Minnesota Defies The United States Army

by James Glaser
June 25, 2002

John Abbott Independence Lee, the last true Virginian to have ever touched the Battle Flag of the 28th Virginia Infantry, would roll over in his grave to see Virginia asking the Army of the Potomac to get his flag back.

Three weeks before Gettysberg the 28th received their new battle flag. Made of a wool from England called bunting, it was said to be more durable in battle than their silk flag. Sewn for them by the women of Richmond, the flag had blue stripes and white stars made of cotton with the words "28th Va. Infy" sewn in.

Battle Flags are the pride of any military unit and holding the units colors in battle is a great honor. Only the capture of a regiment's flag could, in the American Civil War, be a greater honor. For the Army of the North that meant a Congressional Medal of Honor and a raise in Pay.

Private Marshall Sherman a member of the 1st Minnesota Volunteer Infantry, the same unit that the day before assisted in repulsing General George Pickett's charge and in the process lost over 50% of its men, spotted a Virginian "shouting like mad" and Waving a rebel flag.

Sherman who hadn't been in the prior days carnage, charged that color bearer through a hail of bullets, Jabbed his bayonet at John Lee's chest and said, "Throw down that flag or I'll run through." At least that is how the story has always been told in Minnesota.

Now we jump to 2001 and see that the State of Minnesota refused a request from the State of Virginia to get their flag back . Virginia had stated that a 1905 resolution by the US Congress says that flags captured in battle should be returned to the original states.

In 1998 Minnesota Attorney General Hubert Humphrey lll said that law only applied to flags in the possession of the War Department. Minnesota refused to return the flag. The flag is currently kept by the Minnesota Historical Society at a constant 70 degrees and 50% humidity, in Saint Paul.

Attorney General Humphrey has some support in history for keeping this flag. Confederacy's own Jefferson Davis said The banners belonged to the states whose troops had captured them and to return the flags violated "all known military precedents." Fitzhugh Lee, former Governor of Virginia, Confederate veteran, and the great general's nephew, said the banners "are the property of the victors"

June 18 2002 The United States Army's chief of military history, Brigadier John S. Brown issued a decision that a blood stained, bullet- pierced Confederate flag that Minnesota's 1st Volunteer Infantry captured 139 years ago belongs to the federal government and plans to house the flag at an Army museum in Virginia.

Minnesota's Historical Society's deputy director, Ian Stewart says "We do not consider General Brown's opinion a legal ruling" and "We also do not anticipate following his suggestion that we turn over the flag to the Army museum proposed in Virginia."

General Brown has written to the Virginia congressional delegation, "We intend that the flag be returned to the Army" for exhibit at the Army's National Museum scheduled to open in 2009 in Fort Belvoir, Va.

Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura when asked about returning the flag said "Why? I mean, we won." So after 139 years the pride of the 28th Virginia Infantry won't really be coming home, but could reside in a "Blue belly" museum, that is if that Army of the North can capture the flag from another state that believes in "States Rights."

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