FLAGS OF THE 21ST MICHIGAN
By
Lowell White
 


During The War Of The Rebellion, the flags carried by regiments of both sides were held in high esteem by the soldiers who fought and died underneath them. The flag was the symbol of the regiment. To lose the colors was a source of shame. To capture an enemy flag resulted in glory for the regiment that captured it. The capture of a rebel flag was the most common reason for receiving the Medal Of Honor. On a more practical level the flag was essential as a guide when maneuvering using the linear tactics of the day. When the flag went forward, the men would follow. If the regiment was obliged to retreat it was the around the flag that the men would rally. Each regiment would carry one national flag, the “stars and stripes”. Most regiments would also carry a regimental flag, sometimes also referred to as the “state” flag. Presentation flags often had the state coat of arms or other patriotic theme painted or embroidered on it. Regimental flags issued by the War Department had a painted eagle with the name of the regiment usually painted on a scroll underneath.

Flags were obtained from three sources. The first category was presentation flags. These were usually expensive flags crafted from the finest material and obtained from private makers of which Tiffany and Company of New York was the most prominent. Other flags were issued by the state. The State Of Pennsylvania issued flags to each of its regiments. However, only was Michigan regiment, the 22nd Infantry was known to have received one and that was most likely because its first colonel, Moses Wisner, was a former governor of Michigan. Finally, starting in 1862, units would be issued flags by the war department via depots in New York, Philadelphia and Cincinnati. The depots would obtain flags from local contractors. For more information on Union flags the reader should refer to the book Echoes Of Glory, Arms And Equipment Of The Union by the editors of Time Life Books.

The 21st Michigan Infantry received two presentation flags before leaving the state and were issued at least two and probably three more by the War Department. Five flags of the 21st currently exist. One is on display at the courthouse in Ionia MI and the others are stored in the State Historical Center in Lansing. The flag in Ionia will be referred to as the Ionia flag. The four flags in Lansing will be referred to by its catalog number such as SC-69-90. A discussion of each flag follows:

The Ladies of Ionia Flag || First National Flag ||Horstmann Bros Regimental Flag

New York Depot Flag || Unknown National Flag || 21st Flag Bearers And Color Guard

Civil War Color Companies

For more information on how to help preserve these state and national treasures, please e-mail us.

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The Ladies of Ionia Flag

[Photo of Flag]

The August 22, 1862 issue of the Detroit Free Press had a short article stating “Flag for the Twenty First-Messrs F Buhl & Co. have just completed a splendid flag for the Twenty-first. The flag is one of the finest that has yet been gotten up for any Michigan Regiment.”

The September 1 1862 issue of the Detroit Advertiser And Tribune went into more detail. “Splendid Flag For The Twenty-First Michigan Infantry- The ladies of Ionia have procured through Messers. Buhl & Co., of this city, a magnificent heavy silk flag. The center is beautifully decorated with an American Eagle, holding its quiver of arrows, olive branch &c., over this a small national flag, and beneath it the words, “Union, Constitution”- all so artistically embroidered in various colored silk, as to represent a fine painting- the work of a lady in New York, who devoted some three months steady work in its execution. As a work of art, it is the most beautiful piece of needle-work we ever saw. The flag is trimmed with heavy gilt fringe and tassels, and is mounted on a jointed pike, tipped with a gilt eagle. The whole cost $225.00. Such a present indicates the generous and patriotic character of the ladies of Ionia, and can but inspire the men and officers of the Twenty-first with heroic deeds to protect it from rebel assaults. May they carry it from victory to victory!”

In a letter to his brother, Pvt. Chauncey Peck of Co F described the flag presentation ceremonies which took place September 6, 1862. “Two excursion trains came to camp one from each way stopping in front of camp. One from Ottawa County bringing a Sabbath School from Grand Haven., besides many others. They presented a flag to the Ottawa Company (Co G) accompanied by appropriate exercises. At 3 pm the regiment was formed in a hollow square on the parade ground, equipped and armed. A staging was erected in the center and we began to think that something was going to be done. The staging was put up in the center of the square and the ladies and speakers and officers (sic) nearly filled the square besides and immense crowd outside I think over 2,000, people were in attendance. Besides the right exercises commenced by presentation of s splendid flag to the regiment costing $100 or $200. A horse sword, belt and pistol to Major Hunting by the Ottawa folks. A sword and belt to one of the captains by his company. But the best of all were speeches by Hon. Chandler and Hon F.W. Kellogg. They were first rate, especially the first.”

The solders were proud of this flag as evidenced by several photos of members of the regiment taken in the Chattanooga TN area in late 1863 or 1864. The flag is in every photo. The flag was returned to the ladies of Ionia in a ceremony which took place July 4, 1865. The flag is on display in the courthouse in Ionia Michigan.

The flag is as described by the newspaper article quoted above. Painted in gold on a red scroll near the top of the flag an inscription reads “Presented By The Ladies Of Ionia”. A scroll across the lower portion of the flag reads “21st Michigan Regt Infantry”. The eagle and flag motif in the center is embroidered. The flag measures 6’ per side. The strands of the gold fringe measures 2 ½ “. The flag is attached to the two part pole by 9 ties. It has a brass ball at the top but the eagle, which is clearly visible in the wartime photos, is missing. Beneath the flag is a pennant with the battle honors painted on it. These are Champlin Hills, Browns Ferry, Bentonsville, Stone River, Averysboro, Chickamauga, Chattanooga and Savannah. The flag is typical of those made by Tiffany & Company New York. F. Buhl & Company in Detroit probably obtained it through Tiffany and added the painted lettering locally. The flag is in remarkably good condition and shows no evidence of battle damage or heavy wear and tear or souveniring. It was most likely carefully preserved and the regimental flag issued by the War Department was carried in combat instead.

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SC-67-90 First National Flag

[Photo of Flag]

This flag has seen much hard service. An account of the 21st at Stone River in the Detroit Free Press states that “We went into battle with one ball hole through our colors, which we received at Perrysville, and came out with twenty-six holes in our colors and through our staff.” An account of the same battle in the Detroit Advertiser And Tribune states “For two full hours we were in the midst of this lead and iron hail, until two of our flag bearers were shot down, and twenty-six bullet holes torn in our banner.” In a letter home dated May 5th, 1863, Pvt. George D. Barker of Co. K wrote that “Our flag bears the names of two of the most important battles of the West.” An 1863 newspaper article from the Detroit Free Press stated that the battle honors Perryville and Stone River were painted on the flag. Chas S Brown in a letter dated January 5th, 1865 describing action near Savannah GA stated “I meant to send some of the Regt. Flag which was torn out by the explosion of a shell while passing through it the smaller pieces I picked off my hat (as I was under it) or rather next behind the “Col. Bearer” the shell was about six feet over us & knocked two boys down with the air but no one hurt.”

This flag is a bit mysterious in that all that remains of it is a few bits of red and blue silk and some gold paint on the red stripe below the center stripe. It is probably this flag described in the accounts above. Twenty six holes from Perryville and Stone River, a shell hit from Savannah plus probably more damage from Chickamauga and other smaller engagements not to mention souveniring would account for this flags condition. This flag was attached to the staff by a sleeve and has a narrow canton typical of those issued by the Philadelphia depot. The finial is missing from the staff so it provides no clues as to its maker. It was probably issued by the War Department soon after the regiment left the state and may have been issued along with SC-68-90 as flags were often issued in pairs. However, it cannot be ruled out that it is the flag presented by the Grand Haven Sunday school to Company G.

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SC-68-90 Horstmann Bros Regimental Flag

[Photo of Flag] [Close up of Flag Fringe]

On September 6, 1862 the ladies of Ionia presented an expensive presentation flag to the 21st Michigan Infantry, The men were obviously proud of it, posed for pictures with it and returned it to the ladies of Ionia after the war. The flag is on display in the courthouse in Ionia MI and is in remarkably good shape with no signs of battle damage or hard use in spite of belonging to a regiment that was in the field for almost three years. The best explanation for this is that the regiment carefully preserved that flag and used other flags for field duty and in battle.

While the Ionia flag shows no signs of battle damage or of hard field service, SC-68-90 is just the opposite as it does show signs of heavy use including battle damage and souveniring. It is of the type issued by the War Department and made under contract for the Philadelphia depot. It may have been issued with SC-67-90 as a “stand of colors” were frequently issued in pairs. As SC-67-90 was probably rendered unserviceable after being hit by an artillery shell near Savannah it is quite possible the 21st went through the Carolina campaign under this flag.

The flag is a War Department issue from the Philadelphia depot. It has a painted eagle with wings spread in the center. Through the mouth of the eagle is painted in gold on a light blue ribbon the words “E PLURIBUS” to the left of the eagle. The part to the right is missing but would have said “UNUM”. A red scroll is painted below the eagle. The portion to the left has painted in gold with black trim “21st REGT.”. The portion under the eagle is missing but most likely said “MICHIGAN”. The portion to the right has painted on it “INFANTRY.”. The flag has gold colored silk fringe with strands 2 ¼“ long. On the lower left of the red scroll on the reverse side can be made out in small gold lettering “Horstmann Bros. Phila.”. On the lower right hand side of the scroll on the reverse side is painted in gold “E. M. Davis Ionia Mich”. Horstmann Brothers was a company in Philadelphia PA which made flags under contract for the Philadelphia depot. As Flags were issued without the regimental designation, it is possible that E. M. Davis was the artist who painted the regimental designation on the flag. Mr. Davis is not on the rolls of the 21st so the flag must have been sent home to have this done. The regimental designation and battle honors on the first national may have also been applied in the same way.

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SC-69-90 New York Depot Flag

[Photo of Flag]

When a flag no longer became serviceable, it was common practice for the colonel of a regiment to apply to the War Department for a replacement. With SC-67-90 badly damaged at Savannah, this flag may have been the replacement for it. However, as all the major battles of the regiment are painted on it in identical lettering, it is not likely the flag saw combat and what little wear on it probably is the result of age. However, it probably was carried in the Grand Review in Washington DC and in the ceremonies upon arrival home.

The flag is typical of those issued through the New York depot although maker marks are not visible. It measures 71” on the staff and 70” on the fly while the canton is 38 ½ “ on the staff and 36” on the fly. (Shrinkage over the years may account for the difference between this and the regulation 6 x 6 ½ feet. ) The stars are painted gold and measure 2” point to point and are arranged in rows of 7-7-6-7-7. The fringe is gold silk 2” in length. Painted on the flag in gold letters 2 ½ “ high is “21st . MICH. VOL. INFt.” with a sunburst underneath. Below that on each stripe is painted a battle honor. They are: PERRYVILLE,, STONE RIVER,, CHICKAMAUGA,, BROWN’S FERRY,, CHATTANOOGA,, SAVANNAH,, AVERYSBORO,, BENTONVILLE

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SC-70-90 Unknown National Flag

[Photo of Flag]

This flag is non regulation and would not have been War Department issue. It most likely was an inexpensive presentation flag. It may be the flag given to Company G at Ionia on September 6, 1862. The flag is in good shape and shows no evidence of battle damage or heavy field use. The white stars are sewn on and are arranged in rows of 4-5-5-5-5-5-5 on a narrow canton. The flag has no fringe and the staff has a non regulation finial.

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Flag Bearers And Color Guard

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  HQ 21st Mich Vol Inf
Lookout Mtn Tenn
June 25, 1864
Special Order No 20
   
Private Lafayette Reeves of Company H is hereby detailed to take charge of the regimental colors. He will report to headquarters for instruction without delay.
   
  By Order
L M Bishop
Lt Col Cmdg

  HQ 21st Mich Vol Inf
Lookout Mtn Georgia
September 23, 1864
   

BN Order No 94

The following named non commissioned officers are hereby detailed as Regt color bearers.
Sergeant Silas Foster of Co C.
Corp Edward Berry of Co. B.
Corp John Ashley of Co D.
They will turn over to their company commanders their guns and accouterments and will report at these headquarters for duty without delay.

   
 

By order of Benton Fox
Maj. Cmdg
OL Townsend
1st Lt act adjutant


The above is from the regimental order books of the 21st Michigan Infantry in the National Archives. Similar orders give a partial list of 21st members who served as flag bearers or in the color guard. This includes Cpls James McClure, Wilson Millard and Eber Rice Co G. B .Nelson Co H, Cpl Joseph Canfield Co. D, Sgt Daniel Force and Cpl James Vandersluis Co. B, Cpl Edgar C Robinson Co F, Cpl Cordes Hunt and Pvt S Ward Co K.

Sgt Force was color sergeant for most of 1863 but was in hospital sick on September 1 1863 and probably missed Chickamauga. Sgt Foster was color sergeant from September 1864 until being promoted to acting sergeant major in April 1865.

Company rosters list men in the color guard as detached on “daily duty”. All indications indicate that the color guard was part of regimental headquarters rather than being part of a color company.

   


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Last modified date and time: 01/18/2010 13:31