Thursday, June 14, 2018

Carrying Jackson's Flag


A few weeks ago, I wrote a post asking about who carried Robert E. Lee's headquarters' flag during the war. The short answer was "whoever was assigned to Lee's courier group for a given day of campaign."

In the discussion that followed, it was suggested that headquarters' flags were not carried on the field, but used to mark the various camps of the army's top brass. In the earlier post, I included a story of Jackson's headquarters flag being used during the Seven Days campaign. Here is the previous story:

 In 1931, J. Churchill Cooke, 4th Virginia Cavalry, left us this reminiscence: "My company, the Hanover Troop, was an old organization in existence many years before the war... The company was composed of men from all parts of the county, many of them from that part of the county where several battles were fought. Before Jackson reached Mechanicsville, all of the men of my company were assigned to different generals as guides, scouts, and couriers. The captain of my company rode up to me with a flag and said: "Sergeant, as you are from the upper part of the county and don't know this part, I can't assign you to any of the generals, but here is Jackson's headquarters flag, which I shall give you to carry.' I took the flag and said I hoped I would not disgrace it. I reported to General Jackson as his flag bearer. He sent me word not to stay very close to him, only keep him in sight, which instructions I tried to comply with. I was with Jackson and in sight of him during the Seven Days." (Confederate Veteran Vol. 38, 248)

Recently, as I was reading Blackford's Letters from Lee's Army, I came across another story. This one dates to the time after the battle of Cedar Mountain, probably at the beginning of the Second Manassas battle. Blackford was serving as a courier and was attached to Jackson's staff. Blackford writes: "While moving on the crest of the hill a solid shot from the enemy's battery passed through the horse of my sergeant Bob Isbell, who was carrying General Jackson's battle flag, the same flag he had waved at Slaughter Mountain. The horse fell over perfectly dead; it was between me and the General, its head lapping on the General's horse and its rump on mine..." (117) 


Jackson is With You by Don Troiani 

To backtrack just a little, at Cedar Mountain, Jackson was trying to rally his broken left. In the midst of the battle, he seized the colors of a nearby regiment (possibly the 21st Virginia), and cried "Jackson is with you!" A couple of thoughts: where were Jackson's flag and flag bearer during the time? Is the flag the one that Bob Isbell is carrying? On the other hand, Jackson probably grabbed the regimental flag, trying to rally that particular regiment.

Given the date, I assume Bob Isbell (Robert B. Isbell, Co. B, 2nd Virginia Cavalry) is carrying a First National Flag. I would surely like to know where that flag is...

Monday, June 04, 2018

Reading about the ANV Cavalry


Since taking on the 39th Battalion Virginia Cavalry project, I decided that I needed to immerse myself in the history of the cavalry in the Army of Northern Virginia. So for the past seven or eight weeks, all I have read has been tied to that fabled group of cavaliers. My exposure in the past has been limited to Burke Davis's JEB Stuart: The Last Cavalier, which I read when I was young, Fighting for General Lee: Confederate General Rufus Barringer and the North Carolina Cavalry Brigade, Thomas' Wade Hampton's Iron Scouts, and whatever I picked up while reading Freeman's Lee's Lieutenants, Glatthaar's General Lee's Army, or the numerous books on various battles fought in Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.

Looking through the bibliography of Longacre's Lee's Cavalrymen: A History of the Mounted Forces of the Army of Northern Virginia, it is quite clear that there are quite a few accounts written by the cavalrymen themselves. Those accounts are always the most important. I enjoy hearing from the soldiers themselves. Blackford's Letters from Lee's Army is a fantastic account from a member of the 2nd Virginia Cavalry. About half way through the war, Blackford transferred to staff duties under Longstreet, so his accounts on cavalry operations are limited (But an interesting book none the less).

On my too-read list are Myers' The Comanches: A History of White's Battalion, Virginia Cavalry; McDonald's A History of the Laurel Brigade; Keen-Mewborn's 43rd Battalion Virginia Cavalry; French's Phantoms of the South Fork: Captain McNeill and His Rangers; Trout's with Pen and Saber: The Letters and Diaries of JEB Stuart's Staff Officers; and maybe Werts' Cavalryman of the Lost Cause. As you can see, there is a mixture of old and new titles in this list. I'm sure I'll probably add a title or two before it is all over. 

So, what are some of your favorite books on the mounted arm in the Army of Northern Virginia?

Friday, May 25, 2018

Who carried Robert E. Lee's flag?


 Earlier this week, I asked this question on my facebook page: who carried Robert E. Lee's headquarters flag? The short answer would be, after November 1862, it was a member of Company C, 39th Battalion Virginia Cavalry. So far, the name of the soldier(s) eludes me and my efforts to discover it.

This however, leads to a larger question about Confederate generals and their headquarters flags. Did all Confederate generals have one? How many survive? Were they uniform or did the style vary from general to general?

Robert E Lee's first HQ flag 
The surviving headquarters flag of Robert E. Lee is probably the most famous. According to the research of the former Museum of the Confederacy (now the American Civil War Center), this flag was used by Lee from 1862  to 1863. It is unknown when he acquired this flag (believed to have been made by his wife), but we can assume it was after June 1862 when he was tapped to replace the wounded Joseph E. Johnston. He used this flag through the battle of Gettysburg. Sometime in late 1863 or early 1864, Lee replaced this headquarters flag with a Second National. At the end of the war, the Second National was cut up, instead of being surrendered. As an interesting aside, Lee's first headquarters flag was boxed up in the final days of the war and sent to Charlotte with other papers. It was found by a Government official and removed before the other papers and flags were turned over to the Federals.

Looking beyond R. E. Lee, there are the famous silk ANV-pattern flags made by the Cary sisters of Baltimore, Maryland, and presented to generals Joseph E. Johnston, Earl Van Dorn, and PGT Beauregard in the fall of 1861. Other Confederate generals who used traditional ANV battle flags as headquarters flags include Edmund Kirby Smith, Arnold Elzey, Fitzhugh Lee, and Joseph B. Kershaw. James H. Lane makes mention of surrendering his headquarters flag at Appomattox, but just what this flag looked like is unknown. The North Carolina Museum of History has the battle flag-style headquarters flags of Rufus Barringer and Bryan Grimes.
Robert F. Hoke's HQ flag

Several Confederate generals adopted Second Nationals after its adoption in May 1863. Robert E. Lee's Second National has already been mentioned, and several pieces of the flag reside at the American Civil War Museum. The Museum also has the Second National headquarters flags of JEB Stuart, Simon B. Buckner, and Jubal Early. A Second National Confederate flag, possibly the first one ever made, was draped over the casket of Stonewall Jackson following his death on May 10, 1863. The North Carolina Museum of History has Robert F. Hoke's Second National
Daniel H. Maury's HQ flag

There were variants, of course (we are talking about Confederates, right?). Samuel French supposedly used a captured V Corps Headquarters flag for his own headquarters. William L. Jackson used a variant of a Second National.  Lawrence O. Branch used a First National. Dabney H. Maury had a flag with a white border, red field, white Christian cross, and stars.

Lawrence O. Branch's HQ flag. 
Back to my original question: was there someone on staff whose job it was to carry the headquarters' flag? Maybe, but probably not.  In 1931, J. Churchill Cooke, 4th Virginia Cavalry, left us this reminiscence: "My company, the Hanover Troop, was an old organization in existence many years before the war... The company was composed of men from all parts of the county, many of them from that part of the county where several battles were fought. Before Jackson reached Mechanicsville, all of the men of my company were assigned to different generals as guides, scouts, and couriers. The captain of my company rode up to me with a flag and said: "Sergeant, as you are from the upper part of the county and don't know this part, I can't assign you to any of the generals, but here is Jackson's headquarters flag, which I shall give you to carry.' I took the flag and said I hoped I would not disgrace it. I reported to General Jackson as his flag bearer. He sent me word not to stay very close to him, only keep him in sight, which instructions I tried to comply with. I was with Jackson and in sight of him during the Seven Days." (Confederate Veteran Vol. 38, 248)

Company C, 39th Battalion Virginia Cavalry was assigned to Lee as his personal company of scouts, guides, and couriers. However, it appears that portions of the company rotated in and out every day. A detail of men would report for duty. It is my belief that if Lee needed to go someplace with his headquarters flag, a member of the day's detail was assigned to bear it. It would be feasible to say every member of the company might have carried one of those flags during the war.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Captured Federal flags apart of materials surrendered in Charlotte


   A couple of weeks ago, I wrote on the captured CS papers in Charlotte at the end of the war. You can catch that article here. What was captured, and what was lost, is a topic that occupies my mind from time to time. I kind of side with Joe Johnston - more of this should have been preserved for history! Johnston wrote to Maj. Gen. John Schofield on May 8, 1865: "It has just been reported to me that the archives of the War Department of the Confederate States are here. As they will furnish valuable materials for history, I am anxious for their preservation, and doubt not that you are too. For that object I am ready to deliver them to the officer you may direct to receive them." (OR 47, 3:443)
   In that lot of 81 or 83 boxes (different accounts) are "5 boxes, marked captured flags." (OR 47, 3: 534) Of course, we don't know the size of these boxes. There were boxes "of various sizes, from an ammunition box to a large clothing chest... They were also of all shapes. Some of them are rifle boxes, and many of them resemble the ordinary army mess chest." (OR 47, 3:497).
   If a Confederate soldier captured a flag in battle, then it was usually sent further up the chain of command, and eventually forwarded to Richmond and the War Department. An interesting article appeared in the Richmond Enquirer in November 6, 1863 (possibly from the Atlanta Appeal). The article stated that "Lieut. Hugh Farley, of General Kershaw's staff, who, for his gallantry in the battle of Chickamauga, was detached, with four other kindred spirits from various divisions of the army, to carry the twenty-five captured flags to Richmond, has returned. But he gave an account of the mission which ought to put to blush every man connected with the department to which the embassy was sent.- He states that on arriving at the capital, the flags were taken, tumbled into a wagon driven by a negro to headquarters, and there, without ceremony--without even a recognition of the grave men who had borne them from the field-they were turned over to the clerks of the War Department like so many pieces of flannel." The rest of the article goes on to lambast the "well fed" clerks and government officials in Richmond. (November 6, 1863.)
   A delegation accompanying the flags appears to have been the standard operating procedure, at least through 1863. An order from Ewell, issued on June 15, 1863, stated that, "The garrison flag, captured by Maj. General Early's division, will be sent to Richmond by a detail to be made by Maj. Gen. Early." (Richmond Dispatch July 1. 1863). I presume this was a flag captured in Winchester.
    An interesting article from the Desert News (Salt Lake City), but probably cobbled together from another newspaper, stated that the "rebels claimed that they had 239 of our flags." (March 15, 1865.) One little piece came from the Wilmington Herald, May 22, 1865. The article was discussing the captured boxes that had recently passed through Raleigh. In the lots were "four boxes marked captured flags'-two of them 1863. These contain the battle flags captured from regiments in the Union army, and their recovery will undoubtedly be an immense satisfaction to those interested. The battle flags lost by the national forces at Chickamauga and the few lost during the Gettysburg campaign are among the most prominent." (May 22, 1865) There might be a list somewhere of these captured flags.
Flag of 17th Michigan captured by 37th NC 
   One of the flags I believe in the lot turned over to US forces in Charlotte belonged to the 17th Michigan Infantry. It was captured on May 12, 1864, at Spotsylvania Court House by Lt. James M. Grimsley, 37th North Carolina. Billy Mahone tried to claim that this flag was captured by one his men, and not by a member of Lane's brigade. According to sworn statements, Lieut. Grimsley, with twenty or thirty of his regiment, met with a yankee color Sergeant and some half dozen other yankees; that Lieut. G. demanded their surrender to which the Sergeant replied, "certainly Lieutenant, but as I have carried the colors so long, please let me carry them to the rear;' that Lieut. G[rimsley] consented, directing some of his men to take charge of them and keep a sharp lookout upon them. Corporal Plummer in addition, and just here, testified that at that time the yankee Sergeant took off the oil cloth cover which belonged to the flag, and which he had tied around his waist, and also the staff pouch now used in the 37th N. C. T. and gave them to him.... Grimsley with his men conducted the party to the rear with the colors. Just before getting to the edge of the woods, Lieut. Grimsley probably desirous of carrying  his capture himself into the lines, told the Sergeant to hand the flag over to him, which he did." (Our Living and Our Dead January 21, 1874)
   C. S. Venable, Lee's A. D. C., signed a note on May 13, 1864, acknowledging the captured flags had arrived at headquarters.
      The 17th Michigan's flag was presumably sent to Richmond, and when the Confederate capital was abandoned, boxed up and sent via rail to Charlotte, where it was turned over to Federal forces in early May 1865. From there, it was sent to Washington, D. C., with the other boxes from the War Department.
   A couple of weeks ago, I was talking (emailing) with Mat VanAcker about the flag of the 17th Michigan. He works with the Save the Flags program at the Michigan State Capital. I believe that the flag of the 17th Michigan was issued not long after the regiment was mustered into service in 1862. There are battle honors painted on the flag, including Antietam, Vicksburg, and East Tennessee. Mr. VanAcker cannot quite confirm when the flag was turned back over to the state of Michigan, but it was possibly on July 4, 1866, when the veterans of other Michigan regiments presented their flags brought home to the state at a ceremony in Detroit. However, it appears that veterans of the 17th Michigan worked quickly. Usually, it took years and copious amounts of paperwork for veterans to retrieve those flags captured during the war. (Would this not be a treasure trove to find?)  Thanks to the conflict between Mahone and Lane regarding the capture of this flag, we know more about its journey on May 12, 1864. It would be an interesting story to find out more about its capture from the Federal side.
   Those four or five boxes of captured US flags, turned over to Federal forces in May 1865,  make up just one more little part of the war on a much grander scale.

Friday, May 04, 2018

A Refugee Crisis




When we think of refugees during the War years, Vicksburg always comes to mind. Residents in the besieged city were forced out of their homes, living in caves dug into the hillsides about the river town. The often told stories include civilians who lived on rats, dogs, cats, birds and mules, just trying to survive.

Yet the stories of refugees is far greater that just those told about the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River in Vicksburg. The War produced hundreds of thousands of refugees across the South (an estimated 200,000 in Virginia alone). The could be found coming from small towns, like Winston, North Carolina, the first town burned by Federal troops (February 1862). Larger locations, like Atlanta and Columbia, were put to the torch, while other areas were shelled so extensively there civilian populations chose to flee. Charleston and Petersburg come to mind.
There were of course, the more famous Southern refugees, like Mary Chesnut, Varina Davis, and the family of Leonidas Polk. Refugees were not confined to women either: North Carolina governor Zebulon Baird Vance became a refugee at war's end. He fled to Statesville, living not far from the Confederate Senator from Tennessee, Landon Carter Haynes, who became a refugee much earlier.

The war touching places was not confined to these larger districts: it came to the rural areas as well. Arizona Houston recalled that when Kirk's raiders passed through the North Toe River Valley area of present-day Avery County, North Carolina, her mother was forced to relocate to her parents house after losing everything they owned. Col. John B. Palmer's (58th NC) home, and possible another residents, were burned during the same raid. The raiders took everything they had. In neighboring Yancey County, the home of Melchizedek Chandler was robbed and his wife threatened with hanging. When Chandler returned, he abandoned his home and moved closer to the relative safety of Burnsville. One county further west, in the Laurel community of Madison County, came the story of Confederate soldiers forcing some families into one single home, and then torching the others.
Technically, unless the former owners agreed to keep their former slaves on as hired hands at the end of the war, 3.6 million slaves became refugees, with no place to go, no house to live, no jobs, and with very limited (marketable) skills. There were Unionist displaced as well, like the families of Andrew Johnson, Horace Maynard, and William G. Brownlow. They were escorted from the Confederate controlled East Tennessee and sent packing up north.

What got me to thinking along these lines was a recent reading of Letters from Lee's Army, by Susan Leigh Blackford and Charles Minor Blackford. Blackford commanded a cavalry company early in the war, and then served as an assistant judge advocate on Longstreet's staff. While these letters are very edited (much like Mary Chesnut's Diary), they contain some fantastic description of life during the war. On July 11, 1864, Blackford writes from Petersburg:

We are camped just outside of town... The whole country around here is filled with refugees from Petersburg in any kind of shelter, many in tents. Mr. Watkins is about a mile from here in a barn. His party consists of his wife and himself, Mrs. Hall, Miss Cary and all the children. They sleep on the barn floor.... Every yard for miles around here is filled with tents and little shelters made of pine boards, in which whole families are packed; many of these people [are] of some means and all of great respectability. There must be great suffering." (266)

Yael Sternhell argues that the massive amount of refugees the war created remade the South's social landscape. The War "challenged the laws and customs that governed movement in the antebellum years and subverted structures of power that determined which Southerners had the right to move at will and which did not." (Routes of War, 7) I would argue that scarcely any family in the South was not affected by the refugee crisis the war produced. They knew of people displaced by the war, took in people displaced by the war, or became refugees themselves. Those people that Blackford encounter living in tents, barns, and shanties outside of peoples in June 1864 were just a fraction of those dislodged during the 1860s.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Longstreet in western North Carolina


In late fall of 1863, Longstreet moved his command toward Knoxville, attempting to drive Federal forces out of the city and to restore the rail link to Virginia. The high water mark of the campaign was the failed Confederate attempt to take Fort Sanders on November 29, 1863. Following the battle of Beans Station (December 4), Longstreet's men went into winter quarters in and around Rogersville and Morristown.

Longstreet's men complained mightily about their poor provisions that winter. A private in the Fifteenth Alabama recalled that: "The winter of '63-64 at Morristown, Tenn., was peculiarly hard. We had no huts, rations were scant and poor, as were blankets, clothing and shoes. We did not get a mail for three months. Plug tobacco could not be had..."  Some supplies were brought via rail to Bristol, or, when the railroad was in repair, a little further south.

James Longstreet
Longstreet also sent out foraging parties to scour the area for food and forage. While many of their scouts were confined to East Tennessee, it seems that on a few occasions, Longstreet's men ventured into western North Carolina. Wilkes County's Calvin Cowles wrote Governor Vance on April 4, 1864, that Longstreet's men had "come down through McDowell, Burke & Caldwell [Counties] & have nearly consumed all the grain they could pick up... What are poor day laborers to do for bread when every crib in the land is depleted to the lowest possible standard... I see a dark day ahead for the poor sons of toil and in fact for us all unless some unforseen good luck should happen." (UNC-Chapel Hill)  A local Caldwell County historian wrote after the war that the Ninth Georgia Battalion was encamped next to the mill in the Patterson Community of Caldwell County. (Hickerson, Echoes of Happy Valley, 101)

James H. Greenlee, a McDowell County resident, noted the arrival of Longstreet's men in February 1864. He noted on February 23 that seventy or eighty "soldiers from Longstreets army here hunting up cattle[.]" The next day, they were still around, "washing there cloths and mending their shoes." On March 20, Greenlee wrote that there were "48 wagons from the army" getting their feed. (UNC-CHapel Hill) Governor Vance complained in a letter to Secretary of War James Seddon on March 21, 1864, about elements of Jenkins's cavalry in "about twenty counties" impressing food and forage. "I complain," Vance wrote, "that a large body of broken-down cavalry horses are in North Carolina, eating up the substance of the people in a region desolated by drought and reduced to the verge of starvation..." Seddon wrote Vance back on March 26: "I regret to learn from your letter of the 21st--inst. of the necessity for the impressments of corn in Burke County, N.C., to sustain the Artillery horses of Genl. Longstreet's command..." (North Carolina Civil War Documentary, 199-203) Longstreet's command pulled out of east Tennessee toward the end of April, and presumably took his foragers with him.

It would be great to know more about the activities of Longstreet's men in western North Carolina. Did they come down the French Broad River route, and into Asheville, and then scout east? Or, how about the route over Roan Mountain, into the North Toe River Valley, and then into Caldwell, McDowell, and Burke Counties? Maybe if we could find those fifty letters that local citizens wrote to Vance, complaining of the recent Confederate arrivals, we could learn more about the visit of these soldiers in western North Carolina.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Meeting General Lee


Someone emailed me years ago, looking for a day-by-day account of a specific Confederate ancestor. This correspondent, I imagine, had no idea how far-fetched that request actually was.  Unless your ancestor kept a diary, you might be lucky to have a one-or-every-two-month glimpse into his personal life. And even then, those muster roll sheets don't tell us much about the day-to-day lives of these men.

R. E. Lee
Recently, I was reading Timothy H. Smith's The Story of Lee's Headquarters (1995) and found a brief mention of Brig. Gen. James H. Lane. While the account is very short, it adds a little to the personal story of Lane at Gettysburg. Lane, following the death of Brig. Gen. Lawrence Branch, was promoted to brigadier general and assumed command of the Branch's old brigade. But how many times did Lane and Lee interact during the war? Technically, Lane reported to his division commander (A. P. Hill, then William D. Pender, and finally Cadmus Wilcox). There are only three documented encounters between Lane and his corps commander, Stonewall Jackson - twice during the tearing up of the railroad in October 1862, and then in the dark woods the evening Jackson was mortally wounded by Lane's men. Of course, these men saw each other more frequently. But those encounters seem to have been lost to history.

While working on General Lee's Immortals, I came across a letter by Lane to the editor of the Richmond Times. Lane really just repeats what wrote in his official report, but does add an interesting little tidbit: on July 3, Lane writes, "Gen. Lee appeared in front of my line, reconnoitered the enemy's position, and, when he was about to leave, he remarked that, 'he needed more troops on the right, but he did not know where they were to come from.'" (The Indicator April 23, 1867) This is the second encounter between Lane and Lee.

James H. Lane
Surprisingly, mentions of encounters between Robert E. Lee and Jane H. Lane are few and far between. Lane wrote of dropping by Lee's office in Richmond in May 1862, as his regiment was being transferred from Kinston to Gordonsville, asking about better arms for the 28th North Carolina. They were obviously together on the afternoon of May 12, 1864, when Lee directed Lane to capture the Federal battery enfilading Confederate lines. Lane also records an encounter with Lee twice when Lane returned to the Army of Northern Virginia after his wounding. It was at this second encounter that Lee gave Lane some peaches sent to Lee by admirers. Lane shared the fruit with his own staff.

 
Then, in Smith's The Story of Lee's Headquarters, we find another encounter: Mrs. Thompson, who lived in the house we all know as Lee's Headquarters, "returned [from the Seminary] unmolested to the bullet-riddled and shell-ripped home, to find General Robert E. Lee, General A.P. Hill, General James Longstreet, General William Pendleton and General James Lane, along with" numerous staff officers." (84)  Wow! That puts Lane with the top brass of the Army of Northern Virginia (save General Ewell). Now, if this account was written about July 1, well, I might have some qualms about its authenticity. There were other brigades between Lane and the Thompson house headquarters. However, if it deals with the evening of July 2, or July 3, or July 4, then it could be true. Lane would have been in charge of the Light Division. I don't really know more about the account except that it appeared in print in 1968 in an account written by Eugene Sickles.

Lee's Headquarters
Robert E. Lee's circle of contacts was both large and small. He would have frequently been in contact with his own staff, his corps commanders, and certain members of their staff. A lowly brigadier general like James H. Lane never would have wandered over to army headquarters just to have a chat. It was against army protocol.

Would I have put the account of Lane being with Lee, Hill, and Longstreet in General Lee's Immortals? Maybe. But it would probably have been in the same place I found it... in a footnote.