On Tuesday, February 5, 1861, an overflow crowd jammed into Temperance Hall in Columbus, Georgia, eager to witness a special ceremony. That evening Company “D” of Columbus’s Southern Guard was presented with a brand-new flag, sewn by Mrs. W. J. McAlister and other ladies in her family. The banner was described in an article in the Columbus Weekly Times:
“It was made of rich white silk doubled, and elaborately executed in the handsomest manner. The arms of the Republic of Georgia was painted on one side, beneath the arch of which were the words in gold: “Cotton is King.”
The sentinel usually seen on the Georgia Coat of Arms was moved to the left side, and in his place was positioned a slave seated on a bale of cotton. The article continued:
Above the arch was the Latin quotation, “Non nobis solum sed patrie et amicie”—“Not for ourselves alone, but country and friends.” On the reverse in a semi-circle form were the words “Southern Guard” in gilt letters, with a large “D” beneath; the whole surrounded by wreaths of acorns, and the cotton plant with its bolls in all stages of growth—The banner was trimmed with rich fringe about three inches deep.”
The banner was received on behalf of the company by Lieutenant James N. Ramsey. Three months later, the Southern Guard became Company B of the First Georgia Volunteer Infantry, and Ramsey was elected as the regiment’s colonel.
During the Army of the Northwest’s retreat from Laurel Hill on July 13, 1861, several company flags were stowed in wagons as the army struggled to escape their Union pursuers in the pouring rain and bottomless mud. As the wagons slowly made their way along a narrow trace along the side of Pheasant Mountain, several slid off the side, crashing down into the ravine below. The wagon carrying the Southern Guards’ flag was one meeting this fate. Federal troops picking through the wreckage came across the banner, along with that of the Gate City Guards. Further along, the standard of the Washington Rifles was found in a wagon abandoned at a river crossing below Kalers Ford. It is uncertain exactly where the flags were conveyed from there, but the Southern Guard’s banner was eventually displayed with a collection of other captured banner. The illustration above is from the March 15, 1862 edition of the New York Illustrated News, which described this collection of Rebel flags.
Sadly, though many of the flags captured in Northwestern Virginia were returned to Georgia (the banner of the Gate City Guards is held by the Atlanta History Center, and the Washington Rifles flag is in the collection of the Georgia Capitol Museum in Atlanta), no trace of the Southern Guard’s standard has survived. Using the newspaper and other descriptions, along with the above illustration, I have created what I believe is a close approximation of the banner:
And the obverse:
Maybe someday this beautiful flag will be discovered and restored to the state of Georgia.
(Thanks to Greg Biggs for the image from the New York Illustrated News)