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5th North Carolina State Troops - Living History & Research

5th North Carolina State Troops - Battle Flag
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REGIMENTAL FLAG 2002.77.1 REGIMENTAL FLAG OF THE 5TH NCST; FADED SILK CONFEDERATE BATTLEFLAG W/ CROSS OF BLUE AND 9 STARS ON LIGHT BROWN BACKGROUND (WAS RED OR PINK ORIGINALLY); LEFT SIDE HAS CANVAS DUCK BLUE LEAD SEWN TO LENGTH W/ 3 HOLES FOR MOUNTING; FED. CAPTURE # "21" ON RIGHT SIDE ALONG W/ INK TEXT.

Image courtesy of the North Carolina Museum of History, Raleigh, NC.

Long Journey Home: The Confederate Battle Flag of the Fifth Regiment North Carolina State Troops.

by Tom Belton, Curator of Military History (NC Museum of History). "Cornerstone" Jan-Mar 2003., Vol. 2., No. 1.

The Fifth Regiment North Carolina Troops was organized at Camp Winslow on June 20, 1861. The regiment became part of the Garland-Iverson-Johnson-Toon brigade and served in Robert E. Lee's fabled Army of North Virginia. It fought in more than thirty engagements, suffering heavy casualties at Williamsburg in 1862, Gettysburg in 1863, and Spotsylvania Courthouse in 1864. At the Battle of Williamsburg the Fifth North Carolina lost more than 250 men as well as its original battle flag. It would take 140 years for that flag to make its way home.

Confederate battle flags originated after the Battle of First Manassas (First Bull Run) in July 1861. There, Southern soldiers carried into combat the newly adopted national flag of the Confederacy, known as the Stars and Bars. That flag, however, created chaos on the smoke-covered battlefield because it so closely resembled the Stars and Stripes of the Union. Soon after the clash, Confederate general P.G.T. Beauregard ordered the creation of a battle flag that would be easy to recognize. Beauregard's directive led to the adoption of the flag now universally associated with the Confederate soldier.

Confederate battle flags eventually came to be made of bright red wool bunting, but the first flags were fashioned from red silk. When the quartermaster office depleted its meager supply of crimson silk, some flags even had pink or rose-colored fields. At Williamsburg the Fifth North carolina carried a light pink twelve-star silk battle flag presented to the regiment in the closing days of 1861. The North Carolina Museum of History holds an identical battle flag issued to the Fourth Regiment North carolina State Troops on December 8, 1861. In a letter to his mother, a soldier in the Fourth North Carolina described the flag as a "white cloth crossed with blue."

At the battle of Williamsburg on the afternoon of May 5, 1862, the Fifth North Carolina charged a fortified Union position and suffered near annihilation from heavy artillery and rifle fire. Following the battle, a Wisconsin soldier recovered the Fifth's battle flag and handed it to a young Federal staff officer named George Armstrong Custer. From Williamsburg the flag traveled to the United States War Department in Washington, where it was hailed as the first Confederate battle flag captured in the eastern theater of war.

In 1863 the flag was sent for display to Chicago and then was returned, along with newly captured flags, to Washington. Apparently, it was mislabeled as the battle flag of the Thirteenth Arkansas (which never saw service in Virginia) at that time and was marked as capture number 21 in the War Department's newly established registery of captured Confederate flags. When the federal government returned the captured flags to their respective states in 1905, the flag of the Fifth Noth Carolina went to Arkansas.

Civil War historians and researchers recently identified the Thirteenth Arkansas flag in the collection of the Old State House Museum in Little Rock, Arkansas, as the long-missing battle flag of the Fifth Regiment North Carolina State Troops. (The May 2002 issue of "America's Civil War" recounts the saga of the itinerant flag.) As curator responsible for Civil War flags, I approached the Arkansas musuem in early 2001 about returning the flag to North Carolina. Director Bill Gatewood and curator Jo Ellen Maack pledged their cooperation and recommended to the museum's board of trustees that the flag come back to the Tar Heel State.

In a ceremony at the North Carolina Museum of History on Tuesday, July 9, 2002, Maack presented the flag to the citizens of North Carolina and to the Museum of History. After the presentation the flag was placed in the exhibit "North Carolina and the Civil War". The blood-stained symbol of the Fifth Regiment North Carolina State Troops had finally completed its journey and reclaimed its place in Tar Heel history.

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The flag is presented to the citizens of North Carolina and to the Museum

A Living History Resource Group Member Project