There is a new exhibit in Jackson, Mississippi, called “Saving Mississippi’s Battleflags,” and it has on display a number of Mississippi Confederate flags that have been beautifully restored at great expense thanks to the generosity of the Mississippi Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans. The exhibit is in the lobby of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History in Jackson, and will be up until November 2012.
Shown below are the pictures that I took of the individual flags in the exhibit, along with a little history about the units that carried them. I had to deal with a wicked glare, but I did the best I could given the lighting conditions and my limited photographic skills.
In his after action report on the Battle of Franklin, Brigadier General Thomas J. Wood,
commander of the 4th U.S. Corps, said that it was Lieutenant Colonel G.W. Smith, commander of the 88th Illinois Infantry, “Whose good fortune it was on this blood-stained day, the 30th of November, 1864, to render the most important and distinguished service.” (Official Records, Series 1, Volume XLV, Part 1, page 125)
The 88th Illinois Infantry captured not only Featherston’s Brigade flag at the Battle of Franklin, but four others as well. Private Peter M. Woolf of Company A captured one flag, Corporal James K. Merrifield of Company C captured two flags, Corporal Benjamin Newman of Company G captured one flag, and Corporal Samuel Bittles of Company H captured one flag as well. Featherston’s flag was most likely taken by Bittles, for in the official records it is noted that he “Captured a rebel battle-flag inscribed ‘Featherston’s Division.” (Official Records, Series I, Volume XLV, Part 1, page 237)
On December 9, 1864, General Featherston reported the loss of three regimental colors
from his brigade during the Battle of Franklin. Interestingly enough, he did not mention the loss of his own headquarters flag. His report, however, illustrates just how desperate the fighting at Franklin was: “I would respectfully report that three stand of colors were captured from my brigade on the 30th of November, belonging to the Third and Twenty-Second, and Thirty-Third Mississippi Regiments. The color-bearers of the Third and Twenty-Second planted their colors on the enemy’s works, and were wounded and captured with their colors. The color-bearer of the Thirty-Third was killed some fifteen paces from the works, when Lieut. H.C. Shaw, of Company K, carried them forward, and when in the act of planting them on the works was killed, his body falling in the trench, the colors falling in the works.” (Official Records, Series 1, Volume XLV, Part 1, page 714)
The 5th Minnesota Infantry captured the colors of the 4th Mississippi at Nashville, but they paid an extremely high price for the honor. Lieutenant Colonel William B. Gere, commander of the 5th Minnesota, wrote of the fighting on December 16 in which the 4th Mississippi’s flag was taken: “At 4:15 p.m. the order to forward was given, which being repeated along the line, the Fifth Minnesota, with bayonets fixed, moved over the breast-works in their front into the open field which lay between them and the enemy’s works, and at a double-quick rushed forward under the most terrific and withering fire of musketry and artillery it has ever been my fortune to behold or encounter. Yet, forward our line pressed, and soon the colors of the Fifth Minnesota were planted, the first in our brigade, upon the rebel intrenchments, and the enemy were driven from their fortified position. The regiment pursued, capturing hundreds of prisoners, among whom was Brigadier-General Jackson, and many other officers. I think I can safely say that the Fifth Minnesota captured more prisoners in this charge than the regiment numbered…The glorious victory we had won had not, however, been a bloodless one. The loss in my regiment in this charge had been nearly 100 killed and wounded, which was about one-fourth my entire command.” (Official Records, Series 1, Volume XLV, Part 1, page 451)
The “Burt Rifles” were named for Erasmus R. Burt, who was elected Auditor of the State of
Mississippi in 1859. He organized the “Burt Rifles,” Company K, 18th Mississippi Infantry, in early 1861. Elected colonel of the 18th on June 7, 1861, Burt led the regiment at the Battle of Leesburg, Virginia, on October 21, 1861. Mortally wounded during the fighting, he died at the 7th Brigade Hospital in Leesburg on October 26, 1861. The first Mississippi officer to be killed in battle, Burt left behind a widow and eight children. A writer for the Richmond Whig lamented Burt saying, “The 18th Mississippi regiment, his state, and the Country will feel keenly the death of Col. Burt. He fell in close action with the enemy, defending Southern soil and a cause that enlisted all his sympathies and energies. He was the model of an upright, honorable man – an experienced, intelligent and chivalric officer.”
The Southern Herald of Liberty, Mississippi, gave the following account of the presentation of the Liberty Guards flag. The exact date of the article is not known, but it was about 1900: “The flag which was presented to the Liberty Guards by the ladies of the town of Liberty in 1861 was of silk with two red bars and one white with blue field in which were 13 white stars representing the Confederate States. On the white bar was “Armor patrise vincit,” and the name of the company. It was presented to the company by Miss Judith Walker in an address abounding in patriotism, bidding the boys as well as her brother go forth to defend the country whose sacred rights had been trampled on and where no longer could the beloved south expect justice from an overbearing north, now become a foe.
The flag was received on the part of the company in a neat speech by Mr. H. B. Mackin, a member of the company and its flag bearer.”
Lieutenant Colonel Frederick C. Winkler of the 26th Wisconsin Infantry, wrote this account
of how his regiment captured the 33rd Mississippi’s flag: “The order came, and we moved forward simultaneously with the brigade on our right. We gained the first hill just as our skirmishers were falling back from the second. We moved forward still, and had just gained a shallow ravine covered with bushes between the two hills when the enemy appeared in strong line of battle at a fence running along the brow of the hill in our front. As the two lines were within easy musket-range of each other, the battle commenced at once with great fierceness…In our front the field was open, but some sixty yards from our left there was a dense forest. Of this the enemy availed themselves, and came upon our flank in strong force, opening an enfilading fire upon us, while at the same time the line in front came nearer and nearer, until the two lines were in many places less than a rod apart. For a time the conflict was desperate. I took every man who could be spared on the right to re-enforce the left. At last the enemy broke and fled. We pursued him on his very heels to the top of the hill, captured the regimental flag of the Thirty-third Mississippi, and leaving Colonel Drake, of that regiment, and 34 others dead, and at least double that number severely wounded…” (Official Records, Series 1, Volume XXXVIII, Part 2, pages 466-467)
The 41st Mississippi Infantry served in the Army of Tennessee, and fought bravely in over
a dozen major battles. In his report on the Battle of Chickamauga, Colonel William F. Tucker, commander of the 41st Mississippi, wrote: “The Forty-First Mississippi was advancing at a double-quick through the woods when it was met by Manigault’s men, and for a moment was thrown into confusion as they burst through its ranks; but the men responded with a regular Mississippi yell to the command forward, and dashed at the enemy, who immediately fled.” (Official Records, Series 1, Volume 30, Part 2, page 327)
The flags on display at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History are well worth your time to visit. These relics speak volumes of a day and age when men were willing to lay down their lives fighting underneath the torn and tattered flags they loved so well.