Efforts have begun to conserve a North Carolina state flag captured by Union forces during the Battle of New Bern.
The banner was carried by the 33rd North Carolina State Troops during the March 14, 1862, battle at New Bern, NC. The encounter marked one of Federal leader Ambrose Burnside’s few highlights during the war, when his troops overcame an undermanned Confederate position and captured what was a key supply point.
New Bern would remain under Yankee control for the remainder of the war.
The conservation of the 33rd North Carolina regimental flag is the latest project of the Society for the Historical Preservation of the 26th Regiment North Carolina Troops, the largest group of War Between the States re-enactors in the Tar Heel State.
The 26th Regiment is working with the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh to conserve the 150-year-old standard; the effort will cost an estimated $7,500 to $10,000.
The 33rd North Carolina State Troops was organized in Raleigh in September 1861 and saw its first action at New Bern, according to the New Bern Sun Journal.
During the battle, the 33rd North Carolina suffered the greatest number of casualties of the six Confederate regiments engaged, with 32 men killed, 28 wounded and more than 100 taken prisoner, including its commander, Col. Clarke Avery.
In all, Confederate losses were 64 killed, 101 wounded and 413 captured or missing. Northern casualties were 90 killed, 380 wounded and 1 missing.
The 33rd North Carolina and the 26th North Carolina were the last two units to withdraw from the New Bern battlefield.
“These two regiments were the best armed and fought the most gallantly of any of the enemy’s forces,” Lt. Col. William S. Clark, commander of the 21st Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, wrote in the official after-action report. “They kept up an incessant fire for three hours, until their ammunition was exhausted and the remainder of the rebel forces had retreated.”
The North Carolina Museum of History describes the banner as, “a standard wool bunting state flag, although it lacks any method of attachment to a staff.”
It is likely that Union Brig. Gen. John G. Foster captured the standard when he took Clarke and a significant portion of the 33rd North Carolina’s troops, according to the New Bern Sun Journal.
According to a 1917 article in the Raleigh News & Observer, Foster gave the flag to his friend Col. John L. Lay, who kept it in his possession until he gave it to his sister, Mary A. Ensign of Buffalo, N.Y.
Eventually, the flag came to the attention of the Rev. Charles A. Jessup, rector of Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church in Buffalo and a friend of Ensign. Jessup urged that it be returned to North Carolina.
He contacted Mary Eugene Little of Wadesboro, N.C., of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, who then notified North Carolina Gov. Thomas W. Bickett.
Ensign died in September, and Jessup subsequently returned the flag in a ceremony at the Hall of History on Oct. 14, 1917, the Sun Journal reported.
Through a partnership with the N.C. Museum of History, the 26th North Carolina has raised funds to restore battle flags belonging to seven other Confederate regiments: the 1st North Carolina State Troops, 16th North Carolina, 22nd North Carolina, 26th North Carolina, 47th North Carolina, 52nd North Carolina and 58th North Carolina.
Donations to help conserve the 33rd North Carolina State Troops flag are tax-deductible, and 100 percent of donations will go towards the project. For more information, click here.
Once the 33rd North Carolina flag project is completed, a special ceremony re-dedicating the flag will be held at the museum, according to the New Bern Sun Journal.