No, Virginia, there will be no battle flag for the Gettysburg anniversary

Virginia battle flag (Minnesota Historical Society photo)

A hundred and fifty years after Minnesota troops helped turned the tide in a Civil War battle, the state still won’t be giving back the trophy its volunteers seized at Gettysburg.

That’s what Gov. Mark Dayton said today, at the official send-off of a delegation of Minnesotans headed next week to Pennsylvania to mark the sesquicentennial of the historic battle.

The First Minnesota’s charge on the second day at Gettysburg, and the survivors’ role in repulsing the legendary attack by Confederate Gen. George Pickett on July 3, 1863, are considered high points in U.S. military history.

Dayton noted the history today, as well as a plea from Virginia officials: they want the flag captured by private Marshall Sherman. Sherman received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroism for taking a Virginia regiment’s battle flag at bayonet point. (You can read more about Sherman and the flag here.)

Many Civil War battle flags were returned to their states of origin in the decades following the war and after an act of Congress in 1905. But not that of the Virginia 28th.

­­­“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.”

The Virginia Historical Society asked for the flag back in the early 1960s, and a group of Civil War re-enactors from that state threatened to sue to get the flag back in 1998. Both efforts were rebuffed.

“Well, it was taken in a battle at the cost of the blood of all these Minnesotans,” Dayton said today. “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.”

Retired Mankato teacher and Civil War reenactor Arn Kind noted that another battle flag was not returned to Minnesota. Kind joined Dayton for a ceremony in the governor’s office.

“By the way, the flag of the 3rd Minnesota was surrendered at Murfreesboro, [Tenn.] and the men of the 3rd Minnesota proved themselves later. But that was never returned to the state of Minnesota, I don’t believe,” Kind said. “And the last I heard, it belongs to a Texas Ranger. But you don’t hear us cryin’ about it.”

The flag is currently on display in the Historical Society’s Minnesota and the Civil War exhibit. You also find out more about the banner here: