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This is the third in a three-part blog series curated by Richard White about the Museum's new book, Civil War Flags of Tennessee (The University of Tennessee Press)
Civil War Flags of Tennessee, Stephen D. Cox, Principal Author and Editor-in-Chief (The University of Tennessee Press)
by Richard White
The first two installments in this blog series highlighted the history of flags in the military and the construction and inscriptions found on flags. This final installment will focus on flags that are on display within the current exhibits at the Tennessee State Museum. The flags are located within the Tennessee Time Tunnel and the Civil War and Reconstruction galleries. Since space is sometime limited on an exhibit label, this post provides an opportunity for a deeper dive into the rich history of these flags.
Part 3: Three Flags in the Museum’s Collection
Flag of Lebanon Grays
Flag, “Lebanon Grays,” 7th Tennessee Infantry, C.S.A. (Tennessee State Museum Collection, 82.59)
Located within the Tennessee Time Tunnel is the Confederate First National flag that belonged to Company H, “Lebanon Grays,” 7th Tennessee Infantry, C.S.A. The flag is based on a design that was proposed in April 1861 as an official state flag, but was never adopted by both houses of the legislature. The flag would have the same pattern as the first Confederate flag, but had a variation of the Tennessee State Seal in the canton. This silk flag was presented to the Lebanon Grays at the Wilson County courthouse in Lebanon on April 23, 1861. The flag was constructed by the women of Lebanon and was presented by Miss Maria Norman. Located in the central stripe is the inscription, “The Women of Lebanon To The Lebanon Greys. GO AND FIGHT!”
Detail, State Seal on “Lebanon Grays” flag
The 7th Tennessee Infantry was formed in May 1861, with six companies from Wilson County; Sumner, DeKalb, and Smith counties were represented in additional companies. The regiment was immediately ordered to Virginia and would eventually become part of the famed Tennessee Brigade of the Army of Northern Virginia. This was a company flag and would have been replaced by a regimental flag when the 7th Tennessee Infantry was formed. From the current records, it does not appear that this flag flew in any major battles before it was replaced in May 1862, when a new regimental flag was issued prior to the Battle of Gaines’ Mill. This flag was kept in the personal baggage of regimental commander, Lt. Col. John K. Howard, who was mortally wounded at Gaines’ Mill, and died in Richmond, Virginia on July 22, 1862. The flag was in the possession of a private collector when it was acquired by the state of Tennessee in 1982.
Tintype, Private Jesse Fairchild, Co. D, 7th Tennessee Infantry, C.S.A. (Tennessee State Museum Collection, 2000.162)
Flag of the 20th Tennessee Infantry, C.S.A.
Flag, 20th Tennessee Infantry, C.S.A. (Tennessee State Museum Collection, 73.26)
The next flag encountered within the Museum galleries is in the exhibit cases related to the battles of Forts Henry and Donelson. This elaborately appointed Confederate First National flag belonged to the 20th Tennessee Infantry, C.S.A. The flag is modeled on the first flag adopted by the Confederate government, was constructed by the women of Nashville, and presented to the regiment on July 29, 1861, while they were encamped at Bristol, Tennessee. The battle honors affixed to the flag, in the scroll at the top, are a testament to a regiment that saw extensive action in the War. They include Barboursville, Rock Castle, Fishing Creek, Shiloh, Vicksburg, and Baton Rouge, all applied with gold paint. The canton has a unique design of thirteen stars, with "Omnipotence Reigneth" painted in gold. The white stripe features the unit designation.
Detail, canton of 20th Tennessee Infantry flag.
The 20th Tennessee was raised in May and June 1861, with men from Davidson, Williamson, Rutherford, Sumner, Perry, Wayne, Humphries, Hickman, Smith, Macon, and Wilson counties, under the command of Col. Joel A. Battle. The regiment was sent to Cumberland Gap as part of Brig. Gen. Felix Zollicoffer's force, fighting at the Battle of Mill Springs, or Fishing Creek, Kentucky. Following a move back into Tennessee, the 20th Tennessee fought at the Battle of Shiloh, then served some time in Mississippi and Louisiana before being transferred to the Army of Tennessee in September 1862. This flag was carried through all those engagements and, following the Battle of Stones River, was retired and a new flag was presented to the regiment. The flag remained in the possession of Captain William Robertson, of Company A, who donated it to the Tennessee Historical Society in 1919.
Balie Peyton, Jr., 20th Tennessee Infantry, seen here in this bookplate engraving, was killed at the Battle of Mill Springs, Kentucky, while carrying this Model 1840 cavalry saber that had belonged to his father. (Tennessee State Museum Collection, 10.120.3 and 80.46.1A)
Company Flag of the 17th Indiana Mounted Infantry, U.S.A.
Flag, 17th Indiana Mounted Infantry, U.S.A. (Tennessee State Museum Collection, 2005.228.1)
The final flag displayed within the Civil War and Reconstruction gallery is located within the case dedicated to the Battle of Chickamauga. This United States Army cavalry guidon belonged to a company in the 17th Indiana Mounted Infantry, U.S.A. The regiment was issued this flag, likely made at the Philadelphia Depot, sometime in the summer of 1863, prior to their participation in the battles of Hoover's Gap and Chickamauga.
Photograph, “J. T. Wilder, Bv’t.-Brig. General,” 1864 (Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)
The regiment was raised in Indianapolis, Indiana, by Col. John T. Wilder on June 12, 1861. In February 1863, the regiment was armed with Spencer Repeating Rifles and mounted on horseback, becoming part of Wilder's "Lightning Brigade." At the Battle of Chickamauga, Wilder's men were instrumental in plugging holes in the Union line because of their ability to move so quickly and lay down a tremendous amount of firepower. The swatches of the flag that are missing were most likely cut by soldiers of the regiment and kept as souvenirs. It remained in the possession of Wilder, who settled in Chattanooga after war, where he was successful in business and was elected mayor. The flag was donated to the Museum in 2005.
Postcard, Wilder’s Tower at Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, about 1930 (Tennessee State Museum Collection, 2009.8.9.14)
I hope that you have enjoyed this blog series preview of the recently released, Civil War Flags of Tennessee (University of Tennessee Press). It was my pleasure to work on the project and it truly is a monumental work of scholarship and history. The book is laced with personal stories of the people of Tennessee; including men, women, soldiers, sailors, politicians, and African Americans. Their stories are all represented here.
Read Part 1
Read Part 2
Watch a video discussion with Richard White, curator of 18th and 19th century history, and Dan Pomeroy, chief curator and director of collections, about the origins of the book, the scholarship that has gone into it, and what readers can expect from its 600-plus pages, numerous essays and color illustrations.
Richard White is the Tennessee State Museum curator of 18th and 19th Century History