If you’re a Freemason, then you probably know the name Albert Pike.
Pike was Grand Commander of the Scottish Rite Supreme Council from 1859 until his death in 1891.
The Scottish Rite “House of the Temple,” located in Washington D.C. includes an “Albert Pike Museum.” Here is a description of the exhibit from their website:
“The Albert Pike Collection features Pike’s personal Library. The collection contains, in addition to his personal memorabilia, a model of the monument erected in his memory, the original of which is located at Third Street and Indiana Avenue, Northwest, in Washington, D.C., near the U.S. Department of Labor building. This is the only statue in the District of Columbia honoring a Confederate General. Also included in the Pike Room’s displays are first editions and holograph copies of many of Pike’s works; his original desk, lamp, clock, and chair; many Personal items including Masonic regalia, a representative sampling of his large collection of pipes, and a plaster-cast death mask.”
His personal Library…
That is topic of today’s blog for it seems there is a connection between Albert Pike, his Library, and an officer who fought at Jenkins’ Ferry.
Colonel Thomas Benton Jr. commanded the 29th Iowa Infantry during the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry. Benton, a Freemason from Iowa agonized over the impending Civil War. On June 4, 1861, Benton addressed his Grand Lodge and spoke of the coming crisis:
“[Freemasons] have labored, though feebly and ineffectually, to avert the awful crisis. It has been my good fortune to press the fraternal hand in various parts of our country, from New England to Texas, and from the Atlantic to the Missouri. This consideration alone were sufficient to enlist my undivided energies in word and deed to perpetuate the friendly relations once so common among us as a people.”
Shortly afterward, Benton enlisted in the Union Army, becoming commander of what would be the 29th Iowa. In September of 1863, the Union Armies Seventh Corps, under command of General Frederick Steele, captured Little Rock.
Born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1809, Pike moved to Arkansas in 1833 where he practiced law and newspaperman. During the Civil War, Pike served as a Brigadier General in the Confederacy, commanding several Native-American regiments. By the Civil War, Albert Pike was a well known Freemason who’s home in Little Rock contained one of the most extensive Masonic libraries in existence at the time. Once Little Rock was captured by the Federals, there was a concern that, being a Confederate General, Pike’s home might be burned by some over zealous Union sympathizers. To that end, history records that a fellow Freemason, Colonel Thomas Benton, sought to protect Pike’s home and it’s Library – the same Library now housed in the Scottish Rite Temple in Washington D.C.
The story is not without controversy. This is best illustrated by an article that appeared in “The Master Mason” publication in May of 1925:
ALBERT PIKE’S MASONIC LIBRARY A Civil War Incident
By Bro. JOSEPH FORT NEWTON
IN AN ADDRESS entitled “Albert Pike, the Mason,” delivered before Iowa Consistory, No. 2, celebrating the centennial of his birth, in December, 1909, I made the following statement, in reference to an incident during the Civil War: “When the Union Army attacked Little Rock, the commanding general, Thomas H. Benton, Grand Master of Masons in Iowa, posted a guard to protect the home of Pike and his Masonic library.” The statement has been called in question a number of times, most recently by Brother Charles E. Rosenbaum, Lieutenant Grand Commander of the Scottish Rite, in the following letter:
My DEAR BROTHER NEWTON:
I have repeatedly seen in print sketches of the Life of General Albert Pike that have been credited to you. In each one of these occurs the statement on the printed sheet, which I enclose. I have underscored that part of it that I would very much like confirmed by you if you can give me any authority for the statement therein contained. Several times I have intended writing you on this subject to ask you the source of your information, but other and more important things intervened, and I deferred doing so.
The truth about the matter as I understand it is that the only Thomas H. Benton that we know anything about of national reputation was a Senator from the State of Missouri during the Civil War period. The general who took possession of Little Rock and its vicinity for the Federal Army was General Steele. These are undoubted facts. So far as the surrounding of General Pike’s home with soldiers to protect his library is concerned, that all reads very well, but it is likely as near the truth as Senator Thomas H. Benton being Grand Master of Iowa at the time and general in command of the Federal Forces in Little Rock.
Of course I realize that I am treading on dangerous ground to ask one as noted as yourself for information on a subject on which, no doubt, you are much better informed that I am, but if my information is wrong I certainly want the facts straight.
Thanking you in advance for any consideration you will give the subject, I remain
Sincerely and fraternally yours,
NATURALLY one does not keep in mind the authority – chapter and verse – for a statement made sixteen years ago. I referred the matter to the Library of the Grand Lodge of Iowa, where I first read it. The Grand Secretary, Brother C. C. Hunt, has been good enough to furnish the following brief of the facts, giving the reference where they may be found in the Proceedings of the Supreme Council:
In regard to Brother Rosenbaum’s letter questioning your statement regarding Thomas H. Benton, Grand Master of Masons in Iowa posting a guard to protect the home of Pike and his library, I would refer you to page 127, Proceedings of the Supreme Council of the Southern Jurisdiction for October 25, 1895. On that date the Supreme Council went in a body to Oak Hill Cemetery, Georgetown, District of Columbia, to hold appropriate services over the grave of Albert Pike. T.S. Parvin gave the memorial address and in reference to a remark of the Library of the Supreme Council there is printed the following:
“It is due to history and to the memory of a dear friend and Brother that an incident, of no little importance, touching our great Library, the gift to the Supreme Council of General Pike, be placed upon our records, that honor may be given to whom honor is due.
“I had the facts, first by letter, and then, upon his ‘return from the war,’ from the lips of Colonel Thomas Hart Benton, Jr., at the time Grand Master of Masons in Iowa (my superior officer). Thomas H. Benton, Jr. (“nephew of his uncle” of that name), ex-State Senator, Superintendent of Public Instruction, and Grand Master 1860-’63, entered the Union Army as Colonel of the 29th Iowa Infantry and was later promoted to the rank of brevet brigadier-general, and in command of a division encamped for a time at Little Rock, Arkansas.
“It was at this period, when the passions of the Union soldiers were aroused against General Pike, who was at the head of the Indians in the Confederate (Rebel, as they said) Army, that the soldiers of his division determined to burn the house and everything, including the valuable library of General Pike, wherever found. The Grand Master, Colonel Benton, hearing of this, rushed to its rescue, and to guard against, any further attempt at its destruction, made the General’s house his headquarters and placed a guard over his library.
“But for this noble deed of Iowa’s Grand Master, my bosom friend for half a century, this Supreme Council would today be without, instead of possessing, one of the most rare and valuable libraries in the land.
“General Benton was too modest to publish this, save to his intimate friends. Of him we may say, in General Pike’s own words, “He has lived – the fruits of his labors live after him;” and you, my Brothers, are enjoying them, as it was this service that made it possible for General Pike in later years to place his library in our House of the Temple and dispose of it, as he did, for his honor and our good.”
There is, however, one mistake in the statement, which Brother Rosenbaum criticizes, and that is in calling Thomas H. Benton the commanding general. At that time our Thomas H. Benton was a colonel, commanding the second brigade of a the third division, under General Steele. (See page 471, part 1, Volume 29, Series 1 of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies.) Also, the Thomas H. Benton referred to as colonel at the time the Federal troops took possession at Little Rock, was at that time Grand Master of Iowa and was serving his second year. He was in the army at the time of the Grand Lodge communication in 1863 and his deputy acted for him in presiding over the Grand Lodge.
Thomas H. Benton was a nephew of the Senator Thomas H. Benton, to whom Brother Rosenbaum refers.
Every Grand President and President throughout the universe is bound to summon and convene his Knot on the 17th of March in each year, that being the anniversary festival of St. Patrick, the patron of the Order, except it fall on a Sunday, in which case the meeting shall be convened for the following day.
No Friendly Brother may quarrel with or affront another Brother. If, however, through the frailty of human nature a member of the Order shall so far forget the love he owes his Brother and the obedience due to the statutes as to proceed to anger with him and to disturb the peace and tranquillity of the Order, he is not to decide his own quarrel according to the laws of pretended honour by the barbarous practice of duelling, but with due obedience he must submit his differences to the decision of the Knot who will cause the offender to make sufficient and honourable payment for his error. Any great breach of the known rules of friendship to a Brother or general disrespect for the rules of the Order will be punished with perpetual discontinuance and no person so totally discontinued may ever again be admitted to the Order.
The Friendly Brothers profess themselves to be lovers of all mankind, and are therefore to endeavour by their advice and example to promote and encourage among men the practice of all the social virtues.
Although there was no settled system of relief it was readily and handsomely accorded to any Brother who might be in distress and want.
Colonel Benton is buried today in a simple grave in Marshalltown, Iowa devoid of any masonic symbols often found on Freemason’s tombs. Albert Pike on the other hand lies today among the splendor of the Scottish Rite Temple in Washington D.C.
It’s not known if either of their paths ever crossed or if Albert Pike even knew of Colonel Benton’s efforts to preserve his home and library. But his magnificent Library survives today, and perhaps we can thank a Colonel at the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry for that.
Albert Pike Home – Little Rock, Arkansas
Colonel Thomas Hart Benton Jr.
Albert Pike Tomb – Washington D.C.
Colonel Thomas Benton Jr. Tomb – Marshalltown, Iowa