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.