Gettysburg 150th Is Not All Reunion and Reconciliation


Looks like the 150th anniversary of Gettysburg is not going to be defined completely by the powerful pull of reconciliation. Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and others have requested that the state of Minnesota return the flag of the 28th Virginia Infantry which was captured on July 3. 1863 by a member of the First Minnesota Volunteer Infantry. On July 2 the unit played a crucial role in stopping the Confederate assault against Cemetery Ridge. In the process it suffered an 80% casualty rate. On the following day the First Minnesota defended the Ridge against the Pickett-Pettigrew assault. It was during this final engagement that the Virginia flag was captured.

Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton had this to say in response to McDonnell’s request:

“The third day of Gettysburg, the 47 Minnesotans that survived the day before, rejoined the battle and that was the day that they captured the flag of the regiment of Virginia… which resides in the Minnesota Historical Society to this day,” Dayton said. “The governor of Virginia earlier this year requested that the flag be loaned, quote, unquote, to Virginia to commemorate — it doesn’t quite strike me as something they would want to commemorate, but we declined that invitation.”

“It was taken in a battle at the cost of the blood of all these Minnesotans,” Dayton continued. “And I think it would be a sacrilege to return it to them. It was something that was earned through the incredible courage and valor men who gave their lives and risked their lived to obtain it. And as far as I’m concerned, it’s a closed subject.”

What do you think? Does Virginia have a claim to this flag? There is a tradition of returning captured flags as symbols of reunion and reconciliation. I don’t have a strong opinion either way. The flag is currently on display at the Minnesota Historical Society and is being properly preserved. The governor clearly has strong feelings about the subject, but I see nothing wrong with loaning the flag to the Virginia Historical Society if it decided to once again request the flag temporarily for an exhibit.

I haven’t heard much from the Southern Heritage/Flagger types out there. They have problems with the Virginia governor owing to his recent shift on Confederate Heritage Month. Many have been outspoken about the interpretive slant of the VHS and they certainly don’t approve of the Museum of the Confederacy, which is best positioned to be able to preserve and properly interpret the flag.

Nope, I guess it’s best to leave it in the capable hands of the MHS. They have as solid a claim to it as anyone and it’s probably safer there.

Wish I had thought of this: “As a gesture of reconciliation by Minnesota, that might be nice, but as a symbol of Virginia’s reconciliation with its African-American citizens — and a large number of others such as General George Thomas & General Winfield Scott who did not commit treason in the name of states “rights” — maybe Virginia should say we don’t want that symbol of rebellion back.”

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21 comments… add one
  • Dave Jun 26, 2014 @ 12:19

    My great great grandfather was in the 28th Virginia Infantry, and participated in the charge. He made it into the Union lines and was captured. Perhaps rather than being stored in a drawer in Minnesota, the flag could be donated to the museum at Gettysburg for display there so that descendents of victors and vanquished alike can view it.

  • Lee Jul 1, 2013 @ 10:49

    One thing, Kevin–it’s not clear that the 1st Minnesota suffered 80% casualties in the charge on July 2.

    According to Richard Moe (this quote is taken from “The Last Full Measure: The Life and Death of the First Minnesota Volunteers,” Moe’s book about the 1st): “Uncertainty remains both as to the precise number of Minnesotans engaged in the charge of 2 July 1863 as well as to the number of casualties. The research of Robert W. Meinhard of Winona State University led him to conclude that there were at most 179 killed and wounded, a casualty rate of 68 percent.”

    Of course, that’s still a very heavy casualty rate, even by Civil War standards.

  • Brad Jun 28, 2013 @ 18:33

    No, it should not be given back nor lent. It was taken in the defense of Union and fairly won.

    If lent, I would be worried getting back.

    I suppose one compromise would be to lend it to the National Archives where it could be viewed by the people of Virginia.

    On the other hand, at some point you have to ask yourself when does this end?

  • Jerry Frey Jun 28, 2013 @ 9:00

    Spy buried in NKY influenced Civil War history
    Tip from Harrison led to Battle of Gettysburg

  • Billy Bearden Jun 28, 2013 @ 7:39

    OK, here is but 1 observation from a Flagger….

    As a person (Vociferous, peripatetic, and just plain adorable) who is a Confederate Heritage activist, I agree with the stance taken by the snobs in Minnesota. Let them keep their spoils of war – just as I would be as opposed to having a former Confederate state return their war booty to the Yankees.

    This opinion comes from the fact that sitting in my collection of my Dad’s personal items is included a Japanese soldier’s prayer flag, taken from his dead body after my father killed him in WW2. He earned the right to claim the flag, and as long as I am alive, it shall remain in my family’s possession.

  • Mike Rogers Jun 27, 2013 @ 17:14

    Kevin – This sounds like your beloved Bruins asking the Blackhawks for the Stanley Cup after the Hawks “captured” it from them last week. 🙂

  • Richard Williams Jun 27, 2013 @ 17:10

    It wouldn’t be a gift Dave – it would be a trade. Mr. Kaine is Virginia’s (possessive) junior Senator. That would be possessive in a figurative sense Dave, not literal. I hope that helps.

  • Bob Huddleston Jun 27, 2013 @ 16:53

    Virginia has a flock of Confederate flags, nicely preserved and on display. For visitors to MN, a real Confederate flag — carefully preserved — is an appropriate part of any Civil War display. Indeed, Virginia ought to loan their BFs out for Civil War displays in Yankee states.

    • Jimmy Dick Jun 28, 2013 @ 5:38

      Nah, the Virginia Flaggers would rather send Chinese made nylon or polyester CBFs across the nation in a futile attempt to preserve the Lost Cause myth.

      • Billy Bearden Jun 28, 2013 @ 7:29

        Hmmm. I would venture a guess that the 28th Virginia CBF was made of non-American material, say from English bunting? Lots of period Confederate flags were made from foreign supplies. Of course if you have ever shopped at Wal Mart you most likely have purchased a Communist Chinese made item. Not sure why the hate for either Chinese made flags or the Virginia Flaggers, but you have a Blessed day Mr. Dick

        • Jimmy Dick Jun 29, 2013 @ 6:07

          It’s called cynicism. The Flaggers advocate a lie and then use Chinese made products while lying about what happened in the Civil War and ignoring the fact that the CBF stands for racism because they have a selective memory.
          I see a Flagger and I see someone who is willingly ignorant.

  • Richard Williams Jun 27, 2013 @ 15:49

    There’s a very equitable solution to this issue. Give Tim Kaine back to Minnesota in exchange for the flag.

    • Dave Stilwell Jun 27, 2013 @ 16:06

      Well that would be equitable if a human being could be owned and therefore given as a gift — but we really don’t want to go there, do we?

  • Todd Jun 27, 2013 @ 14:57

    To be consistent, if Virginia thinks it should get ITS flags back, it should voluntarily give up any flags belonging to other countries or states in ITS possession. Hypocritical otherwise…

  • Corey Meyer Jun 27, 2013 @ 14:56

    I don’t think Minnesota or Illinois should give back any captured flags despite the request of any southern governor. Illinois still has a number of rebel flags and they too are preserved and should stay in Illinois because Illinois soldier won them fairly on the field of battle.

    Also, I don’t think the states need to abide by the resolution of 1905…and it is obvious not all have…

  • Dan Jun 27, 2013 @ 14:31

    Whatever Minnesota OUGHT or OUGHT NOT to do, we all know that possession is nine-tenths of the law. I’m not surprised they don’t want to give it back.

  • William Jun 27, 2013 @ 14:23

    I believe Minnesota has the right to keep the flag of the 28th Virginia. It was taken in battle, but we now see were the lack of reconciliation lays. As far as the Governor of Minnesota was concerned he stated “It is a closed subject” ……The tunnel vision continues.



    “Tis it was a grand old flag” I can’t blame Minnesota for wanting one……..

  • Barb Gannon Jun 27, 2013 @ 14:21

    No. If the people and state of Minnesota want to return it then they can, though more thought should be given to what the survivors would have wanted. The US government and the states that fought on the federal side have been extraordinarily generous to the former states of the Confederacy, they were not and are not required to return flags. If Minnesota does not feel that they should give back a symbol of the extraordinary sacrifice their citizens made to preserve the Union and create a nation where all men and women are free, it’s their call.

    • Dave Stilwell Jun 27, 2013 @ 14:33

      Here here!

  • Dave Stilwell Jun 27, 2013 @ 14:13

    Of course they have no “claim” to the flag. As a gesture of reconciliation by Minnesota, that might be nice, but as a symbol of Virginia’s reconciliation with its African-American citizens — and a large number of others such as General George Thomas & General Winfield Scott who did not commit treason in the name of states “rights” — maybe Virginia should say we don’t want that symbol of rebellion back. What do you think?

    • Kevin Levin Jun 27, 2013 @ 14:14

      Now that is an angle I did not consider. Excellent suggestion, Dave.

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