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.

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