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.