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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.

1 comment:

  1. I've found similar references to this when doing research for my masters degree which is history - military studies - concentration on the US Civil War.

    This only makes sense. The Confederates show examples many times at their willingness to use ruses. Coupled with living off captured Federals for supplies after recent victories at 2nd Manassas and Harpers Ferry, who wouldn't use captured material?

    I find too many historians and park rangers go by "the book interpretation" and fail to accurately interpret what the front line soldiers are actually doing.

    Ex. Having been a reenactor one experiences situations where loading fast is essential. There is no by the book process being followed. I can't imagine troops going through the official loading process once under fire. However when participating in an event which was recorded for a film dealing with Antietam, the park ranger insisted we follow and demonstrate the correct loading procedure as stated in the manual. What a load of crap. I can load and shoot 4 rounds a minute, 5 in 62 seconds and that isn't following the manual.

    We are also talking about a War. Of course the Confederate forces are using tactics as you described. Stuart used train whistles blowing to make federal commanders believe reinforcements were on their way. Magruder marched the same regiments around in circles at Yorktown to scare the crap out of McClellan. Whatever it takes to win. It's a war, not a game with rules or penalties for breaking them like a football game.

    Your analysis is top quality because it takes what the soldiers have said from their first hand accounts. As far as I can see you weed out the erroneous statements which are made later in life to glorify individuals and focus on those that are supported by other similar sources.

    I'll take your analysis of the ground troops slogging it out over the "generals perspective" who is normally not on the front line. Wars are won by brigade commanders and unit commanders winning the fight in their front. It's not won by the generals who lose control of the hands on approach once battle ignites. All they can due is use intuition to feed troops into the trouble spots. If they gage correctly and the brigade and unit commanders pull it off they look good. If they misjudge the timing or their subordinates screw up they look stupid. They don't see the fight. Those who do, like Mansfield, end up dead.

    What unit commander wouldn't use ANY means necessary to save their men and themselves and still achieve their objectives? Using captured Federal flags and/or uniforms makes perfect sense. And if the guy facing and shooting at/being shot at says it happened even if some idiot historian who goes by the book disagrees.

    This idiot who criticized your analysis is the same type of moron who believes that an Afghanistan farmer with a pack animal loaded with TNT isn't a threat to US soldiers according to the ROE. He's just taking his TNT for a walk because the "by the book approach" says " it can only be this way".

    Keep up the great interpretations. ..the soldiers interpretation. Let those nay sayers go jump in Antietam Creek.