Monday, January 29, 2018

The Most Recognizable Flags in the Confederacy?

18th NC flag, NC Museum of History 
Did the Branch-Lane brigade have the most recognizable flags in the Confederacy? Quite possibly. On the front cover of my new book is the "Branch pattern" flag of the 18th North Carolina Infantry. It is a standard 3rd pattern Army of Northern Virginia flag, with battle honors painted in a distinct white scalloped style. As far as I can tell, no other ANV infantry regiment ever had such a distinctive style flag. The flags of the 3rd, 13th and 15th South Carolina are similar, but not enough to attribute it to the same painter. The battle honors are not as bold.

Following the Seven Days battles, Brig. Gen. Lawrence O'Bryan Branch was authorized to have new battle flags inscribed with the regiments' battle honors. The quartermaster was responsible for furnishing flags to the brigade. The flags of the 7th, 33rd, and 37th regiments were authorized to be emblazoned "New Berne, Slash Church, Mechanicsville, Gaines Mill, Fraziers Farm, [and] Malvern Hill." The flags of the 18th and 28th regiments were embellished with "Slash Church, Mechanicsville, Gaines Mill, Fraziers Farm, [and] Malvern Hill."

37th NC flag, Museum of the Confederacy
When the flags of the regiment were issued to the brigade in December 1862, the battle honors had undergone some changes. Instead of "Slash Church," the flags now had Hanover. Gaines Mill was now Cold Harbor. Other honors were listed as well, including Cedar Run, Manassas, Manassas Junction, Ox Hill, Shaprsburg, and Harper's Ferry.

According to the compiled service records, the flags arrived in camp in early December 1862. Captain George S. Thompson, quartermaster for the 28th Regiment, signed for his regiment's flag on December 4, 1862. The statement reads "One Battle Flag with inscription." That's an important little fact. I would take it to mean that the flags arrived in camp, from Richmond, already painted with their battle honors. Obviously, there was some discussion from the time that Branch requested the flags, until when they were actually painted (after September 1862) with someone at the Quartermaster's Department.

28th NC flag, Museum of the Confederacy 
The brigade, now belonging to James H. Lane, carried these flags through the battles of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. The 18th NC lost its flag at Chancellorsville. Glen Dedmondt writes in his book, The Flags of Civil War North Carolina, that A. P. Hill's division was issued new flags in June 1863. The 7th NC obviously stuck their "Branch" flag back in a wagon. Their new flag was captured on July 3, on the slopes of Cemetery Ridge by a member of the 1st Delaware Infantry. The 28th North Carolina also lost a flag, but not the new one. Their Branch flag was captured on July 3. Dedmondt believes the 33rd NC carried its new flag through the Gettysburg campaign, until it was captured at the Wilderness on May 6, 1864.

33rd NC flag, Museum of the Confederacy
So the Branch pattern flag of the 18th was captured at Chancellorsville, and that of the 28th at Gettysburg. The 37th North Carolina's Branch flag was captured on April 2, 1865, as the Federals overran the breastworks below Petersburg. The 33rd North Carolina's Branch Pattern flag was supposedly in Battery Gregg as the fighting took place. It was captured at some point after April. So what became of the 7th's Branch pattern flag? The 7th NC had been ordered back to North Carolina in February 1865, to try and help round up deserters. Instead of surrendering their flag, the men cut it up, each taking a piece of it home with him. This seems to be a common practice with Army of Tennessee regiments.

Pieces of all three flags survive. A fragment of the 7th NC's Branch pattern flag is at the North Carolina Museum of History, along with the 18th NC's Branch pattern flag. The Branch pattern flags of the 28th, 33rd, and 37th Regiments are at the Museum of the Confederacy.

7th NC flag fragment, NC Museum of History 
Back to my original argument. I would say that the Branch pattern flags of the Branch-Lane brigade are the most distinctive depot-issued flags of the Army of Northern Virginia.

Thanks to Charlie Knight of the North Carolina Museum of History for help with this post. 


Sgt Buck said...

I enjoyed your blog post about these colors, and have a few thoughts to share with you. A friend of mine had a relative in this brigade (he's read your book on them, and we've both listened to your interview on Civil War Talk Radio about the book). A couple of years ago I began making a copy of one of these flags (the 33rd's) for my friend, and while doing so I gathered quite a lot of research on these flags from the brigade, but also on a number of other regiments in the Confederate army that used the same style, but are not as well known.

One brigade that was issued a similar pattern was McGowan's SC brigade (commanded at Gettysburg by Col. Perrin). Some very noted flag historians have come across evidence that the brigade was issued similar flags around the time of Chancellorsville if I remember correctly. Of those units (1st SC PACS, 1st SC Rifles, 12th, 13th, & 14th SC) it is very hard to find correct information on those colors...there are some reproductions by a few companies that do not make them correctly, but images of the originals are hard to come by. What is now believed to be this pattern issued to the 13th SC is at the MOC and can be seen here The painting is very faint, but it matches the pattern...and matches yet another brigade that was issued this style at the same time.

The third brigade to get issued this style was Kershaw's SC brigade...and in this case they were issued just after Chancellorsville (2nd, 3rd, 7th, 8th, 15th SC, & 3rd SC Battalion). Glenn Dedmondt writes a little about these flags in "The Flags of Civil War South Carolina." They are also hard to find, but some images exist, and Ive seen a couple in person. The flag of the 3rd SC is in the Relic Room in SC, as is the flag of the 8th SC. I'm not sure what became of the flag for the 7th SC offhand, and it was uncertain if the 3rd SC Battalion was issued one, but there is a mention of it in a first hand account quoted in the book "Shock Troops of the Confederacy." The flag believed to be this pattern for the 15th SC is at the MOC and can be seen here The final flag from this batch (that of the 2nd SC) has a much more complicated story. It was captured by members of my relative's brigade (1st brig, 1st div, 19th Corps) at Cedar Creek. The Col. who turned it over to the war dept. cut 25% of the flag off to keep as a souvenir. Years later, the War Dept loaned the flag to the same Col. who cut the rest of it up and gave it to friends. On the 1905 list of colors returned it was listed as missing. One fragment (about 25% of the flag) was auctioned a few years ago, and has evidence of the same style scalloped block lettering for battle honors.

So long story short, the Branch's Brigade flags are some of the most well known flags today, but it seems because not many people are aware that at least 2 (and maybe more) other brigades had the same style, but most have been lost or forgotten about.

Sgt Buck said...

I also forgot to mention that after hearing in your interview that you would have liked to have seen the new flags issued just before Mechanicsville. I haven't had any luck yet, but I'm looking into a few sources to see if I can figure out what those flags might have looked like for you.