Preserving flags is no small undertaking. A wool bunting flag can cost several thousand dollars. A silk flag, $20,000. States and museums rarely have that kind of money lying around, so it is up to individuals and groups to raise the funds to have the flags sent to conservators for preservation. When it comes to silk flags, time is of the essence.
Friends in the McDowell Men, Camp 379, Sons of Confederate Veterans, have taken it upon themselves to raise the funds to preserve the flag of Company E, 1st North Carolina Volunteers, the Buncombe Riflemen.
The Buncombe Riflemen were organized on December 20, 1859, in Asheville, North Carolina. Locals were afraid that other fanatics, like John Brown, would follow in his footsteps, raiding government property, kidnapping local citizens, and inciting civil insurrection. Later, the name of the private militia company was changed to the Buncombe Rifles. With hostilities looming between the North and South, the Buncombe Rifles were ordered to Raleigh in April 1861. The flag above was reportedly made by Miss Anna and Sallie Woodfin; Miss Fannie and Mary Patton; Miss Mary Gaines, and Miss Kate Smith. The flag was made from silk dresses belonging to the young ladies, and was presented to the company by Anna Woodfin. Capt. William McDowell accepted the flag on behalf of the company.
The Buncombe Rifles became Company E, 1st North Carolina Volunteers, on May 13, 1861. It is believed that Company E became the color company of the regiment, and that this flag flew over them as they fought the Federals at the battle of Big Bethel, Virginia, in June 1861. That distinction would make this banner the first flag to see land combat operations during the war. Later, the General Assembly authorized the regiment to inscribe the word "Bethel" on the flag. The first North Carolina Volunteers was mustered out of Confederate service on November 12, 1861. The flag now resides at the North Carolina Museum of History.
|Charge of the 5th NY at Big Bethel. Note flag at upper left.|
Due to the fragile nature of silk flags, if steps are not taken soon to stabilize and conserve this banner, it will be lost to history for good. Please visit Camp 379's website for more information, including how to donate to help preserve the flag of the Buncombe Riflemen.