Civil War News Review

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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Army of Northern Virginia: Wearing Federal Uniforms and Flying the U.S. Flag

A recent discussion arose locally about whether A. P. Hill’s men, in particular, Maxey Gregg’s South Carolina Brigade, flew a National Flag and wore blue uniforms at Antietam during the final attack along the Harpers Ferry Road. I had written this in my Antietam: The Soldiers’ Battle in 1989 and at a Civil War Round Table in Harpers Ferry, I was bluntly told that I was in error and that the Confederates were flying the First National Banner, the Red White and Red. I strongly disagree. The Army of Northern Virginia did not carry the first National in Battle after 1862 but flew the square Southern Cross. No accounts of fighting in the East after 1861 mention seeing the First National in battle.

I present the following for the readers to consider and draw 
their own conclusions. 

1.       On May 6, 1862 from the field near Williamsburg, Virginia, Corporal John Foster, Company A, 49th New York penned the following to his hometown paper, The Fredonia Censor , “At our left the rebels appeared in quite strong force, at their old trick , bearing the stars and stripes, and as our troops charged they called out, “you are firing on your own men. Don’t fire on your own men,” and some regiments did not execute it promptly, but were bewildered or confused, and badly cut to pieces and forced to fall back.”

2.       George H. Gordon, History of the campaigns of the Army of Virginia Under Pope, 1880, p. 150. In regard to the Confederates looting the Federal trains at Manassas Junction, August 27, 1862 wrote, “Nor was the outer man neglected. From piles of new clothing, the soldiers of Jackson’s corps arrayed themselves in the blue uniforms of the Federals.”

3.       Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, 1887, Vol. 2, p. 533. Private Allen C. redwood, Company C, 55th Virginia, in “Jackson’s ‘Foot Cavalry’ at the Second Bull Run,” wrote the following about that same incident, “What a prize it was! Here were long warehouses full of stores; cars loaded with boxes of new clothing en route to General Pope, but destined to adorn the “backs of his enemies.”

4.       Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, 1887, Vol. 2, p. 655. Jacob D. Cox in “The Battle of Antietam, “ noted the following in regard to the A. P. Hill’s counterattack in the late afternoon: “This hostile force proved to be A. P. Hill’s division of six brigades, the last of Jackson’s force to leave Harper’s Ferry, and which had reached Sharpsburg since noon. Those first seen by Scammon’s men were dressed in National Blue uniforms, which they had captured at Harper’s Ferry, and it was assumed they were part of our own forces till they began to fire.”

5.       Sixteenth Regiment Connecticut Volunteers Excursion and Reunion at Antietam Battlefield, September 17, 1889, p. 19 and 20.  On p. 19 lines 8-12 plagiarized Cox by repeating the statement issued above. However, on p. 19 -20 the writer noted: “…a terrible volley from Hill’s men was fired into the Sixteenth from behind a stonewall a few feet in front….Amidst the terrible uproar the rebels raised the Federal colors and called out not to fire on friends.”

6.       OR, Vol. 19, pt. 1, Report 159, by Major J. M Comly, 23rd Ohio, p.159 noted the following in regard to the same attack: “About the same time I discovered that the Thirtieth Regiment was still in the corn-field, and that they had opened fire upon what I supposed was our own troops, advancing from the left. It seems proper to state that this supposition did not rest entirely upon the fact that the enemy had uniforms similar to ours and which (I have since been informed by a prisoner) were taken at Harper’s Ferry, but upon the fact that they used the national colors on the occasion.”

7.       Thomas G. Day, Private, Company E, 3rd Indiana Cavalry, “Opening the Battle: A Cavalryman’s recollection of the First day’s Fight at Gettysburg,” National Tribune, July 30, 1903, p. 3. In describing the final Confederate attack against the dismounted cavalrymen near the Seminary, south of the Fairfield Road, he observed the following: The rebs marched by platoons at the double-quick down the other side. Most had blue clothes and were flying our flag….Major Lemon yelled, “Don’t shoot; they’re our own men.” ….The rebs threw down our flag and unfurled theirs.”

8.       Charles E. Chapin, Private, Company L, 1st Vermont Cavalry, Diary May 5, 1864, Civil War Miscellaneous Collection, C – E, Manuscripts Department, USAHEC, during the battle of the Wilderness was captured by a Virginia cavalryman in a blue uniform.

9.       Arthur A. Kent, (ed.), Three Years With Company K, 1976, p. 263.(The Recollections of Sergeant Austin C. Stearns, Company K, 13th Massachusetts). On May 8, 1864 at Laurel Hill, as the regiment charged James Breathed’s battery, Stearns saw a squad of cavalry dressed in blue swinging their swords to get the 13th to stop firing. The Massachusetts men complied and the cavalry, being Confederate, covered Breathed’s retreat.

Friday, September 11, 2015


To the memories of those individuals murdered on September 11, 2001 and 2012. As an historian, dates in history matter, particularly those that have had a personal impact on my life.  On December 7, 1941, with the bombing of Pearl Harbor, my father as an enlisted man in the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines, 1st Marine Division, found himself drawn into a war from which he never fully recovered. Guadalcanal, August 7, 1942 destroyed him as surely as if he had been shot. He never left the Corps or the war because of what occurred on those two days. September 11, 2001 also affected me in a very personal way.

I was just beginning my 1st period history class when my neighboring teacher came into my room and told me to turn on the TV. My students and I could not believe what we say. We silently watched the burning building, and people falling from the windows of the World Trade Center buildings, unable to fully grasp what was transpiring before us. Several minutes into this horrific event our supervisor from the Board of  Education walked into the room and with a quaking voice told me not to spend too much time watching the news because we had to keep in step with the essential curriculum and could not lose too much time on what was happening in New York.

He left. Angry beyond  belief, I did not, as I recollect, turn off the TV. How could I? People were dying in front of us. I have never forgotten that moment. I could not fathom how some asinine “new” program should take precedent over the horror transpiring before us. I am still angry over this.

I had students who served and are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan . My former ROTC instructor died at the Pentagon. Flight 93 went down in a field close to the home of a good friend of mine. Surely, those who perished in the attacks and the first responders, both those who died and those who survived and are still dealing with the horrific tragedy of that day should remind us, whether we like it or not, that we are at war and we will be for a very long time.

September 11, 2001 and 2012, and December 7, 1941 are days that shall always “live in infamy.”  They vividly remind us of the sad reality that History is written in the blood of those who preceded us. They remind us that those who died had names, and families who will remember them forever. So should we.