Return of captured Confederate flags 1887 and 1905

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In 1887, during the first Cleveland Administration, the U.S. Government proposed to return to Southern states Confederate flags captured by Union units in the ACW. Governor Foraker of Ohio flatly refused and filed for a writ of mandamus to prevent the Secretary of War from doing so. The storm of protest was led by Grand Army of the Republic leader General Fairchild. Fairchild, "called down palsy on the hand, brain, and tongue responsible for the order returning the flags." (New York Times, April 25, 1905, p. 2). At a GAR ceremonial dinner in New Haven Connecticut, Fairchild stated

They tell us nowadays that all men are loyal. I thank God that it is so. But the Grand Army men have a lyalty that is spelled with capital letters; a loyalty without any "ifs" or "buts;" a loyalty which they will teach to their children and children's children; a loyalty teaching that the allegiance of every American citizen is due to the American flag under all circumstances, and if demanded they shal turn their backs upon their State flags and follow the Stars and Stripes. The Grand Army men have always been the friends of the South from 1861 to 1887. They were the best friends of the Southern people when they saved them from themselves. When afflicted with yellow fever, when they wanted to build soldiers' homes, when Charleston was wrecked by earthquakes, the Grand Army men were the first to tender assistance. We have no feeling of hate or malice toward the South, but we feel that they have no right to take back into their possession the relics of the rebels' flags. I believe, thank God, that the right to associate a State in the Union with a State which it was supposed was in existence during the war. What would Missouri or Maryland or Kentucky do with the rebel flags if they were restored to them[?] Destroy them I should hope. To return them would be a lesson in treason. (NYT, June 17, 1887, p. 1)
Fairchild pleaded with the Governor of Connecticut to not return the flags. The governor rose and assured the GAR man that the flags would not be returned.

Another guest at the dinner was William T. Sherman did not reply to Fairchild's remarks saying that he only came to witness the GAR event.

President Cleveland rescinded the order saying that returning the flags was not justified by law or executive act. (The Evening Star (Washington, DC), June 17, 1887, p. 1)

In 1905, flags were discovered in the basement of the War Department and President Theodore Roosevelt ordered the flags returned to hometowns. Some flags could not be identified as to unit and were given to state historical societies.

Someone said a war is not over until the last veteran is dead.
 

James N.

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As I recently posted in another thread, it seems the stored flags were SO important to the War Department by the time they were finally returned to the states that some Union XX Corps flags were included in ones sent to Texas because they had five-pointed stars on them and by then nobody realized what they really were!
 

James N.

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I found this article about the regimental flags of the 31st and 45th Alabama Infantries. The flags were just returned to Alabama from the state of Iowa in 2012.

http://peachlivingmagazine.com/?p=336

Very interesting to me, especially as the 45th Alabama was also in Lowrey's Brigade of Cleburne's Division along with my ancestor's 33d. According to Gary Ecelbarger's excellent The Day Dixie Died ( the July 22 Battle of Atlanta ) since it was Col. William W. Belknap commanding the 15th Iowa who personally collared and captured Col. H. P. Lampley commanding the 45th, it's likely some of his men took the flag of the 45th at the same time, accounting for its presence in that state.
 

Cumpston1862

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Very interesting to me, especially as the 45th Alabama was also in Lowrey's Brigade of Cleburne's Division along with my ancestor's 33d. According to Gary Ecelbarger's excellent The Day Dixie Died ( the July 22 Battle of Atlanta ) since it was Col. William W. Belknap commanding the 15th Iowa who personally collared and captured Col. H. P. Lampley commanding the 45th, it's likely some of his men took the flag of the 45th at the same time, accounting for its presence in that state.


It's possible but hard to say for sure. Many of the Confederate flags in the Iowa collection have very little information attached to them. In one instance a single Iowa soldier had 3 or 4 Confederate flags in his possesion after the war when he donated them before he passed away in the 1920s. As I recall one of the flags was from a unit that is not even documented to have engaged his on the battlefield. How did one guy get that many flags from battles he wasn't at? I don't know. Maybe he traded for them. We may never know.

I was lucky enough to see the 31st and 45th Alabama flags in person up close and they are incredible! Whether you bleed Yankee or Rebel being that close to that kind of history puts a weakness in the knees. I actually built the aluminum frames for their display and return to Alabama and only came upon the article by happenstance doing a search for another Confederate flag. I decided to post the link as it seemed relevant to this thread.

As an aside the Iowa Historical Society had a large South Carolina Palmetto flag in their collection that was returned to the Citadel about 2 years ago. This flag was supposedly flown during the cadets firing on the Star of the West in Charleston Harbor in January 1861. Anyway my point is the Iowa soldier who's wife donated that flag after he passed away did not know how or what were the circumstances of him aquiring the flag were other than "sometime during the war". She said her late husband and her had been using the flag as a bedspread for the past 30 plus years!

http://www.citadel.edu/root/bigred_returns
 

Cumpston1862

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A new twist on swords to plowshares. I suspect that the ghosts of the men who fought under the banner would somehow approve – a Yankee couple under the protection of Confederate soldiers.


Perhaps. I guess more than anything I am glad it survived that kind of usage. Thankfully they didn't seem to smoke in bed either.:unsure:
 

James N.

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Perhaps. I guess more than anything I am glad it survived that kind of usage. Thankfully they didn't seem to smoke in bed either.:unsure:

Actually, a greater source of damage to textiles in this period was probably dipping snuff and chewing tobacco - I've seen both quilts and coverlets so stained with the tell-tale brown spots!
 

Ashintully57

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I think I remember hearing a story that the Return of the Battle Flags Issue played a part in Cleveland losing his reelection bid in 1888.

Has anyone else heard this?
 

James N.

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I think I remember hearing a story that the Return of the Battle Flags Issue played a part in Cleveland losing his reelection bid in 1888.

Has anyone else heard this?

I wouldn't doubt it - and remember he was the only Democratic President between Buchannan and Wilson; and though from the North, had hired a substitute to take his place during the war! So I'm sure he was doubly dam ned by both mainstream Republicans and members of the Grand Army of the Republic who at that time wielded considerable clout.
 

Ashintully57

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Yes the 1888 election was very close . In fact for the second of his three times Cleveland won the popular vote. In 1884, 1888 and 1892. He only won the electoral vote and thus the presidency on his first and third attempts.
 
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I think I remember hearing a story that the Return of the Battle Flags Issue played a part in Cleveland losing his reelection bid in 1888.

Has anyone else heard this?
That issue might have influenced some voters, but I doubt it made the difference. After all he backed down on the deal. Many voters – all male – voted with local party affiliations since most federal jobs were still patronage jobs. A voter could have been voting for or against the local postmaster, the collector of customs, the marshal, or someone from the Interior Department. Reconciliation was the trend in those days.
 

Bowen

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I think I remember hearing a story that the Return of the Battle Flags Issue played a part in Cleveland losing his reelection bid in 1888.

Has anyone else heard this?
Actually Grover Cleveland won the popular vote in 1888 but lost New York State which cost him the electoral college. The issues that decided the 1888 election were tariffs and Civil War pensions, not captured battle flags. The flags issue certainly did not hurt him in 1892 when he won his second election making him the only president to win two non consecutive elections. I suspect the American public did not care one way or another about returning captured flags from over 20 years ago.

Upon leaving the White House at the end of her husband's first term, First Lady Frances Cleveland is reported to have told the White House staff to take care of the building since the Clevelands would be returning in four years. She proved correct, becoming the only First Lady to preside at two nonconsecutive administrations.
 
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RobertP

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Grand Army of the Republic leader General Fairchild said:

"The Grand Army men have always been the friends of the South from 1861 to 1887. They were the best friends of the Southern people when they saved them from themselves."

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