Coffin: The Confederate Flag

Jul 7, 2015

The Confederate flag, a red banner with 13 crossed stars, was seen on many a Civil War battlefield by Vermont soldiers. One of the memorable times was when perhaps the most important assault of the war, Pickett’s Charge, crossed the mile wide valley toward Union-held Cemetery Ridge. Tunbridge native Franklin Aretas Haskell, waiting on the ridge, wrote:

“Regiment after regiment, and brigade after brigade… the red flags wave, their horsemen gallop up and down; the arms of 18,000 men, barrel and bayonet, gleam in the sun, a sloping forest of flashing steel. Right on they move as with one soul, over ridge and slope, in perfect order... magnificent, grim, irresistible.”

Among those waiting were the men of the Second Vermont Brigade, which dealt the death blow to the charge with a devastating assault on its right flank.

Nearly two years later, Vermont cavalrymen were present in the fields around Appomattox Court House when half-starved Confederate soldiers, grouped around their tattered banners, surrendered at the order of their commander, Robert E. Lee. It was May 9, 1865.

That afternoon Lee, resplendent in a new gray uniform, met with a mud-spattered Ulysses Grant to surrender his Army of Northern Virginia, the largest Confederate army.

When the document had been signed, the American Civil War, for all intents and purposes, ended. It had been fought about slavery, the matter of whether Americans should be allowed to own, buy and sell, human beings. It was the election of Abraham Lincoln, who opposed slavery’s expansion, that caused the pro-slavery states to form the Confederate States of America.

In convention at Charleston, S.C., the seceding states proclaimed that their action was due to the election of a president “whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery.”

At Appomattox, with the surrender document signed, Grant watched Lee ride away to his defeated army. Grant wrote, “I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which people ever fought.”

The Confederacy had tried not only to perpetuate the captivity of four million Americans, but to destroy the nation that Abraham Lincoln once called “the last best hope of earth.” Today, the symbol of that lost, ignoble, cause, the Confederate flag, still repugnant to so many, should be seen only in museums.