Monday, December 19, 2011

Brief History, CSA 31st Reg. Tenn. Volunteers Battle Flag

John Williamson Moran served in the Civil War and was a 1st Lieutenant, 31st Reg. Tenn Volunteers.  The following is what appears to be the draft version (including strikethroughs and mispellings) of a letter written by him to an unknown person at the Capital in Nashville.  The letter is undated but we do know it was written sometime between 1900 and 1912.  The letterhead is from the Dresden Bank which was owned by the Moran family.

"I see in the last Veteran an account of the Casing of the Confederate flags at the Capital under your supervision.  I am very much interested in one I saw on the left wing of A.P. Stewart's Brigade at Perryville when the bearer and every guard was shot down and half the regiment killed and wounded but it was carried billowing against the 2nd Ohio and the 24th Illinois driving them from the field capturing the flag of the latter regiment.  I saw it again under Stewart at Murfreesboro when it was first to pass through the guns of a federal battery.  I saw it again at Missionary Ridge under Brig Genl Strahl on the right wing waving proudly as ever and again at Missionary Ridge when it was"

"the last regiment to leave the ridge on the left wing of the army calling forth the remark from Genl Stewart to Genl Bragg as he looked upon it "my old brigade is yet intact".  It always waved in the front from Resaca to Jonesboro.

I again saw it in battle for the last time as it disappeared in the smoke over the breast works by that brave Sergeant William Belew who was made prisoner there but he tore the flag from its staff and concealed it in his bosom for six months in prison.  This flag belonged to the 31st Tenn Reg and was commanded by Col F.E.P. Stafford a"

"braver and truer man never lived. He fell in the ditch with Strahl at Franklin.  He was standing in the ditch dead with his men around him.   He was killed at Franklin in the ditch near where Genl Strahl fell.  He was standing dead with his brave boys piled around him.

This flag is now in the custody of G.W. Nowlin of Greenfield Tenn who will write you in regard to placing it in the Capital.

J.W. Moran"

The letter was prompted by an article he read in the Confederate Veteran regarding the preservation (casing) of Confederate flags in Nashville.  In the letter he talks about his recollections of the war and most specifically about the battle flag of his unit, the 31st..  He mentions the battles of Perryville, Missionary Ridge, Resaca and Franklin.  He talks about the bravery of the men who fought and died for the South and of William Belew who saved the flag from being captured and/or surrendered though Belew himself became a prisoner.  At the end of the letter he says the battle flag was in the custody of G.W. Nowlin of Greenfield, Tennessee.  According to J.W. Moran, Mr. Nowlin was going to contact the recipient of the draft letter in regards to placing the battle flag of the 31st in the Capital with the other flags.  That never happened.

In 2006, Heritage Auctions put up Lot 25479, The Confederate Battle Flag of the 31st Tennessee Volunteers, "The Western Stars".  It was listed under the 2006 December Signature Civil War Auction #642. The flag, which should have been placed in the care of the Tennessee State Archives, was sold for $119,500.00 to a private collector,  forever removing it from the public.

History belongs to us all, or it should.   The Confederacy lost the war, but the Battle Flag of the 31st Tennessee Infantry won its place in history and it deserves to be housed where people can view it, the Tennessee State Archives.

Here is the description from the Heritage Auctions page linked above:
The Confederate Battle Flag of the 31st Tennessee Volunteers, "The Western Stars". A Confederate battle flag that was never surrendered or captured is a rare find indeed.  This flag is just such a rarity.  An Army of Tennessee pattern, it was probably delivered to Company A of the 31st Tennessee Infantry when the regiment wintered in Dalton, Georgia from 1863 to 1864 since this pattern is known to have been issued at the Dalton Depot.  Ensign William BELLEW daringly carried this flag through every battle until the ill-fated Battle of Nashville in December 1864 where he was captured by federal troops.  BELLEW stripped the flag from its staff before the Union forces could take it from him, concealing it inside his coat under the cover darkness.  Taken to Camp Chase, Ohio as a prisoner of war, he quickly quilted the flag into the lining of his coat.  Released in June 1865, he returned home to Gibson County, Tennessee with the flag still secretly sewn inside his coat.

BELLEW's mother is responsible for the flag being transferred out of the family's hands.  When Dr. George W. NOWLIN, a medical doctor who had been the hospital steward of the 31st during the war found out that Mrs. BELLEW had been flying the flag in her garden to scare off marauding birds, he sent for the flag to keep it secure.  The flag has descended to its present owner throught the NOWLIN family.

Measuring 35" on the staff and 51" on its fly, the flag is made of hand-sewn red wood traversed by a 5.25" wide dark blue bunting St. Andrew's cross edged on each side with a 2 " wide strip of white cotton.  The cross bears thirteen white cotton e.25" diameter five-pointed stars set at 8" intervals from the center star.  Accompanying the flag is a 24" cotton strip stenciled with the words "Co. A 31 Reg. Tenn. Vol.".

Company A, called the "Western Stars" of the 31st Tennessee regiment of the Confederate Infantry was formed out of Weakley County, Tennessee and organized with the regiment in Gibson county at Camp Trenton in September 1861.  Under the command of General J.P. McCown, the regiment moved to Columbus, Kentucky and on to Fort Pillow and by April 1862 was in Corinth, Mississippi.  Passing through Tupelo and Chattanooga, the regiment saw action at the Battle of Perryville where it lost 100 men.  A contemporary account by a Federal soldier at the battle stated that the 31st Tennessee attacked "with death-defying steadiness, uttering wild yells until staggered by the sweeping crossfire of our artillery..." And the regiment would suffer for their bravery, the casualties only multiplying throughout the rest of the war; 250 at Chickamauga, 300 at Franklin in one day, 600 dead within fifty yards of them.  Just two weeks later William BELLEW would carry the same flag that he waved in these actions into the Battle of Nashville.  His quick thinking on the battlefield combined with the wisdon of Dr. NOWLIN and his descendants have preserved this unique treasure from the Civil War.

Noted conservator Fonda Thompson has framed the flag with archival quality which comes with the accompanying research volume.  Renowned author and Civil War expert Howard Madaus has authenticated the flag and a copy of his research is provided as well.  A 500-page leather bound volume along with a photograph album tracing the 31st and their path during the war is included with the banner, documenting the history of the regiment and the flag.  This historic flag has been the subject of much press coverage and is used in many academic texts as an example of rare Civil War flags, unique in every way.

Updated April 3, 2013
The following information is published here with permission.  It was originally posted on the Moran Place Facebook page by Roland Reid.

I just found your blog while researching the CSA 31st Reg. Tn. Infantry.  I was disheartened to learn the fate of their flag.  85 members of the regiment, including F.E.P. Stafford, came from a community my family has called home for the last 187 years, Providence, in NW Madison County. These 85 men organized as the "Knights of the Forked Deer" on Sept. 19, 1861 at Providence Church.  The church property was given by my great-great grandfather, Beverly M. Williamson.  After a bounteous dinner the men traveled to nearby "Jones Station" where they boarded the train for Trenton.  The next day they joined the Confederacy.  In a clipping from R.T. Chambers (Dyer, Tn. March 6th 1917), he stated only 10 members of the original 85 remained at the time of surrender April 26th, 1865 in Greensboro, N.C.. I have the names, as best he could remember, of the original men and survivors.  The names of the survivors are R.D. Williamson, B.W. Dougan, W.J. Shaw, J.C. Paisley, W.D. Fletcher, R.E. Crutchfield, J.J. Rooks, J.B. Tassel, Joe Chambers, and B.T. Chambers.

Thank you Roland for adding more information about the 31st!

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