Confederate flag returns to Fort McAllister

My feel good on Friday story:

Confederate flag back at Georgia fort after 148 years

RICHMOND HILL, Ga. – (AP) — As Fort McAllister fell to the Union Army of Gen. William T. Sherman days before Christmas in 1864, one of his artillery officers seized the Confederate flag of a vanquished company of Georgia riflemen. The officer carried the silk banner home to Maine as a souvenir, and it stayed in his family for three generations in a box along with a handwritten note: “To be return to Savannah or Atlanta sometime.”

Nobody knows for sure why the late Maj. William Zoron Clayton wanted his Civil War trophy flag returned to the South. But after 148 years, his wish has been honored.

The Union officer’s great-grandson, Robert Clayton, donated the flag to be displayed at Fort McAllister State Historic Park in coastal Georgia, where a dedication is planned next month just before Confederate Memorial Day. Clayton suspects his ancestor wanted to pay back his former enemies after a Bible taken from him by Confederate troops during the war was returned to him by mail 63 years later.

“I think he had a little sympathy for the plight of the Confederates,” said Clayton, a homebuilder who lives in Islesboro, Maine. “They returned his Bible, so he wanted to return their flag. One good turn deserves another.”

So where has the flag been all these years?

Clayton had found the flag, and its note with his great-grandfather’s wish, about 20 years earlier stashed in a closet. He said he didn’t know why older family members had never returned it, but also admits he wasn’t at first eager to part with the flag himself. Instead he framed the banner and displayed it in his home.

Clayton said his visit to Fort McAllister made him change his mind. Before he left Georgia, he had agreed to donate the flag and follow through on his great-grandfather’s written request. But it took months to make the final exchange — mostly, Clayton says, because he couldn’t work up the nerve to mail the flag 1,230 miles from Maine to Georgia. When he finally shipped it for overnight delivery last summer, he stayed up tracking the package online until it arrived.

Once the flag arrived in Georgia, park rangers turned it over to conservation experts who mounted and sealed it in a protective frame. Park staffers finally hung it above a display at Fort McAllister’s museum last month.

Brown said he had some doubts when he first heard Clayton’s story, but once he saw the flag he could quickly tell it was authentic. The dates of two prior battles in which the Emmett Rifles fought at Fort McAllister — Feb. 1 and March 3, 1863 — were also painted on the silk. Brown had records of the military orders authorizing the unit to add those specific dates as honors to its flag.

His files also confirmed that historians had identified the Union officer who captured the flag in 1864 as Maj. Clayton, the donor’s great-grandfather.

And for Greg Biggs if he is listening:

Civil War flag experts say the Confederate banner is a remarkable specimen that was hand-sewn from pieces of silk with a fancy golden fringe.

There’s one small tear and the red field has faded almost to pink, but its blue “X” and white stars remain crisp. So do the hand-painted words — “Emmett Rifles” and “Fort McAllister” — and battle honors.

You can read the whole story here.

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

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