Friday, July 11, 2008

Famous Flag From Battle of Gettysburg on Exhibit


Battle’s 145th Anniversary

Famous Flag From Battle of Gettysburg on Exhibit
July marks the 145th anniversary of the largest and bloodiest battle of the Civil War: the Battle of Gettysburg. Called the “high tide” of the Confederacy, the clash in Pennsylvania raged from July 1 to 3, 1863.

The 26th North Carolina Troops suffered the most casualties of any regiment, both Confederate and Union, during the conflict. Of the regiment’s estimated 800 men, 708 were killed, wounded or missing after attacking Federal forces on July 1 and 3. During the intense fighting, the 26th North Carolina held its battle flag high. On July 1, 14 men went down while carrying the colors at McPherson’s Ridge. On July 3, eight men were shot before Union soldiers captured the flag on Cemetery Ridge.

This famous flag is on exhibit for an extended time at the N.C. Museum of History in Raleigh, in commemoration of the Gettysburg anniversary. On loan from the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Va., the historic banner was brought home to North Carolina through the efforts of the 26th North Carolina Troops, Reactivated, an organization of re-enactors that sponsored the flag loan and its installation in the museum’s military history gallery. The group held a flag rededication ceremony at the museum on May 17, before the installation.

Skip Smith, colonel of the 26th North Carolina Troops, Reactivated, said several descendents of the regiment attended or participated in the ceremony. “Many had ancestors who were killed or wounded while carrying the colors of the regiment during the Battle of Gettysburg,” said Smith.

To fully understand the flag’s significance, one must revisit July 1 and 3 at Gettysburg. On July 1, the 26th North Carolina advanced on the 24th Michigan, posted at McPherson’s Ridge. The 26th forced the Union troops to withdraw, but the costs were high. Of the regiment’s some 800 men, 588 were killed, wounded or missing. Among the casualties was the regiment’s leader, Col. Henry King Burgwyn Jr., one of 14 men who carried the flag that day.

On July 3, the 26th North Carolina took part in the Pickett-Pettigrew-Trimble charge and penetrated the Federal battle line farther than any Confederate unit. During the charge of Confederate troops from Seminary Ridge across a mile-long open field to Cemetery Ridge, the 26th North Carolina advanced its flag to an area known as “the Angle,” where a stone wall dividing the field (and marking the Federal line) protruded at a 90-degree turn. At the wall, however, Union soldiers captured two of the 26th’s men, Sgt. James Moffit Brooks and Pvt. Daniel Boone Thomas, who was holding the flag. The unit lost not only its banner but 120 men, who were killed, wounded or missing.

Both Sgt. Brooks and Pvt. Thomas survived the war and returned home to Chatham County. Dennis Brooks of Siler City, a member of the 26th North Carolina Troops, Reactivated, who participated in the May 17 ceremony, has a personal connection with Sgt. Brooks. “Sgt. Brooks was a cousin to my direct lineage of Brooks,” he explains.

Dennis Brooks believes the flag served as a beacon and that “any man in that line would have done what Brooks and Thomas are remembered for today. They just happened to be the men present at the time.”

The 26th North Carolina Troops, Reactivated, Secures Additional Artifacts

In addition to the Confederate flag, the 26th North Carolina Troops, Reactivated, consulted with the N.C. Museum of History to secure other artifact loans from the Museum of the Confederacy. Near the 26th North Carolina flag in the exhibit are a frock coat, a belt with buckle, and a sword with scabbard worn by Gen. Bryan Grimes, considered one of North Carolina’s top generals. Dramatic evidence of Gen Grimes’ near misses at the Battle of Chancellorsville on May 3, 1863, appears on three items. The buckle is caved in where a minié ball hit it, the scabbard is dented many times from hits, and the sword is severed, cut in half by a minié ball or shrapnel.
The battle flag of the 37th North Carolina Troops, another loaned artifact, will be on exhibit in the future. Captured at the Battle of Petersburg in Virginia, the historic banner has two unusual features. It bears white battle honors, instead of the usual blue or black, and the honors were painted on both sides of the flag.

The 26th North Carolina Troops, the state’s largest re-enactment unit, has formed a partnership with the N.C. Museum of History to help fund flag conservation. The group has provided funding to conserve another battle flag of the 26th North Carolina Troops that is in the museum collection. An additional flag is undergoing conservation, and other conservation projects are planned. The organization has taken to heart the premise of the museum’s Adopt an Artifact program, in which individuals and groups can sponsor a conservation project.

“It’s great to be in partnership with the 26th North Carolina Troops, Reactivated, and we greatly appreciate all of their support,” adds Tom Belton, curator of military history at the N.C. Museum of History.

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The N.C. Museum of History’s hours are Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. Admission is free. The museum is part of the Division of State History Museums, Office of Archives and History, an agency of the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources. The department’s Web site is

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