Confederate battle flag has storied history
The Confederate battle flag returned to South Carolina last month after spending decades in a Tennessee children’s museum wasn’t any display banner that avoided capture because it was tucked inside a quartermasters’ wagon as the war wound down.
Indeed, Pvt. George W. Wise of the 19th SC Infantry Regiment carried the flag into battles from middle Tennessee to Atlanta during the ugliest days of the Civil War.
“It was shot out of his hands in Murfreesboro in 1863, and he probably dropped it when he lost his left arm in a battle at Shelbyville,” reported the Charleston Post and Courier. “But Pvt. Wise never really let go of that flag. When the war ended, Wise carried the tattered, bullet-riddled banner home.”
Last month, the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the state of South Carolina announced they had worked together to purchase the banner from the Children’s Museum of Oak Ridge, Tenn., for $50,000.
It becomes one of the most important flags in the collection of the Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum in Columbia.
“It’s real significant simply because it’s an unusual flag with the diamond box on the center star, and because the provenance is so strong on this,” Relic Room Director Allen Roberson said. “We’re pretty sure bullets went through this flag, and the granddaughter said there is blood on it.”
As rare as Confederate flags are, ones with battle damage are even scarcer. And finding one from South Carolina? It’s been nearly two decades since the museum took in a flag of this import, according to the Post and Courier.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans have been funding conservation of many Relic Room flags for several years in an effort to prevent further deterioration; the group also searches for South Carolina flags to return home.
They found the 19th SC Infantry Regiment flag in the Oak Ridge museum, along with a 1955 newspaper article that helped them buy back the flag.
In that story, Mrs. Fred Randall – Wise’s granddaughter – details how the flag was shot out of Wise’s hand at Murfreesboro, and how he lost his left arm below the elbow at Shelbyville.
He told his grandchildren that his arm was buried on the banks of the Duck River.
Randall doesn’t say how Wise carried the flag home, but that was not uncommon – many soldiers saved flags.
Her final quote gave the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the Relic Room an in: “Mrs. Randall plans to present the flag to the Confederate museum in South Carolina.”
But that never happened. Instead the flag fell into the hands of a doctor, who gave it to the Children’s Museum, where it wasn’t exactly a natural fit. And there it sat for more than 50 years, according to the Charleston newspaper.
“This flag is an integral part of Manigault’s Brigade,” said Randy Burbage, past commander of the South Carolina Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. “It has a strong connection to South Carolina history.”
The 19th South Carolina fought under Charleston native Arthur Middleton Manigault’s brigade. Originally established late in 1861, the 19th – along with the 10th SC Infantry Regiment – arrived in Tennessee too late to fight in the battle at Shiloh, but they were in the middle of every other major engagement in that part of the country, including the bloody battle of Franklin in November 1864.
The 19th and 10th took heavy casualties during the fighting, so much so that they had to be combined for a year, but somehow Wise managed to survive. Even missing an arm, he kept fighting until the end of the war, the paper reported.
It will likely cost between $7,000 and $15,000 to conserve the flag Wise brought back.
Roberson said the flag is one of the most important in the Relic Room’s collection of 200 flags, 100 of them Civil War-related.
“It’s not just the flag,” Roberson said, “it’s saving South Carolina’s history.”
(Above: Flag carried by Pvt. George Wise of the 19th SC Infantry Regiment, recently returned to South Carolina after spending decades in Tennessee. Image: Courtesy of Confederate Relic Room.)