The North Carolina Grays- Will their flag ever fly again?

Copyright (c) 2015, 2016 By Frederick Walton, 6th NCST Historian

North Carolina Company Flag , (State Seal Canton) artifact 19xx-330-174c, North Carolina Museum of History, Raleigh, N. C.

North Carolina Company Flag , (State Seal Canton) artifact 19xx-330-174c,
North Carolina Museum of History, Raleigh, N. C.

Deep in the bowels of the North Carolina Museum of history, in a dark storage drawer, lies the once proud flag of the North Carolina Grays. Lovingly hand stitched out of fine silk by the young ladies of the Cedar Fork community in Wake County, North Carolina, the State Seal hand painted by accomplished artist, Sophia Partridge, the flag was presented with pride to the brothers, fathers, uncles and husbands about to go to war. Today the flag is not only forgotten, it is falling to pieces.

Sofia Partridge (1817-1881)

Sofia Partridge (1817-1881)


When the threat of war swept through North Carolina, a young school master named Richard York suspended classes at the Cedar Fork Academy in western Wake County and drilled his pupils, forming one of the earliest militia companies in North Carolina. Both the young boys and girls enthusiastically practiced drilling, but ultimately it was the young men that would march off to fight. The young ladies, wanting to contribute, formed the Cedar Fork Soldiers Relief Society to help their young men survive the ordeal with some of the comforts of home. “We wish to do something in the defense of our country, that our desire is to render the burdens of those whose duty it is to take a more active part in the defense of the same, as light as possible.”

North Carolina Grays Canton North- Carolina Grays Company Flag , artifact 19xx-330-174, North Carolina Museum of History, Raleigh, N. C.

North Carolina Grays Canton North- Carolina Grays Company Flag , artifact 19xx-330-174,
North Carolina Museum of History, Raleigh, N. C.

Presenting the boy soldiers with “a handsome flag” to remind them that the folks at home were thinking of them was a primary stated objective of the society. On one side of the Blue silk banner is a single gold star in the white canton framed with their company name “THE NORTH CAROLINA GRAYS” and the reminder “PRESENTED BY THE LADIES OF CEDAR FORK”. On the front of the flag, beneath the Canton’s hand painted State seal, was emblazoned the motto “THE OLD NORTH STATE FOREVER” to remind the boys to do their duty, even when far away from home.

It was presented to the young soldiers during a day long celebration on June 1, 1861 in Morrisville, N. C. attended by throngs of citizens wishing to show their support. The day started with Captain York smartly drilling his men “to the satisfaction of the expectant crowd”. Fifteen year old Miss Fanny Lyon, sister of one of the recruits, stepped forward to give a passionate speech charging them to “aid in the defense of our rights” and presenting to “the brave sons of this vicinity, this beautiful ensign.” Newly appointed Lieutenant, Malcus Williamson Page accepted the flag and in an equally passionate speech remarked that the sight of the flag would give them cheer and refresh their spirits. He pledged to keep the flag safe through the trials ahead. A number of other prominent local gentlemen took this opportunity to address the crowd before being dismissed to a spurious repast prepared by the ladies of the neighborhood, that was enjoyed by all attending. The closing event was a sermon and presentation of bibles before the soldiers marched off to war under the silken banner floating in the breeze above their heads.

Governor John W. Ellis

Governor John B. Ellis

The North Carolina Grays, now Company I of the Sixth North Carolina State Troops, joined their new comrades at Camp Alamance, in Company Shops, N. C. (present day Burlington) for training. Stopping in Raleigh, on their way to the seat of war in Virginia, they were called on to escort the body of recently deceased N. C. Governor John B. Ellis where the Company flag was used, possibly the only time it flew in an official capacity. Once they joined the Sixth Regiment, a regimental flag would have been flown, rather than their company flag. Captain York recalled that many of the men took trunks, to carry some of the comforts of home to the battlefield. Finding them cumbersome and unwieldy during campaigning, the trunks where put into storage sometime in the fall of 1861. The flag and York’s dress uniform had been packed in his wife’s borrowed Saratoga trunk. This was the last the men ever saw of the flag. At a later date, A Federal cavalry detachment chasing some Confederate “bushwhackers” came upon a cabin containing the trunks, where they has been stored by the North Carolinians when leaving their winter quarter in the spring of 1862. Upon searching the trunks, The Federal’s found and confiscated the contents including spare Confederate uniforms, underwear, linens and the barely used company flag of the “North Carolina Grays”.
During the following war years, Company I and their comrades earned their nickname, “The Bloody Sixth” by becoming experienced combat veterans of nearly every campaign fought by the Army of Northern Virginia. Their precious flag was the last thing on their minds.

a Soldier's Saratoga Trunk

a Soldier’s Saratoga Trunk

After the war, the men heard their trunks had fallen into the hands of the Yankees, some blaming it on the treachery of the man left in charge of their belongings. As the soldiers got on with their lives and the battles became distant memories, the men defended their honor by reminding any who questioned them that their flag was stolen, not captured in battle. It had become such a foggy memory that some of the post war descriptions of the flags details were now being “mis-remembered”. York described the flag in 1892 as “On one side the arms of North Carolina and on the other a pine tree in a coiled rattlesnake”. He was only half right. The pine tree motif was more commonly seen on the regiments buttons.

6th NCST UNiform Button H.1914.236.8

By the 1890’s the old soldiers were beginning to reconcile their differences. On the morning of January 30, 1892, veterans of the North Carolina Grays must have been surprised to read a letter from a Yankee, in their local newspaper, addressed to them. “I am writing you this letter” wrote Major Thomas W Higgins, of the 73rd regiment of Ohio Infantry, “I now propose to return the flag to the survivors of the “North Carolina Greys (sic)”. Higgins explained how he was in charge of the expedition that captured the flag and has had it in his possession, adding that it is “in a tolerably good state of preservation”. He had previously offered it to former N. C. governor Holden at the end of the war, on the condition that “a company be raised to sustain the Union” but in the spirit of reconciliation was now offering it without any conditions.

Newspaper Headline from the State Chronicle

Newspaper Headline from the State Chronicle

He received a volley of letters from veterans each directing him how to return the flag, but it was’t until the Chatham Record newspaper suggested in an editorial that the flag return be part of a veterans reunion that Richard York, now known as Major York, organized a committee to plan a gala reunion and accept the flag. The Governor was invited, and on October 7, 1892 over 3,000 showed up in Morrisville, N. C. to see the North Carolina Gray’s get their flag back, at the same place it was originally presented to them. Among the attendees was Mrs. Fannie Lyon Lowe, who presented the flag 31 years earlier. Over 200 local veterans were in attendance. Of the 152 men serving in the company throughout the war, only 67 were left. When reading Company I’s roll, 31 members were present to answer “here”.

Miss Fanny Lowe Lyons

Miss Fanny Lyon Lowe

The primary event was Major Higgin’s presentation of the Flag to Major York, who in turn presented it to the Governors representative who proudly accepted it, remarking that it would be “tenderly placed in the State Library at Raleigh, to remain an everlasting reminder of the bravery and devotion”.
Ironically, through this much publicized event the flag became better known and viewed than when it was originally presented in 1861. The tattered relic became a symbol of the lost cause. Besides being on display at the North Carolina State Library, it was present at the dedication of the N. C. Confederate Veterans memorial on May 20, 1895 and flew over more veterans parades than it ever flew over Virginia battlefields. And yet it is a reminder of North Carolina’s heritage. Lovingly made by the daughters of the old North State to demonstrate their devotion, it was presented to the brave young men of their community who answered the call of their state government, many, never to return. This silken banner is a tangible reminder of the devotion of North Carolinians who lived and died a century and a half ago, but whose blood still runs in the veins of their descendants.
Sadly, this flag, like many artifacts from this time period are now in danger. All artifacts can decay over time when not properly conserved due to the adverse effects of light, temperature, humidity and pollutants in the air. Professional conservation can preserve this flag for future generations, but it will be costly. This fragile flag, in the collection of the North Carolina museum of History (19xx-330-174), will cost an estimated $15,000 to conserve before it can be put on display. We are concerned that this particular artifact may perish without our help. Many institutions have limited funding to conserve their collections, which is why The Cedar Fork Rifles Preservation Society, Inc. has begun a fund raising campaign in partnership with the museum. North Carolina has been a diligent stewart of this flag for over a century, but now is the time for us to act. The veterans who gave this flag to the state wanted it to be preserved and seen as a reminder of the sacrifices of her citizens. So do we.

Want to help? You may send your Tax Deductible Contribution directly to the  North Carolina Museum of History Associates  (Please Indicate that your donation is for the “North Carolina Grays Company Flag” project) at the following address:

Budget Officer- “North Carolina Grays Company Flag” project
N.C. Museum of History Associates
5 East Edenton St.
Raleigh, NC 27601-1011

or give your donation directly to members of the The Cedar Fork Rifles Preservation Society, Inc.

One hundred and fifty years ago the Cedar Fork community recognized how important is was for each individual to contribute to the cause in there own way. Now its our turn.


1861 Civil War silk flag, 6th Regiment, NC State Troops, CSA Scanned from 35mm conservation slide 4/19/2007


The 6th North Carolina State Troops Battle Flag Preservation committee wishes to Thank all the individuals, descendants and other donors helping us preserve this important reminder of the sacrifices made by the North Carolinians of the 6th NCST one hundred and fifty years ago.

Faces of the Sixth- The Barbee’s of Company I

Faces Logo

The following photographs and information are original members of the “Bloody Sixth”. I am honored to include their stories and images here. If you would like to share a story or photo about your 6th NCST ancestor, please leave a comment and I will be in touch.

The Barbee Brothers of Company I

The Barbee family appears in the 1860 Federal Census living in the eastern district of the county of Chatam. William, a 45 year old farmer and his wife Eliza, age 47, have 7 children living in their household.  Thomas (22),  Henry (21), Rufus (18), Cornelia (16), Ann (12), William (7) and Milly (5).

The three eldest brothers answered the call of the Confederacy. Only two survived. Here are their stories.


Corporal Thomas C. Barbee, Company I, Sixth North Carolina State Troops

Born: 16 April 1837
Prior Occupation: Farmer
Enlisted: May 28, 1861, for the war.
Where: Wake County (North Carolina Grays)
Age at enlistment: 24
Wounded: in leg at Gaines’ Mill, Virginia, June 27, 1862.
Paroled: Present or accounted for until paroled at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, April 9, 1865.

Corporal Thomas C. Barbee

Corporal Thomas C. Barbee (courtesy of descendant William O’Quinn)

Thomas C. Barbee (courtesy of descendant William O'Quinn)

Thomas C. Barbee with Paul Barbee circa 1890 (courtesy of descendant William O’Quinn)


Thomas enlisted in Wake County at age 24, May 28, 1861, for the war.  Brother Rufus, cousin Mordecai and himself are among 91 young men that joined the newly formed
“North Carolina Grays” that day in Morrisville, North Carolina. The members were mostly from  western Wake and Chatham counties and enlisted in Wake County on May 28, 1861. They went into the camp of instruction near Company Shops (Burlington), Alamance County, June 1, 1861, and were assigned to the 6th Regiment, North Carolina State troops as Company I.

Thomas mustered in as Private. He was wounded in the leg at Gaines’ Mill, Virginia, June 27, 1862. He was promoted to Corporal on August 1, 1863. He was present or accounted for until paroled at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, April 9, 1865.

Barbee Headstone

When he returned from the war He married Rebecca Trice on March 14, 1867. They had eight children, 5 sons and 3 daughters.

His farm was on the Barbee Road just below the Tyler Barbee estate. He was known by his family as William.

William Thomas Clingman Barbee died in 1903 and  is buried at Mt. Pisgah Baptist Church in Chatham County, North Carolina.

Sergeant Rufus Barbee, Company I, Sixth North Carolina State Troops

Thomas’ youngest military age  brother survived being a prisoner three times.

He was born February 26, 1842. He enlisted in Wake County when he was 19 years old with Thomas on May 28, 1861. He was mustered in as a private and was wounded at Seven Pines, Virginia on May 31, 1862, just 2 days after his brother Thomas. He was captured at South Mountain, Maryland on September 15, 1862 just as the battle of Sharpsburg was beginning. He was taken to Fort Delaware, Delaware, until he was paroled and transferred to Aiken’s Landing on the James River in Virginia on October 2, 1862 for exchange. He was declared exchanged on November 10, 1862.

Rufus Barbee in later Life (courtesy of descendant William O'Quinn)

Rufus Barbee in later Life (courtesy of descendant William O’Quinn)

Rufus was promoted to Corporal on December 1, 1862, and was promoted to Sergeant on January 1, 1863. He was captured at Strasburg, Virginia on September 22-23, 1864. He was taken to Point Lookout, Maryland where he was confined until paroled and transferred to Boulware’s Wharf on the James River on March 17, 1865 for exchange. He was in the hospital in Richmond where he was captured on April 3, 1865, and again transferred to Point Lookout on May 9,1865 and then paroled.

His Dec 2, 1925 Death Certificate shows he lived to be 82. He was Married To Adna Hudson. He was by occupation a Farmer. He lived in Morrisville in White Oak township his death.

He is buried on Davis Drive in the “Barbee Burying ground” about 1 mile from the Page house in Morrisville, where he marched of to war on a sunny spring day in 1861.

Henry B. Barbee Company I, Sixth North Carolina State Troops

Henry was the last brother belonging to  Company I. He enlisted in Chatham county, at age 22, on March 1, 1862 as a substitute for his father, William, who was in poor health.

He was admitted to General Hospital #12 in April 1862. Known as Banner Hospital, it was formerly the tobacco factory of William H. Grant. It had a Capacity over 250.It was located on the northeast corner of 19th and Franklin Streets in Richmond, Va.

We know only that, like so many others, he died of measles in Richmond on April
18, 1862. His final resting place in Richmond is in Oakwood Plot Section A, Row G, No. 2.  A large part of the interment in Oakwood consisted of three men to a plot.  The markers are impersonal small square stones about 6″ – 8″ square, and stand about 6″- 8″ high with the numbers on three sides of the stone.  No Photograph of him is known at this time.

3rd Lt. Mordecai B. Barbee, Co. I., was a cousin of these brothers. He enlisted in
Wake County and was appointed to the rank of 3rd Lieutenant of Company I on May 16, 1861. However, he resigned on October 4, 1862 “under charges of bad conduct at Seven Pines and Gaines Farm.”  His resignation was accepted on October 23, 1862.


Father William A. Barbee (1816-1907)

Like his sons, the elder Barbee enlisted on July 5, 1864 at age 47 in Company E, 6th Regiment North Carolina Senior Reserves. He was elected Lieutenant of the Company July 26, 1864. He served at Salisbury Union Prisoner of War Camp, Salisbury, NC. March 12,1865 hunting deserters in the mountains 20 miles west of the Yadkin River. He survived the war and is buried at Mt. Pisgah Baptist Church in Chatham County, North Carolina near his sons.

Source Notes:

1) Barbee in the 1860 United States Federal Census; Census Place: Eastern Division, Chatham, North Carolina; Roll: M653_892; Page: 2; Image: 48; Family History Library Film: 803892, Reviewed by Researcher Frederick Walton on 2/3/2016 on 1860 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2009. Images reproduced by FamilySearch.

2) Jordon, “North Carolina Troops, 1861-1865

3) “Thomas C. Barbe” in the North Carolina, Marriage Index 1741-2004, Reviewed by Researcher Frederick Walton on 2/4/2016, North Carolina, Marriage Index, 1741-2004 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2007.

4) Rufus Barbee, Wake, 1925, December, North Carolina, Death Certificates, 1909-1975,,Reviewed by Researcher Frederick Walton on 2/4/2016 on

5) oral family history and Photographsj provided by descendant William O’Quinn.

Additional information or photos would be welcomed to complete the 
record of this honorable soldier.