Research on Confederate Flag Fragment

From a Central Massachusetts Historical Society

By Russell Hicks and Friends

Lot number 2480 in the James Julia, Inc. sale held October 7, 2008 stated:

  • Fragment of Confederate Battle Flag.  This approximate ¼ of an ANV battle flag was captured by Timothy R. Pelton who was 2nd lt. in the 51st Massachusetts Cavalry, according to a tag attached to the flag.  More research needs to be done to see when this flag was taken and maybe where it was captured as there is no 51st Mass. Cavalry.  There is a 2nd Lt. Timothy R. Pelton in the 5th Mass. Colored Cavalry.  They were around Petersburg where so many flags were captured near war’s end.  This is your chance to buy a beautiful fragment of a flag, when intact and identified, normally brings well over $x.  CONDITION:  Overall remaining fragment of flag is very good with scattered areas of soiling and light fading to red dye where displayed.  4-35227 JS22 ($x-$y)

The Tag

 

The old tag attached to the flag states simply:

 

“Triangle – The Colors. / Timothy R. Pelton’s (2nd Lieut. 51st Mass. Cavalry – Civil War)  / Captured from the Southerners. /  Gift – Fred A Pelton.”

 

The Julia description was correct.  Timothy R. Pelton was a 2nd Lieutenant in the 5th Mass. (Colored) Cavalry.  That regiment saw limited service, first in the preliminary attacks upon Petersburg on June 15, 1864 and, second in the closing actions culminating in the fall of Petersburg, late March through April 2, 1865.

 

Faded Honors

 

There was another flag feature that was not stated in the Julia description. It may have been overlooked because it appears that the Historical Society had displayed the fragment with the reverse side visible, judging by the slight fading on that side. Battle honors were very faintly evident:

                                                                     CEDAR RUN

                                                                     FAUQUIER SPRINGS

                                                                    MANASSAS 28 AUG...

 

The second honor was for a relatively insignificant action. Would this be an opportunity for identification?  Research would show that the only actions around the vicinity of Fauquier Courthouse (then called Warrenton) during the Second Manassas campaign were cavalry forays related to Stuart’s raid on Catlett Station.  The flag fragment is the size of an infantry flag, though, roughly 4 feet by 4 feet when whole.

The action at Fauquier Springs, principally an artillery action, occurred when Stonewall Jackson was probing the Rappahannock River upstream from Rappahannock Station during the campaign that began with the Battle of Cedar Run, or Cedar Mountain, and culminated with the “suppression” of the “miscreant” (not my words, a better man than I coined these terms) Union General Pope at Second Manassas.  On the 22nd of August, Jackson ordered Early’s and Lawton’s Brigades to the north bank of the Rappahannock in an attempt to get to Pope’s right flank.  Early’s brigade, Brown’s Fourth and Dement’s First Maryland Artillery Batteries and the 13th Georgia of Lawton’s were the only troops to make it across before rains caused the river to rise behind them, cutting them off from the rest of Jackson’s wing and exposing them to Pope’s advancing infantry.  Jackson ordered the stranded regiments to a natural defensive position at Fauquier Springs while the engineers constructed a ramshackle bridge over the burned piers at the nearby Rappahannock River bridge behind them.  The batteries, formally named the First Maryland Light Artillery (under Dement, formerly Andrews) and the Fourth Maryland Light Artillery, or the Chesapeake Battery (under Brown) unlimbered and actually commenced firing at advancing Union forces gathering for the opportunity to crush Early against the raging Rappahannock.  In short, after two anxious nights and one full day, Jackson was able to get his bridge constructed and the stranded regiments were able to file down the left bank of the river and cross to the safety of the right bank.

 

Circumstantial Process of Elimination

 

The significance of this action to the initial quest for identification of the flag piece is that these Virginia regiments under Early, with Lawton’s 13th Georgia, and particularly the Maryland Batteries were the main candidates to place an honor on their battle flags for Fauquier Springs.  The batteries had been conspicuous in the earlier action at Cedar Run, where they were located at the locus of the action at the Crittenden house, particularly at a battlefield landmark known as the “Cedars.”  There they participated in the firefight that saw the famous wounding of the First’s immediate commander, Major Snowden Andrews and the mortal wounding of the commander of the Stonewall Brigade, Charles Winder, closer to Crittenden’s gate.

  

The brigade of General Jubal A. Early consisted of the following seven regiments during the Second Manassas Campaign:

                                                                      13th Virginia

                                                                      25th Virginia

                                                                      31st Virginia

                                                                      44th Virginia

                                                                      49th Virginia

                                                                      52nd Virginia

                                                                      58th Virginia

 

Alexander Lawton’s 13th Georgia was a hard-fighting regiment.  Its flag was literally blown to bits later at Sharpsburg, so it could have been reissued a 2nd or 3rd Bunting issue.  Stonewall Jackson’s dislike of Lawton kept that regiment out of the fight at Cedar Mountain.  From that fact, it is unlikely that the fragment originates with the 13th Georgia.

 

The battle flags of the 25th Virginia and 44th Virginia are accounted for.  Although of similar issue and honor construction, neither display an honor for Fauquier Springs.  This could indicate that the men of the regiments of Early saw the action at Fauquier Springs as perilous, but not necessarily one that was particularly memorable when compared to the likes of Malvern Hill, Sharpsburg or Gettysburg. 

 

Thus, the size of the fighting organization could disqualify Early’s infantry regiments in favor of a smaller organization such as Brown’s or Dement’s Maryland artillery batteries.  It was those two batteries firing their guns on the heights around the Springs that held off the Union advance long enough to allow the engineers reconstructing the bridge to the south bank of the Rappahannock River to actually complete their work.

                                         

Fifth Massachusetts Cavalry (Colored)

 

The next task was to analyze the service of Timothy Pelton and question where elements of  5th Massachusetts Cavalry could have captured the flag?  Research revealed that the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry (colored) was involved in two actions against the Virginia Confederate army.  The first was during the Union approach to Petersburg, June 15-18, 1864.  The regiment was involved in assaults along the Dimmock Line that resulted in the capture of Battery Five.  Along with the Battery, elements of several Confederate regiments and artillery battalions (among them parts of the 26th Virginia Infantry and Sturdivant’s Battery) as well as cannon and battle flags were captured.  These assaults caused the old Dimmock line to be abandoned in that sector in favor of a more defensible line closer to Petersburg. 

 

The problem this posed from this flag identification perspective was that none of the Confederate units involved were anywhere near Cedar Run, Fauquier Springs, and Manassas in August, 1862.  Further, a look at the specific involvement of the 5th Mass. Cav. did not indicate that the unit fared very well in its first action.  The unit was soon reassigned to guard and picket duty at Point Lookout prison camp and did not return to the battle front around Petersburg until the end of March, 1865.  Then the odds are more favorable that a flag fragment may have been captured during the turmoil of the breakthrough on April 2, 1865, but again there was no specific mention in the unit’s history that indicated a flag capture.

  

Corporal Timothy R. Pelton

 

It turns out that there is online data available for Timothy Pelton, including a carte-de-visite photograph of Pelton in uniform.  Further his service is detailed as follows:

 

His residence was Great Barrington, Mass.; he was an 18 year-old Farmer.

  • He enlisted on July 16, 1862 as a Musician.
  • On August 30, 1862 he mustered into Co. B, 37th Massachusetts Infantry.
  • He was discharged for disability on April 2, 1863 in Rhode Island.
  • On December 5, 1863 he mustered into Co. I, 1st Massachusetts Cavalry.
  • He was discharged for promotion on June 18, 1865.
  • On August 1, 1865 he was commissioned 2nd Lieutenant of Co. F, 5th Massachusetts (Colored) Cavalry.
  • He was mustered out on October 31, 1865 at Clarksville, Texas.

 

This online source, the American Civil War Research Database, thus tells us that Pelton’s service with the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry during the war was an error, that most of his significant service was with the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry and, earlier, in the 37th Massachusetts Infantry.  His record thus narrowed, the following actions are possibly where Pelton acquired his flag:

  • The Battle of Fredericksburg, under the 37th Massachusetts,
  • Any action after December 5, 1863, under the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry:
    • Mine Run Campaign.
    • Grant’s Overland Campaign to Cold Harbor (including Sheridan’s raid).
    • The Petersburg Siege (ending with duty around Petersburg, Company I of the First did not participate in the Appomattox Campaign).

 

Checking the considerable list of engagements of the First Massachusetts Cavalry, which turns out to be one of the most solid Cavalry regiments of the Army of the Potomac, where could a cavalry unit overrun or even be in the vicinity of any of Early’s old regiments or the two Maryland artillery units?  It turns out not that many.  The First Massachusetts did capture the flag of the Fifth Virginia Cavalry at Aldie, with the captor receiving a Medal of Honor.  Searching the War Department flag capture list turned no obvious matches to flags or flag fragments in repositories such as the Museum of the Confederacy.

 

Another lead was provided by Timothy Pelton’s own pension application testimony in his National Archives file.  Pelton had been discharged from the 37th Massachusetts because of chronic diarrhea and a lung disorder (early stage of tuberculosis):

 

“The clause in my discharge from the 37th Regt., “No objection is known to his reenlistment” being erased, the Physician wrote to Boston for instructions.  I am not certain as to whom he communicated, but should say that Surgeon General at any rate, the reply as I remember it was “Examine him carefully & if satisfied he would do, pass him.”  He examined me quite thoroughly, said there was unusual distension of Abdomen and also a dullness over or about the left lung.  I said pass me if possible, he finally concluded to pass me & did so.  I went on very well until the Campaign of 1864 on Sheridan’s Raid just after Wilderness & Spotsylvania Battles by which time I was worn down & out & at finish of the 26 days raid was sent (I think) from Chesterfield Station, when we rejoined Grant’s lines) to Mt. Pleasant U.S.A. General Hospital, Washington, D.C., then in charge of asst. Surg. C. A. McCall.  There I remained until fairly recruited.  Some talk then being had relation to my transfer to “Veteran Reserve Corps.”  I was, at my own request returned to my Reg’t.

 

After the surrender at Appomattox while one of the Hd. Qr. Cavalry Escort, Army of the Potomac, I received a commission from Gov. Andrews as Lieut. In the 5th Mass. Cavalry, was transferred, sent to Texas when where we spent our time encamped on bank of the Rio Grande River, in Oct., 1865 mustered out as a Regt. By orders from the War Dept…”

 

The online record indicated that Pelton had joined Company I of the First.  That company did not participate in the Appomattox campaign.  Clearly, his pension testimony indicated that he was one of the Headquarters Cavalry Escort during the Appomattox campaign.  This inconsistency was solved by his compiled military record accompanying his pension file from the National Archives.  Pelton was transferred to Company C, First Massachusetts Cavalry on December 26, 1864 while in the hospital.  He returned to duty in that company on February 1, 1865.  Company C did serve as part of the Provost Guard, or Headquarters Cavalry Escort for General Meade during the final campaign.

 

Discoveries at the Warren Rifles Confederate Museum

 

At this point, the narrative turns to the first person in order to more precisely describe the sequence of question and answer necessary to conclude this story. 

 

It was a trip to the Warren Rifles Museum that set the stage for the final leg of this research.  I wanted to look at the Lee Battery flag on display at that museum in Front Royal, Virginia.  I also remembered the Crenshaw Artillery flag also on display there and wanted to take a look at that one also.   My memory is that the Lee Artillery flag was infantry size, 48 x 48.  I was wrong, both the Lee and Crenshaw flags were artillery size (smaller).  Then I saw something on the Crenshaw flag that made an impression, the battle honor “Warrenton Springs.”  That was interesting.  An attached tag made reference to Warrenton Springs, August 24, 1862.  That date was after Early and the other units had crossed the hastily constructed bridge back to the south bank of the Rappahannock.

 

This made reference to a different aspect of the Battle of Fauquier Springs than the one previously described in this article.  Off and on for the next three weeks I researched that aspect of the campaign.  That aspect involved A.P. Hill’s division, for Hill posted his artillery units on the hillside overlooking the bridge over the Rappahannock, newly reconstructed by Jackson’s engineers.  Hill’s infantry provided support.  The action of the 24th was principally an artillery duel, somewhat one-sided since Federal artillery did most of the shooting.  Confederate artillery units were under orders to limit their replies to conserve ammunition.  The tactical objective, from the Confederate perspective, was merely to save the bridge from destruction, and, by concentrating their fire on immediate threats to the bridge (infantry charges), that objective succeeded.  Two Confederate units stood out in this next round of research.

 

Hill’s division consisted of the brigades of Gregg (SC), Branch (NC), Field (Va.), Pender (NC), Starke (La.), Thomas (Ga.), and Archer (Tn., Ala., and Ga.).  His artillery consisted of the Pee Dee (SC, Mcintosh), Purcell (Va., Pegram), Middlesex (Va., Fleet), Fredericksburg (Va., Braxton), Letcher (Va., Davidson), and Latham (NC).  I honestly had some internal hesitation to look at the Virginia units first (that would jinx the process, for there is nothing I’d like better than to prove that the fragment was indeed a Virginia flag).  I started looking at any flag I could see online for regiments in the above list.  What I found was that the North Carolina and Alabama flags are available online, through the North Carolina Division of Archives and History and the Alabama State Capitol Collection.  Greg Biggs with the Tennessee State Museum provided me information on Archer’s brigade flags.  The only state flags that were not immediately available were the South Carolina flags.  It turned out that they were not needed. 

 

The available flags for the states outside Virginia did not match the one I was researching.  Either the honors were not the right size and color, or there were other factors leading me away from them.  At any rate, not one specified an honor for Fauquier Springs.  Happily, my attention turned to Charles Field’s Virginia infantry brigade.  That brigade was made up of the 40th, 47th and 55th Virginia Volunteers, and the 22nd Battalion Virginia Volunteers, all of which I had individual regimental histories from the H.E. Howard Virginia series.  The flags of the 40th and 47th Virginia were described, and they were also in the Museum of the Confederacy’s collection.  Neither flag had a Fauquier Springs honor, though both regimentals described the action on the 24th at the Springs, though describing the bridge in error (Waterloo Bridge, which was ten or so miles upstream from the Springs).  Two flags of the 55th Virginia came instantly into focus.  The first flag of the 55th Virginia had the honor “Fauquier Spring.”

 

Now I had two historical examples:  the flags of both the Crenshaw Artillery and the 55th Virginia displayed honors for action at Fauquier, or Warrenton White Sulphur Springs.  One was an infantry flag.  I next focused attention to the remaining artillery units in Hill’s Division.  Logically, the first was the Crenshaw Artillery’s sister unit, the Purcell Artillery.  There was no flag specifically described in the regimental history for either the Purcell Artillery or the Letcher Artillery.  The Museum of the Confederacy does describe a holding in its collection, WD318, as being the flag of the Purcell Artillery, captured on April 2, 1865, displaying faded honors in black and having six stars remaining.  Interesting… 

 

While looking for the Regimental history of Fleet’s Middlesex Artillery, I discovered that there was none separately titled.  I did learn, interestingly, that Fleet’s Middlesex Artillery was Company B of the 55th Virginia, and that the 55th Virginia specifically boasted of saving the bridge at Fauquier Springs on the 24th.  There are two surviving flags of the 55th Virginia, both in the Museum of the Confederacy collection.  One, displaying the honor, was captured at Falling Waters in the Gettysburg Campaign.  The other, not displaying the honor, was captured at the Battle of the Wilderness.  The 55th’s demise was Sayler’s Creek and the regimental did describe a certain “rallying around the colors” in the final moments.  This would also place what would be the regiment’s third flag in the proximity of Meade’s escort at the proper time.

 

Thus I had two logical top possibilities as I rounded the bend for what I tentatively hoped would be the home stretch in this long process.  Wishing not to send the curator of the Museum of the Confederacy on too many wild goose chases, I emailed Catherine Wright pictures of the fragment in question and asked if she would check two flags:  WD 318 (Purcell) and WD346 (Unidentified unit, Field’s Division, 4 stars remaining, captured in the Appomattox campaign).  Her response on June 3, 2009, indicated that she did not think WD346 was a possibility after visual inspection.  She did indicate, however, that it appeared that we might have a match with WD318, the battle flag of the Purcell Artillery.  She sent me a small photograph of it and my eyes confirmed her suspicion, my quadrant fits perfectly into its missing area.

Conclusions

 

There are two questions that this article attempts to address in connection with the story of the flag:  whose flag was it and where was it captured?  Visual evidence now proves that the flag fragment recently sold from the central Massachusetts historical society relating to 2nd Lieutenant Timothy R. Pelton was cut from WD318, the flag of the Purcell Artillery, at approximately the time of its capture on April 2, 1865, during the breakthrough of the Federal Sixth Corps at Petersburg. 

 

The significance of this discovery not only completes (with some minor losses) a flag of such an important Confederate Artillery unit, a unit that fought with no interruption from its formation to the final campaign, and in effect, the flag of Colonel William Johnson Pegram, a prominent artillery commander of the Army of Northern Virginia.

 

From the other side of the fence it is important to report that the Purcell flag’s capture at Petersburg resulted in the award of a Medal of Honor to its captor (Private Isaac James of the 110th Ohio.  Another name associated with capture of the flag of the Purcell Artillery was Lieutenant Samuel W. Angel of the 6th Maryland (Union) Infantry.  Probably the nearest commissioned officer to the capture of the Purcell Artillery that day, Lt. Angel secured the surrender of the unit and its colors.  He continued the advance down the Confederate works and encountered severe resistance from Confederates in that sector.  In the subsequent confusion, trying to rally his men, Lt. Angel was shot down and killed.  The death of Lt. Angel makes the story all the more poignant, and serves to illustrate that the sometimes recreational academic pursuits of professionals and hobbyists were preceded by the sweat, tears and blood of our predecessors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Final Note:

 

With the discovery of the rest of the Purcell Artillery Flag, a list of the battle honors displayed on the complete flag would be as follows:

 

Top:

Acquia Creek.

Manassas 21st July.

Evans Port.

Freestone Point.

 

Left:

Mechanicsville.

Gaines Mill.

Malvern Hill.

 

Right (my fragment):

Cedar Run.

Fauquier Springs.

Manassas

 

Bottom:

Harpers Ferry.

Sharpsburg.

Fredericksburg.

 

 

 

 

Acknowledgements:

 

  1. John Sexton.
  2. Brent Smith.
  3. Vonnie Zullo, The Horse Soldier Research Service.
  4. The National Archives.
  5. Catherine Wright, curator, The Museum of the Confederacy.
  6. Joe Williams, Curator, Appomattox Courthouse National Historical Park.
  7. John Hennessy, author, Return to Bull Run.
  8. Robert Krick, author, Stonewall Jackson at Cedar Mountain.
  9. American Civil War Research Database.
  10. Jennings C. Wise, The Long Arm of Lee.
  11. Christopher M. Calkins, The Final Bivouac:  The Surrender Parade at Appomattox and the Disbanding of the Armies, April 10 – May 20, 1865.
  12. Doug Harvey, Director, The Lynchburg Museum.
  13. Robert Dunkerly, Park Ranger and Education Coordinator; and Ernie Price, Chief of Interpretation, Appomattox Courthouse National Historical Park (collectively known as “Bert and Ernie”).
  14. Patrick Schroeder, Park Historian, Appomattox Court House  National Historical Park.
  15. Bobby Krick, Historian, Richmond National Battlefields.
  16. A. Wilson Greene, author, The Final Battles of the Petersburg Campaign.