research Society featured two Masons who have researched aspects of the
relationship of the fraternity during the War Between the States. Bro. Sirmon spoke on the Masonic connections
with the Confederate submarine Hunley, using the persona of John R. Fretwell,
who was one of the developers of the torpedo used by the Hunley to sink the USS
Housatonic on February 17, 1864.
Bro. Fretwell was a member of Lavaca Lodge (Texas) and
served the Grand Lodge of Texas as Grand Master in 1868. In 1862, Bro. Edgar Singer, also of Lavaca
Lodge, organized what would become the “Singer Secret Service” also called the
“Submarine Corp.” These two Masons, plus
at least seven other members of the lodge, worked on this project.
working in Mobile, AL, Bros. Fretwell and Singer began working with the
Mason-led submarine project that started in New Orleans. Involved in this project were Bros. Horace L.
Hunley (Mt. Moriah #59, New Orleans) and James R. McClintock (Mobile #40). Other Masons involved in the submarine effort
included William Alexander and George Dixon.
Both of these men received their degrees during the war in Mobile #40.
1863, General (and Brother) P.G.T. Beauregard requested that the submarine
project relocate to Charleston. Two
crews were lost when the submarine sank during training exercises. Investigations reported that lack of
experience was a significant factor in each of the deadly accidents.
death was reported to Mobile Lodge and the Secretary made this solemn notation
to his membership record: “Lost his life
in the service of the C. S. Navy while in command of a Torpedo Boat off coast
of Charleston in destroying the U. S. Str. Housatonic. Monument at Charleston to
the memory of Bro. Dixon. Torpedo
boat was built in Mobile and was first of its type.”
died in 1885. Mobile Lodge had the
privilege of conducting the funerals of Brothers Fretwell and Dixon and,
assisted by the other three city Lodges, traveled to Mobile’s Magnolia Cemetery
to deposit them in their final resting place.
Twenty-nine years later, the Lodges again gathered in Magnolia Cemetery
for the Masonic funeral of Bro. Alexander, who had remained in Mobile until his
death in 1914.
generation Masons of Mobile Lodge assembled “in the character of Masons” on
April 17, 2004. This time the location
was Charleston’s Magnolia Cemetery where Bro. George Dixon was laid to rest
with a Masonic Funeral Service. Bro.
Sirmon served as the Worshipful Master and used a service written in 1843 by
the Rev. and Brother Albert Case of Charleston.
Wayne E. Sirmon
Immediate Past Master, Texas Lodge of Research
Past Master, Avondale Lodge No. 476, Birmingham,
Past Master, J. H. McCormick Lodge No. 874, Mobile,
Grand Representative of Texas near Alabama
Wayne Sirmon is a member of Mobile Masonic Lodge No. 40, F. &. A. M.
located in Mobile, Alabama. A Master
Mason for thirty-seven years, he has served as the Worshipful Master of two
Lodges and received the 33º of the Scottish Rite in
the Grand Lodge of Alabama as an Assistant District Lecturer for three years
and has served on several Grand Lodge committees including eight years as the
Chairman of the Masonic Education Committee.
is charter President of the National Association of Masonic Scouters and is a
recipient of the Daniel Carter Beard Masonic Scouter Award. He currently serves as the President of the
General Galvez Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution, Secretary of the
University of South Alabama National Alumni Association and is Vice-Chairman of
the Board of the Museum of Mobile.
He holds an
appointment as an Assistant Professor of Military Science at the University of
South Alabama and as an adjunct Lecturer in History at the University of Mobile.
Bro. Sirmon has been published in The Philalethes, The Knight
Templar, The Royal Arch Magazine,
The Scottish Rite Journal and the Alabama Freemason as well as the Transactions of both the Texas Lodge of
Research and the South Carolina Masonic Research Society. His study of Military Lodges of the Civil War
is being published as a two part article in the Scottish Rite Research
Society’s Plumbline and will be
speaking this June at the New Orleans Scottish Rite History and Research
Symposium. He is a life member of the
South Carolina Masonic Research Society.
On April 17,
2004, he served as Worshipful Master (pro tem) at the burial of Bro. George E.
Dixon, commander of the Confederate Submarine Hunley.
The current Grand
Senior Deacon in the Grand Lodge of Kansas, A.F. & A.M., Michael Halleran,
received the Mackey Award for Excellence in Masonic Scholarship by the Scottish
Rite Research Society in 2006 and has lectured on military Freemasonry in both
the United States and Great Britain.
Following dinner, Bro. Michael delivered an extensive presentation about
Freemasons in the American Civil War.
His books were available for purchase and he was present to personally
autograph them. The book has received
praise from both Masonic and Non-Masonic reviewers:
“Michael Halleran has
set a new, high standard for scholarship on Freemasonry in the Civil War. His stories are compelling, the research is
impeccable, and his analysis gives fresh insights on the ‘mystic tie’ of the
fraternity.” – S. Brent Morris, Ph.D., 33º Managing Editor, Scottish Rite Journal.
“The Better Angels of
Our Nature accomplishes what few books about Freemasons are able to do: it explores the legends and long-told tall
tales of the fraternity in an academic fashion, with both dispassionate analysis
of the facts, and an obvious passion for the subject.” – Christopher L. Hodapp,
Editor, Journal of the Masonic Society.
“[Halleran] knows the
sources thoroughly and exploits them in a masterly fashion. What he produced has certainly exceeded its predecessors
and Better Angels of Our Nature is surely the best volume available on wartime
freemasonry, and one I would recommend to anyone interested in the subject.” – Mark Lause, Ph.D., University of Cincinnati, in Civil War Book
Howard R. Harris,
Junior Warden & Newletter Editor
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