Salmon Winchester - Freemason, Civil War soldier
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Zeredatha Lodge #483 & National Zouave Lodge, U.D.:
New York Lodges Bound Together by a Civil War Mason - Salmon Winchester

by Paul M. Bessel, a member and son of a member of Zeredatha Lodge #483

The Battle of Fredericksburg took place in December 1862. Union soldiers were attempting to force their way past the Confederate army under Robert E. Lee, but they failed. It was a disaster for the Union, and the Civil War continued for 2 more years. Of the thousands of Union soldiers killed in this battle, one was Salmon Winchester, then in command of the 10th Regiment New York Volunteers. Salmon Winchester must have been a fascinating man, and a New York Freemason who deserved to be remembered. He was the first Master of two lodges, one of which still exists in Brooklyn.

Zeredatha Lodge #483 began in 1859, two years before the start of the Civil War, when sectional tensions were already tearing at the United States. In June a group of Freemasons in Brooklyn met and elected Salmon Winchester to visit the Grand Master of New York to request a dispensation to form a new lodge. Bro Winchester must have been a convincing Mason, because by July this new group already had a dispensation and began meeting, using the name Zeredatha, a place named in the Bible in connection with the building of King Solomon's Temple.

After a year operating under dispensation, a charter was voted for Zeredatha Lodge #483 by the Grand Lodge of New York in June 1860, and the lodge then received the Grand Master and his officers for the dedication of the new lodge. By then the lodge had voted a "resolution of esteem" for its founder, Salmon Winchester, who was unable to continue as Master.

A year later, after the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, the secession of several of the southern slave states, and the start of hostilities when the Confederate States of America fired on Fort Sumter in South Carolina, President Lincoln issued a call for 75,000 volunteers to enlist to defend the Union.

Salmon Winchester volunteered that first day and was commissioned a Captain in the 10th Regiment New York Volunteers. This regiment followed a trend of the times in wearing colorful, baggy uniforms patterned after north African soldiers, and were called Zouaves. The 10th became known as the "National Zouave" regiment, and this was considered a great honor. This regiment fought at some of the most famous and bloody battles of the Civil War, including the "Seven Days Battles" around Richmond, Antietam -- still the bloodiest single day in all of American history, and Fredericksburg.

There is something else interesting about the 10th New York, or National Zouave Regiment. It was one of the few in the army that had a significant number of Freemasons among its soldiers, who very much wanted to practice Masonry during their service in the war and were permitted to do that.

In May 1861, a month after the war began, while the 10th New York was stationed in Sandy Hook, New Jersey, a number of Masons who were serving in this unit formed a committee to seek permission to form a military lodge. They went to New York City and met with the Grand Master of New York, but did not obtain his consent.

Then, Bro Hermann Cantor told the group that if he could go to the city he could "bring such influence to bear" that he would be successful in obtaining permission to form the desired lodge. He obtained a furlough and went to the Deputy Grand Master of New York, John W. Simons, and presented a petition from 12 Masons to form a new lodge. The petition stated that they had "the prosperity of the fraternity at heart," and were "willing to exert their best endeavors to promote and diffuse the genuine principles of Masonry." They desired to form a new lodge in the camp of the 10th Regiment New York State Volunteers, to be named "National Zouave Lodge." They listed those nominated and recommended to be their leaders, and the proposed first Master of the lodge was Salmon Winchester -- the same Mason who had been the first Master of Zeredatha Lodge in Brooklyn just two years earlier.

Bro Cantor obtained approval for this petition, on the condition that he personally would fully report on all proceedings of the new military lodge and would prevent any illegal action. The lodge's Dispensation was granted by Most Wor Finlay M. King, to continue from June 1, 1861 to May 25, 1862. (It was later extended to May 25, 1863.)

The Brethren of National Zouave Lodge U.D. (Under Dispensation) constructed their lodge equipment so it could be easily transported in a small space and carried with the regiment. Their first meeting was held in a tent at Camp Hamilton in Virginia, and later meetings at Fort Monroe, a large strategic fort near Hampton, Virginia, which was held by Union forces throughout the Civil War. These meetings were held in casemates, or apartments within the fort that were constructed to hold cannons, gunpowder, or other military equipment, and where, ironically, Confederate President Jefferson Davis was imprisoned for two years after the war.

According to reports by a historian of this lodge, meetings of National Zouave Lodge, U.D., were attended by Masons from all Union regiments stationed in the vicinity, plus some Confederate prisoners of war. They:

"were invested with a charm that has fixed its impress in the memory of every brother who was so fortunate as to attend them. The contracted casemates were often so thronged with visitors that it was almost impossible to proceed with the work of the ritual. Here all passion was laid aside, and with us frequently met the gray-clad soldier from the South, a prisoner within our military lines, but a brother within our masonic limits. Within our crowded walls the private soldier and the general officer met on the level of equality, to part when the Lodge was closed on the square of discipline. Here the beautiful tenets of our institution tempered the rough and rugged life of the soldier, stimulated his patriotism, and nerved his heart for the dangers and trials in the path before him."

This lodge conferred the three Craft degrees on 32 new Masons during its short time at Fort Monroe. Also, when a fire occurred near the Fort, members of the 10th New York Regiment saved the regalia and working tools of the local lodge and delivered them to their commander, General and Brother Benjamin F. Butler, who sent them under a flag of truce to be forwarded to the Grand Lodge of Virginia.

Despite this brotherly action, when National Zouave Lodge, U.D., moved and applied to a lodge in Norfolk, Virginia, for permission to use its room for meetings, this request was denied on the ground that the Grand Lodge of Virginia had severed its connection with the Grand Lodge of New York. Still, these Brooklyn Masons continued to assist starving families in the area with money and surplus rations, while the Lodge met in a tent.

All this occurred under the leadership of Salmon Winchester, the first Master of National Zouave Lodge, U.D., as well as the first Master Zeredatha Lodge #483.

Of course, the purpose of the 10th New York Regiment was to fight in the battles of the Civil War, and that is what it did, thus ending the regular schedule of meetings of the Masonic lodge that was attached to it. This regiment was one of those included in the doomed assault at Fredericksburg, and by then Salmon Winchester had risen to command of the regiment. He was mortally wounded and died in Washington, D.C., three days later, on December 16, 1862.

What happened to Salmon Winchester's two lodges after his death?

National Zouave Lodge, U.D., did not attempt to hold any meetings after Salmon Winchester's death until May, 1863, when it returned to New York. Another lodge then assisted in raising the few Fellow Crafts in the military lodge who had not yet advanced, and while some considered continuing National Zouave Lodge, U.D., many of its members had died and others returned to active fighting. The Lodge's funds, books, papers, regalia, and a full report of its proceedings were transmitted to the Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of New York for preservation. In the words of its historian, "Thus ended the existence of National Zouave Lodge, U.D., an organization most remarkable and unique."

Salmon Winchester's other lodge, Zeredatha Lodge #483, had a very different future.

On December 23, 1862, Zeredatha Lodge held a Special Communication in its lodge room in Brooklyn, to pay its last tribute to Salmon Winchester. The Lodge formed a procession to Winchester's house, and after receiving the body, proceeded to Greenwood Cemetery, where they assisted in the burial of their first Master.

Zeredatha Lodge #483 has continued to exist for the 138 years since then, at times with over 600 members, and continues to meet every month in Brooklyn to this day, keeping alive the spirit of its first Master, Salmon Winchester. The author of this article, an affiliated member of Zeredatha Lodge, is proud to be a founder and Past Master of the Civil War Lodge of Research #1865, and is even more proud to have on his wall a plaque issued by Zeredatha Lodge #483 in 1947 to one of its members, my late father, Bro Martin Bessel,

"who in the Great World War II for Human Rights and Liberty served in the Armed Forces of his county, that mankind might be free and the principles of Freemasonry prevail."

 

 

Bibliography

Ludwig, Charles H, "National Zouave Lodge, U.D., F.& A.M.," in Services of the Tenth New York Volunteers (National Zouaves) in the War of the Rebellion, by Charles W. Cowtan, published in 1882 in New York.

Roberts, Allen E., House Undivided: The Story of Freemasonry and the Civil War, published in 1961 by Macoy Publishing and Masonic Supply Company, Richmond, Virginia.


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