On Saturday April 6, 2013, the anniversary of the battle of Sailors creek, I presented the following program at the North Carolina Museum of History as the keynote speaker to dedicate a newly conserved battle flag that was captured at Sailor’s creek 148 years ago,
Crossed by the blue bars of the saint Andrews Cross….
5 pointed white stars represent the states of the Confederacy.
We all recognize this flag.
It is the thing that brought us together today.
It is a flag that proudly symbolized the unity of Southern communities in the 1860’s, who were sending husbands and brothers and son’s off to fight for their vision of a new government… one that more closely represented their Anglo-Saxon and Scots-Irish agrarian, political and religious beliefs.
Sadly, it is a flag that divided many of these same communities a century later and still causes much confusion about cultural and racial identity today.
I’m not talking about the “Stars and Bars” or the “Bonnie Blue”. These are distinctive flags with their own story and pride of place, but people sometimes mistakenly apply their name to this flag.
I know YOU wouldn’t make that mistake….you KNOW that this is the Confederate battle flag. Sometimes it is called the Southern cross.
It is the soldier’s flag. A flag that was carried into battle by each and every Confederate regiment.
It marked their place on the battle field. It led them into battle and acted as a rallying point in the swirling noise and confusion of many a desperate and deadly fight.
We’re here today to pay honor and tribute….not to a battle flag that has simply endured for a century and a half…but for what it represents …to US!… Heritage! Honor! Devotion!
We gather here today to honor the memory of those men of the 6th regiment North Carolina state troops … our ancestors… that carried this flag…. That fought under this flag…That died for this flag.
We are here because of the hard work of our members and the financial support of our friends and descendants who contributed to this project. Thank you for your support. And Thank you for supporting future projects. We take great pride in our sacrifices of time and money that have made this project so successful. But let us never forget the men we do it for … our ancestors, .. Some who made the ultimate sacrifice.
And Thank you to the North Carolina Museum of History for Partnering with us on this project and sponsoring today’s event. We look forward to a long relationship with the great folks here who have taken pride in our heritage.
Together, we have ALL preserved this flag as a visual reminder of our ancestors so that future generations may be reminded of them and learn of their sacrifices.
When the state of North Carolina called upon them to come forward … They willingly volunteered. Many never came home. Today this chapter of North Carolina history is considered by many to be politically incorrect. They would rather we forget it. But luckily, I’m a historian…not a politician! So let me tell you a little bit about the 6th North Carolina and the history of the flag we’re about to unveil.
The 6th North Carolina State Troops earned the nickname “Bloody Sixth” through hard fighting on many battlefields throughout the war. I could easily spend the next several hours sharing with you their remarkable history. But for the sake of brevity let me read to you from the colorful and descriptive summary written by their unit historian, Captain Neill W. Ray at the turn of the century. I Quote …
“Theirs was not garrison or post duty …it was their lot to fight the enemy in the field …to meet him in his advances….to check him when possible and to follow him back and fight him in his own country and in his own strongholds …to contest
inch by inch…
day after day …
week after week
month after month
the enemy’s investment and gradual closing in on the lines around Petersburg and Richmond and when numbers prevailed over the thinned and thinning lines of the Army of Northern Virginia to fall back and back with them until finally hemmed in and compelled to surrender”
Captain Ray was justifiably proud of the Regiment he served in. They mustered into service on May 16, 1861. This was six months before the confederate battle flag was first issued in November of 1861. He wrote, and I quote:
“At the first call her men volunteered for the War and hastened to the Northern border of Virginia to meet the enemy at the forefront
From July 1861 to the closing scene at Appomattox they shared the fortunes of the Army of Northern Virginia
Their blood … wet the soil of Manassas Plains on July 21st 1861”
They were the ONLY North Carolinian’s to fight in this first great battle, But BEFORE the 6th North Carolina even left for Virginia, Colonel Fishers sister presented them with a regimental flag made using her own blue silk Shawl. It survived the war and is on display HERE in the museum. Written on the flag is the regiment’s motto…”DEEDS NOT WORDS”. Throughout the war they embodied this motto by their gallant deeds.
Captain Ray’s history details all the places they fought which I will summarize for you:
In 1862 they held back invading Federals during the Peninsular Campaign Fighting at
- Eltham’s Landing,
- Seven Pines and Fair Oaks
Next came the seven days battles
- Gaines Mill ,
- Savage Station ,
- White Oak Swamp
- Malvern Hill ,
- Harrison’s Landing
Then they were drawn back to northern Virginia to fight at 2nd Manassas and Sharpsburg, a battle that became infamous as the bloodiest single day of the war. They ended the year defending Fredericksburg in December 1862.
in 1863 they fought again in Fredericksburg as part of the Chancellorsville campaign. Then on to Gettysburg Where Colonel Isaac Erwin Avery, commanding the Brigade, fell in the attack on East cemetery Hill… writing his last words
“Tell my Father I died with my face to the enemy”
In November, Hoke’s brigade was overrun at Rappahannock station and many members of the 6th were killed, wounded or captured. Returning to North Carolina in the spring of 1864 they fought at:
- Bachelor’s Creek near New Bern,
- and little Washington,
before being rushed back to the Virginia theater of war for a busy summer of campaigning.
- Cold Harbor
and then to the Valley under Jubal Early:
all the way to the gates of Washington D. C. where their very presence caused quite a stir! But the long hard march prevented them from entering the heavily fortified Capitol so they returned to the Valley fighting at:
- Fisher’s Hill
- and Cedar Creek
January 1865 found the hardened veterans in the frozen trenches of Petersburg. On March 25th 1865 they stormed Fort Steadman in a desperate gamble which Ray called a “forlorn hope” . He concludes by saying, Quote:
“Three times they went into the enemy’s territory in Maryland and Pennsylvania, fording the Potomac six times “
end Quote Interestingly enough, the one place he forgets to mention is Sailors creek! The final battle for the 6th NC and the battle where their flag was lost. So let me tell you a little bit about the flag and how it was captured.
After the 1864 Valley Campaign, the Richmond Depot produced a 6th issue bunting battle flag to be distributed to regiments who lost flags in the Valley or needed replacements. The flag we are unveiling today was issued to the 6th North Carolina State troops after their long and tiresome campaign in the Valley.
The flag is approximately 4 feet square. Notice, I said square. Not a rectangle. Battle flags flown by the Army of Northern Virginia were square. Our flag measures 45 1/8 inches at the”hoist” (or width) by 48 inches in length, which is called the “fly”.
The blue bars that forms the St. Andrews cross are 5 ¼ inches wide and are edged with a ½ inch white fimbriation. There are thirteen, white, 4 ½ inch, five pointed stars are evenly spaced every 8 inches. The flag is edged with 2 ¼ inch white bunting on three sides, while the hoist edge is strengthened with 2 ½ inch wide white canvas that contains three hand stitched eyelets to tie the flag to a pole.
This flag contains no battle honors and no unit identification, however on the reverse is the number “357” stenciled there by the U. S. War Department when it was cataloged after being captured. this unique serial number can be used to trace the provenance of an individual flag, especially an unmarked flag like this one.
At the Battle of Sailor’s Creek, The 6th North Carolina was a member of Lewis’s brigade along with the 21st , the 54th and the 57th North Carolina. As part of Major General John B. Gordon’ second army corps, they were struggling along as the Army’s rear guard on April 6, 1865.
In his “Reminiscences of the Civil War “ General Gordon paints a picture of the hardship they faced: Quote
“Fighting all day, marching all night, with exhaustion and hunger claiming their victims at every mile of the march, with charges of infantry in rear and of cavalry on the flanks, it seemed the war god had turned loose all his furies to revel in the havoc.
On and on, hour after hour, from hilltop to hilltop, the lines were alternately fighting and retreating, making one almost continuous shifting battle “
Around 11 AM Sheridan’s cavalry swooped down on the Gordon’s men , driving them back. Nearby at the upper fords, both General Anderson and General Ewell were trapped and forced to surrender. But at the lower ford, near Lockett Farm, the North Carolinian’s of Lewis’s brigade bitterly resisted, pushing their attackers back. The action seesawed back and forth on the muddy, narrow road. With their backs to the swiftly flowing Sailors creek, the embattled Confederates fought for their very lives.
No narrative exists to describe the action that happened next…at the moment the 6th North Carolina’s flag was captured. Ironically we know more about who captured this flag, than we know about who in the 6th North Carolina State Troops carried it.
We don’t know who the flag bearer was or what fate befell him, But It was a 29 year old Yankee cavalryman named Private Joseph Kimble who galloped away from the battle line with a prized confederate Battle flag that day, earning him a medal of honor.
Kimbell, was born in Littleton, New Hampshire. He enlisted in Ironton, Ohio and was a member of, Company B, 2d West Virginia cavalry.
Sixty Medals of Honor were awarded for actions at Sailor’s Creek, Virginia, during the period March 29 to April 6, 1865. Fifty-seven awards were presented for actions on April 6 alone…all but ten of them for the capture of Confederate battle flags.
As Grant’s Federal troops scattered the Confederate army across the battlefield, General Lee looked down on the scene from a nearby hilltop and remarked “My god, has the Army dissolved?” The catastrophic loss of nearly 8,000 men, 8 generals, Cannons, supplies and …battle flags, spelled the end for the Army of Northern Virginia. 3 days later, on April 9th, 1865 …it was over.
The men of the 6th North Carolina returned to their homes and rebuilt their shattered lives after the war, many rising to prominence in State and local government or successful business or farming careers. Many of you descended from these brave men and probably have your own interesting war stories to tell about your ancestor. I would love to hear them some time.
And so we gather today to dedicate a battle flag carried by the men of the 6th North Carolina State troops, captured from them as they fought honorably in a furious battle, returned to North Carolina by the united states government in 1905 and Preserved…by Us in 2012. It will once again be a witness to the Story of the 6th North Carolina state troops.
At this time I would like to invite forward two descendants. I am proud to call them my friends and my partners in this project. As, Reenactors We have stood shoulder to Shoulder on many of the battlefields their ancestors fought on. To unveil the flag, please welcome Corporal Matt Holder, Great-Great grandnephew of Private Lemuel Holder, from Co. I, who was captured after the Battle of Gettysburg and perished in Point lookout Prison,.
And Corporal William O’Quinn, the great-Great grandson of Corporal Thomas C. Barbee who was wounded at the battle of Gaines mill and served honorably in Co. I through the war until paroled at Appomattox.
Both Ancestors served in Co. I, which is the company our reenactment unit proudly portrays. (wait for William and Matt to come on stage)
Will the Audience please stand.
(to members of the 6th NCST) Attention Company….. Present Arms…..
We proudly dedicate this conserved flag to the descendants of the veterans of the 6th North Carolina state troops and to the people of the old North State (Flag is unveiled) Three Cheers for the Old North State…. (Musicians come on Stage) THANK YOU (Return Podium to MC)
Clark, Walter, editor. Histories of the Several Regiments and Battalions from North Carolina in the Great War, 1861-65. 5 vols. Raleigh and Goldsboro: E. M. Uzell, 1901.
Iobst, Richard W. The Bloody Sixth: The Sixth North Carolina Regiment, Confederate States of America.Raleigh, NC: NC Confed Centennial Comm, 1965. 493 p. E573.5.6th.I6.
Dedmondt, Glenn. The Flags of Civil War North Carolina. Gretna, La.; Pelican Publishing Co. , Inc, 2003. 206 p.
Rollins, Richard M. The returned battle flags. Redondo Beach, Calif. : Rank and File Publications, 1995.
Cannon, Jr., Devereaux D. The Flags of the Confederacy: An Illustrated History: St Lukes Press and Broadfoot Publishing,1988.