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Trophies of War

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Capturing the Flags of the 113th New York Infantry

The One Hundred Thirteenth New York Volunteer Infantry had been mustered into federal service in the late summer of 1862 only to be re-designated less than four months later as the 7th New York Heavy Artillery, providing mostly garrison service around Washington City until carried into the field to partake in the final epochs of the war in central Virginia.

┬áThe Richmond Examiner had published a story relating to the opening engagements surrounding Petersburg, Virginia and the capture of a beautiful regimental flag made of silk, heavily fringed which bore the inscription: “One Hundred and Thirteenth Regiment New York” and beneath it the word: “Excelsior.” The newspaper story read: “Trophies of the Fight” and accredited its capture sometime the evening of Friday June 17, 1864. The banner on both sides bore a painting illustrative of American Revolution battle scenes with the figure of George Washington in the foreground. Along with it, an artillery flag, white triangular bearing a red trefoil in the center had likewise been captured from these unfortunate soldiers.

The article caught the eye of Major General Bushrod R. Johnson, then commanding a division on the right of the Petersburg defensive. Initially correction was required to the story itself as that the Confederate division commander attested the flag having not been capture on that Friday night, but rather the previous Thursday evening, June 16th. The Richmond Examiner stated the items had been turned over to the state of Virginia by order of Brigadier General Henry A. Wise; and this caused a bit of a stir along the division lines seeking to correct the errors that occurred in delivering these prized possessions to the rear.

Lieutenant Francis M. Kelso of the 44th Tennessee Infantry stated that he saw the colors of the regiment opposite him that night shot down six times before their men lay in a ravine fifty yards in front waiving their hats and handkerchiefs as if to surrender. He had called on them twice to having done so before his men of the Volunteer State marched out of their own entrenchments and demanded they throw down their arms and come out.

These soldiers of the 7th New York Heavy Artillery carried three standards of colors, one of them identifying them as their old infantry regiment. The soldiers were turned over to the 64th Georgia Infantry to be marched to the rear, while the colors were retained, two of which had been given to Corporal L. W. Bush who escorted them to Poplar Lawn Hospital where he was treated for wounds during the assault. The last stand had been given to Lieutenant Isaac F. Speck of the 25th Tennessee Infantry having volunteered his services in carrying them to Colonel John S. Fulton, the brigade commander. This standard he was ordered to the rear with, but failed to obey his orders and subsequently wound up captured along with them.

Taken prisoner by Corporal Patrick Monaghan of Company G, 48th Pennsylvania Volunteers, the third standard of colors, unfortunate enough not to make it to the rear area, was that bearing the second identification of the regiment, the 7th New York Heavy Artillery. This feat in combat later earned this Sixth Corps soldier the Medal of Honor for gallantry in battle.

Brigadier General Henry A. Wise had endorsed the application in General Johnson’s report by stating the two flags had not been turned over to him personally; however, on the evening of June 17th, he discovered two flags at his headquarters; one he knew to be the one identified by the Richmond Examiner. The other had been a white triangular flag with what he termed the ‘ace of clubs’ in the center and told signified a unit of Second Army Corps. All the general knew of it was one of his couriers brought it to his headquarters from Poplar Lawn Hospital, property of a wounded soldier who had left them there; no name, no regiment nor company was known about him. The brigadier was determined at that moment to turn them over to the Secretary of State of Virginia, Colonel G. W. Munford.

Colonel John S. Fulton, commanding Johnson’s brigade was in full concurrence with the statement of his junior officer, Lieutenant Kelso. If it had not been for his men, the colors in question would not have been captured at all; nor would so many prisoners have been marched to the rear.

Adding more weight to the application, Assistant Surgeon E. A. Drewry wrote to Colonel Fulton that Corporal Bush had been admitted as a patient to his own ward and the colors had been initially entrusted to him. Both the regimental colors of the 113th New York Volunteers as well as the artillery pennant had been given to the druggist Mr. Trent who sent them up to General Wise’s headquarters along with the name of Lieutenant Francis Kelso, the soldier responsible for their capture. When the flags were found at headquarters the names responsible were not relayed.

The army had requested through channels, that the prizes be delivered to the Confederate government and due credit given the gallant soldiers of the 44th Tennessee Volunteers with their capture. In spite of the beautiful banner the One Hundred and Thirteenth New York Volunteer flag had been; it no longer existed as a sanctioned unit among the organization of the Army of the Potomac. Upon the recapture of the 7th New York Heavy Artillery banner, Second Army Corps could rightfully claim not having lost any colors in combat. Their day; however would come soon enough as the armies gathered about Petersburg and the hand to hand combat became more common place. The regimental flag; the prized possession both to carry as well as to capture; the award of seizing this beautiful banner belonged to those of the 44th Tennessee Volunteer Infantry of the Bushrod Johnson brigade.