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The Stonewall Brigade at Gettysburg – Part Four: The Fate of the Flags

By Austin Williams, 5th Virginia, Co A

Note: The following is the final part of a four-part series on the actions of the Stonewall Brigade at Gettysburg. Previous installments covered the initial skirmishing around Wolf’s Hill, the fight for Brinkerhoff’s Ridge, and the July 3 assaults on Culp’s Hill.

For all the attention placed during the Civil War on protecting one’s own battle flag and capturing those of the enemy, it can be surprisingly difficult for modern researchers to track down specifics regarding the fate of a unit’s colors. Accounts of the capture of a regiment’s flag are often uncorroborated and lack details or a whole body of modern secondary sources will all repeat the same single mistaken original source. Particularly when a unit is as celebrated as the Stonewall Brigade, there may be a tendency for opposing units to want to believe they have captured the famous unit’s colors. While researching the role of the Stonewall Brigade at the Battle of Gettysburg, readers will encounter three separate claims of flags belonging to the brigade being captured during the fighting. A closer examination of the historical record, however, provides compelling evidence that all of these claims are false. The Stonewall Brigade most likely retreated to Virginia bearing all the same colors with which they marched into Gettysburg on July 1, 1863.

Capture of Brigade Colors by the Sixtieth New York

In his official after-action report, Brigadier General John W. Geary, commander of the Second Division of the Union XII Corps, reported that the Sixtieth New York Volunteers of his command captured “the brigade colors of the Stonewall Brigade”, along with the battle flag of an unidentified Virginia regiment.1 The day after the battle, XII Corps commander Major General Henry W. Slocum forwarded to his superiors the two flags captured by the Sixtieth New York. He wrote, “One was borne by the ‘Stonewall Brigade,’ and is represented as the brigade flag.”2

Although from later in the war, this sketch depicts Union soldiers posing with captured battle flags.

Although Stonewall Brigade commander Brigadier General James A. Walker made no mention of losing a brigade flag in his official report, Geary’s claim initially seems at least plausible upon examination of the actions of the Sixtieth New York.3 The Sixtieth New York, part of the brigade commanded by Brigadier General George S. Greene, was among those units who held the line of Federal breastworks on Culp’s Hill during the attacks by the Stonewall Brigade on July 3. Although they do not appear to have been in the trenches during the Stonewall Brigade’s attack on this portion of the line around 10 a.m., the Sixtieth was responsible for dispatching the skirmishers who advanced following the failure of the Stonewall Brigade’s attack. Members of this regiment, therefore, would have been among the first Union units to advance over the ground where the Stonewall Brigade made its attack and could plausibly have recovered the battle flag among the Confederate dead and wounded.4

While plausible, however, this theory appears to be incorrect. In the official report submitted by the Sixtieth New York’s commander, Colonel Abel Godard, he specified that around nine in the evening on July 2, he ordered a portion of his regiment forward against a stalled Confederate attack. This advance surrounded roughly fifty Confederates and resulted in the capture of both a brigade flag and a regimental banner.5 Godard does not make any claims that the flags belonged to the Stonewall Brigade, but they are certainly the same flags discussed by Geary and Slocum.

As the Stonewall Brigade did not participate in the fighting on Culp’s Hill on July 2, it is impossible for the flag captured by the Sixtieth New York to have belonged to the brigade. After having spent the day skirmishing with Union cavalry on the extreme Confederate left flank, the Stonewall Brigade only moved into position on Culp’s Hill around two or three in the morning on July 3.6 The regimental history of the Sixtieth New York, furthermore, clarifies that the captured brigade flag belonged to the brigade of Virginians commanded by Brigadier General John M. Jones, whose assault of July 2 was directly against the position held by the Sixtieth New York.7 Although neither Jones nor any of his subordinate commanders mentioned losing multiple flags during their attack, it would not be uncommon for commanders to omit such potentially embarrassing news from their official battle accounts.8

Capture of Fourth Virginia Colors by the Fourteenth Connecticut

Flag of the Fourth Virginia, Issued September 30, 1863 and Captured at the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House

The next claim to consider is that the battle flag of the Fourth Virginia was captured on July 3 by the Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteers. Jeffry D. Wert, in his excellent dual history of the Stonewall Brigade and the Iron Brigade, wrote that after the failure of the final Confederate assault on Culp’s Hill, the Fourteenth Connecticut rushed forward in a counterattack as the Confederates tried to withdraw. Unable to retreat quickly enough, 61 men of the Fourth Virginia were surrounded and captured by the Fourteenth Connecticut, along with the Fourth’s regimental colors.9

Wert’s narrative of this incident is largely based on after-action reports from the Official Records. Major William Terry, commander of the Fourth Virginia, recounted how a portion of his regiment was captured at the conclusion of the final Confederate assault, indicating that 61 members of his regiment were missing after the engagement.10 Likewise, Major Theodore G. Ellis of the Fourteenth Connecticut recounted his unit’s capture of an impressive five stands of regimental colors on July 3. Included in these, he wrote, were the colors of the Fourth Virginia, which were turned over to the provost guard after the battle.11

Major Ellis, however, was mistaken. The Fourteenth Connecticut, part of the  Union II Corps, did not fight on Culp’s Hill on July 3. Rather, they were among those who repelled Pickett’s Charge, in which the Stonewall Brigade and the Fourth Virginia did not participate. The other four colors captured by the Fourteenth Connecticut belonged to Tennessee and North Carolina units of Pettigrew’s Division who participated in the assault.12 If the flag captured by the Fourteenth indeed belonged to a Virginia regiment, it was more likely one of Pickett’s Virginia regiments, rather than the Stonewall Brigade.

Capture of Fourth Virginia Colors by the Seventh Ohio

Perhaps because a portion of the regiment was forced to surrender on the slope of Culp’s Hill, there is a second Federal regiment that also reportedly captured the Fourth Virginia’s flag at Gettysburg. Renowned Gettysburg historian Harry W. Pfanz wrote in his book Gettysburg: Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill that Corporal John Pollack of the Seventh Ohio captured the Fourth Virginia’s battle flag when part of that unit was cut off after their final attack on July 3.13 This claim is repeated in secondary sources elsewhere, citing Pfanz as their source for the flag’s capture.14

Col. William R. Creighton, Seventh Ohio

As discussed above, Wert’s claim that the Fourteenth Connecticut was responsible for the capture of portions of the Fourth Virginia is almost certainly incorrect and the weight of evidence indicates that the Seventh Ohio was actually the primary unit to accept the surrender of the Virginians. Colonel William R. Creighton of the Seventh Ohio reported capturing 78 Confederates at around 11 a.m. on July 315. A later account by one of Creighton’s soldiers, Sergeant Lawrence Wilson of Company D, indicated that many of these men were from the Fourth Virginia.16. Union descriptions of the surrender match those of soldiers of the Stonewall Brigade, corroborating that the Seventh Ohio was likely the unit to whom members of the Fourth Virginia turned over their arms.17

However, neither Creighton nor Wilson’s accounts make any claims of capturing a flag in connection with the surrender of the members of the Stonewall Brigade.18 Rather, Creighton wrote that Corporal John Pollock of Company H advanced over the entrenchments and captured the flag of the Fourteenth Virginia a full day later, early on the morning of July 4.19Division commander Geary’s account also lists the flag of the Fourteenth Virginia as among the three captured by his command, the other two being the brigade standard and Virginia regimental colors captured by the Sixtieth New York and discussed above.20 It is possible Creighton misidentified the flag, as the Fourteenth Virginia was part of Brigadier General Lewis Armistead’s brigade and participated in Pickett’s Charge rather than the fighting on Culp’s Hill.21. Since Creighton clearly make a mistake in his report, possibly due to battle damage to the banner, we cannot positively rule out the possibility that Pollack found the fallen colors of the Fourth Virginia from the slopes of Culp’s Hill on July 4, but this possibility is no more likely than many other regiments. Perhaps it actually belonged to the Forty-Fourth Virginia, part of Jones’ Brigade or the Fourteenth Louisiana, part of Nicholl’s Brigade, both of which were also engaged on Culp’s Hill. The available evidence does, however, strongly indicate that the Seventh Ohio most likely did not capture the Fourth Virginia’s battle standard during the fighting on July 3 as described by Pfanz.

Post-Gettysburg Colors

Requisition for a New Battle Flag for the Fourth Virginia

Although the Stonewall Brigade likely marched away from Gettysburg still carrying the flags it bore at the start of the campaign, these banners would only be used a short time further. The Stonewall Brigade and the rest of Johnson’s Divisions received new battle flags from the Richmond Depot in September 1863.22 These colors included the battle honor for Gettysburg alongside the Stonewall Brigade’s many previous clashes. Along the papers in the service record of the Fourth Virginia’s commander at Gettysburg, Major William Terry, is the requisition form for the Fourth Virginia’s new battle flag, issued to the regiment on September 30, 1863. Similar requests survive for a flag for the Thirty-Third Virginia (issued August 31, 1863) and the Twenty-Seventh Virginia (issued September 30, 1863).23 The flag requested by Terry and pictured above, as well as the post-Gettysburg issue flag of the Second Virginia and a fragment from the post-Gettysburg flag of the Twenty-Seventh Virginia, all now reside in the collection of the American Civil War Museum.24 The flag likely issued to the Fifth Virginia after Gettysburg was once in the Collection of the State Historical Society of Delaware, but has sadly since disappeared.25


Endnotes

  1. Official Records of the War of the Rebellion. Series 1, Volume 27, Part 1. Washington: War Department, War Records Office, 1897, p. 831. Further citations from the Official Records will be abbreviated “OR ser.[Number]:v.[Number]:pt.[Number], p. [Number]”.
  2. OR ser.1:v.27:pt.1, p. 763
  3. OR ser.1:v.27:pt.2, p. 518-519
  4. OR ser.1:v.27:pt.1, p. 831.
  5. OR ser.1:v.27:pt.1, p. 860-861.
  6. OR ser.1:v.27:pt.2, p. 526 and 531.
  7. Richard Eddy, History of the Sixtieth Regiment New York State Volunteers (Philadelphia, PA: n.p., 1864), p. 260
  8. OR ser.1:v.27:pt.2, p. 531-539
  9. Jeffry D. Wert, A Brotherhood of Valor: the Common Soldiers of the Stonewall Brigade, C.S.A., and the Iron Brigade, U.S.A. (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2000), p. 270.
  10. OR ser.1:v.27:pt.2, p. 522.
  11. OR ser.1:v.27:pt.1, p. 468.
  12. OR ser.1:v.27:pt.1, p. 468.
  13. Harry W. Pfanz, Gettysburg: Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 2011), p. 326.
  14. For instance, see Jonathan Tracey, “Benjamin Watkins Leigh, Johnson’s Division,” Killed at Gettysburg Digital Project, December 18, 2018, https://killedatgettysburg.org/benjamin-watkins-leigh-johnsons-division/.
  15. OR ser.1:v.27:pt.1, p. 841.
  16. Lawrence Wilson, “Charge Up Culp’s Hill,” Washington Post, July 9, 1899.
  17. Wert, p. 270; Pfanz, p. 326; John W. Busey and Travis W. Busey, Confederate Casualties at Gettysburg: A Comprehensive Record, vol. I (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 1977), p. 1478.
  18. Wilson; OR ser.1:v.27:pt.1, p. 841.
  19. OR ser.1:v.27:pt.1, p. 841.
  20. OR ser.1:v.27:pt.1, p. 831.
  21. OR ser.1:v.27:pt.2, p. 1000.
  22. Devereaux D. Cannon, “Battle Flags of the Army of Northern Virginia,” Confederate Flags, accessed April 8, 2021, http://confederateflags.org/army/fotcanv/.
  23. Complied Service Records of William B. Terry – Fourth Infantry, Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations From the State of Virginia, Record Group 109; National Archives, Washington, D.C.; Complied Service Records of David H. Walton – Thirty-Third Infantry, Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations From the State of Virginia, Record Group 109; National Archives, Washington, D.C.; Complied Service Records of Mordecai Yarnall – Twenty-Seventh Infantry, Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations From the State of Virginia, Record Group 109; National Archives, Washington, D.C.
  24. “Flag of the 2nd Virginia Infantry,” accessed April 8, 2021, https://acwm.pastperfectonline.com/webobject/BC3628FC-18B4-4584-94D1-509123933013; “Flag of the 4th Virginia Infantry,” accessed April 8, 2021, https://acwm.pastperfectonline.com/webobject/C40E968B-48D5-4FD3-A18E-582796334361; “Flag of the 27th Virginia Infantry,” accessed April 8, 2021, https://acwm.pastperfectonline.com/webobject/0C7F6787-CCC7-4D34-9894-135312219243.
  25. Lee A. Wallace, 5th Virginia Infantry (Lynchburg, VA: H.E. Howard, 1988), p. 68-69.

2 comments

  1. Larry Hagemann says:

    A wonderful narrative, Austin, on the battle flags. This is a great follow-up to your first three pieces and you are to be commended on your scholarly research efforts. Thank you very much.

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