The North Carolina Museum of History has returned a Civil War flag of Company L, First Rhode Island Cavalry to its home state. The V-shaped flag, called a guidon, was captured by the 63rd North Carolina Troops (Fifth North Carolina Cavalry) on June 17, 1863, during the Battle of Middleburg, Virginia. The battle was part of the Gettysburg campaign, a series of battles in June to July during Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s movement through Virginia toward Pennsylvania.
The silk, striped guidon of Company L, with stars and letters on a field of blue, was donated to the Museum of History in the early 1900s. The gold-fringed banner has been fully restored by the museum and has appeared in previous exhibits.
In a gesture of goodwill, the Museum of History initiated the offer to return the flag to the State of Rhode Island. In 2008 the Rhode Island National Guard accepted the gift from North Carolina.
“The Rhode Island National Guard is thankful to the North Carolina Museum of History staff for graciously returning a Rhode Island Civil War guidon,” says Maj. Gen. Robert T. Bray, Adjutant General and Commanding General of the Rhode Island National Guard. “We are delighted to display the banner, especially given its pristine condition as a result of the careful preservation provided by the museum, among the many historical artifacts at the Varnum Armory in East Greenwich.”
The Museum of History hopes the State of Rhode Island will return a North Carolina flag captured by Rhode Island soldiers at New Bern on March 14, 1862. “We would like this Confederate flag, along with ones held by other states, to eventually be returned to North Carolina,” says Tom Belton, curator of military history.
In addition to the Rhode Island guidon, the Museum of History has given back a Civil War flag to Louisiana. The banner was mistakenly identified as being associated with North Carolina. Within the last few years, the Museum of History has received North Carolina flags from Arkansas and Massachusetts to add to its collection.
The Museum of History boasts the third-largest Confederate flag collection in the world. All banners in the collection were carried by Tar Heel troops. The museum is currently engaged in an extensive flag conservation program in anticipation of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War; commemorative events will take place from 2011 to 2015.
Company L, First Rhode Island Cavalry at the Battle of Middleburg
Company L, First Rhode Island Cavalry suffered devastating losses during the Battle of Middleburg. On June 17 Union Col. Alfred N. Duffié led more than 230 men into Middleburg around 4 p.m. After hearing of their arrival, Confederate Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart ordered Brig. Gen. Beverly Robertson to move the Fifth North Carolina Cavalry in, and at 7 p.m. the regiment surrounded and attacked the Rhode Island unit. Several of Duffié’s men were killed or wounded, and the rest were driven out of town and fought their way through the night.
Most of Company L’s soldiers were captured the next morning. Only four of Duffié’s officers and 27 soldiers made it back to Centreville on June 18. A few more men from Company L returned during the next two days, but the regiment’s losses were about 200.
For more information, call 919-807-7900 or access ncmuseumofhistory.org. The Museum of History is located at 5 E. Edenton St., across from the State Capitol.