"Peculiarly distinguished among the advance guard, where all were distinguished, must be recorded . . . Private J. W. Brown, of Company F, First Georgia Regiment, who, upon hearing the order to fall back, exclaimed, 'I will give them one more shot before I leave,' and while ramming down his twenty-ninth cartridge fell dead at his post." - General Henry R. Jackson in his report of the Battle of Greenbrier River.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Happy Memorial Day

Another Memorial Day weekend has rolled around, and I would again like to extend my thanks to those in uniform, along with their families, for the sacrifices they make to keep this country safe.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

A Beautiful Weapon

Grave of Lt. Col. James O. Clarke
When the First Georgia Volunteers were being organized at Macon’s Camp Oglethorpe, several candidates stood for election as the regiment’s officers. Lieutenant James N. Ramsey of the Southern Guards was opposed for the rank of colonel by Captain James S. Pinckard of the Quitman Guards and Captain S. A. H. Jones of the Washington Rifles. Captain James O. Clarke of the Oglethorpe Infantry was urged to put his hat in the ring for the colonel’s commission, but he declined, wanting to stay with his company. After repeated appeals, Clarke agreed to try for the post of lieutenant colonel. He justified this choice by saying that “because the Oglethorpes being on the right of the regiment, and the Lieutenant Colonel occupying generally a position on that wing, he will be near his company.” Clarke won election by default, due to the fact that no one else applied for the position.

Clarke was a popular officer. Before leaving Augusta for Macon, his soldiers had arranged for the production of a ceremonial saber, but it was not finished by the time the company had to leave for Camp Oglethorpe. In early June, as the Oglethorpe Infantry passed through Augusta on their way from Pensacola to Richmond, the sword was retrieved from storage and presented to Clarke. The occasion, as well as the weapon itself, was described in the June 6 edition of the Augusta Daily Constitution:


The Oglethorpe Infantry yesterday presented to Lieut. Colonel CLARKE a handsome sword, which was to have been tendered to him previous to the company’s departure for Pensacola, when he was their Captain, but the sword did not reach here in time, and hence was not presented until to-day.

The presentation took place at the City Hall, about 11 o’clock, and was witnessed by a large concourse of citizens.

Lieutenant J. V. H. ALLEN, of the Oglethorpes, made the presentation speech, which, though entirely impromptu, was neat and appropriate, but we did not obtain a report of it.

Lieutenant Colonel CLARK responded in the following brief and soldierly speech:

Sir: Pleased and surprised at this unexpected mark of approval and affection on the part of those whom I have had the honor to command, I am only prepared to say that such a gift from such a company, makes our heart swell with the emotions of gratitude, and in the hour of battle, the recollection of the source whence it came will give me inspiration, like the smiles of beauty, which drives the hero into the hottest of the fight!

“I take it, and swear it shall never be dishonored.”

At the conclusion of this speech, three hearty cheers were given for Lieutenant Colonel CLARKE, and three more for the Oglethorpes.

The gift was bestowed upon a worthy officer—one who will know how to use it on the field of battle, and knowing how, will use it aright.

The sword, which is an elegant one, was procured by the well known firm of CLARKE & CO., and the engraving, which are neatly executed, were designed by our fellow citizen Mr. J. B. PLATT.

The handle is formed in the shape of a lion’s head, while the hilt is ornamented with the coat of arms of Georgia. The dress scabbard is of silver with gilt bands—the engraving being on the bands, the first representing “Excelsior” onward and upward – the rise and progress of this gallant company. The second representing “Liberty”- the object for which freemen are ever ready and willing to fight, and in whose cause this sword is to be drawn and used,; third, justice at the “shoe” or point of the scabbard, significant of the fact that justice is to be demanded and obtained at the point of the sword.

We cannot, at present, follow out at length, these designs, but from what we have said, the reader will readily perceive that they are not only very neat, but very appropriate.

The service scabbard is bronzed, with silver bands—the engravings representing a variety of war emblems. The entire affair was very creditable to all concerned, and passed off satisfactorily and pleasantly.

Clarke would draw this saber as he led a charge during a skirmish at Laurel Hill, shouting “Up the hill, men, and remember you are Georgians!”

After Clarke died on December 6, 1889, he was buried in Augusta’s Magnolia Cemetery, in what was described as “one of the most largely attended ever witnessed in Augusta.” A large stone shaft marks his gravesite. Carved onto the top of the monument is a dress sword. Close examination of this carving reveals details that match the above description. Could this be the same weapon? I believe that it is.
(Photos courtesy of Rick Saunders of Augusta)

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Flag of the Washington Rifles

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in conference assembled, That the Secretary of War be, and he is hereby, authorized to deliver to the proper authorities of the respective States in which the regiments which bore these colors were organized certain Union and Confederate battle flags now in the custody of the War Department for such final disposition as the aforesaid proper authorities may determine.

This act, passed by the United States Congress in 1905, and signed by President Theodore Roosevelt, returned flags carried by Confederate troops to the Southern States. Among these banners was the First National pattern flag of the Washington Rifles, Company “E” of the First Georgia Volunteer Infantry. The colors were in poor condition, the fabric tattered and torn.

In 1861, forty-four years earlier, the banner’s silk shone brightly, and its canton proudly displayed the painted Georgia state coat of arms. The lovingly sown flag was presented to the Washington Rifles as they prepared to depart for Camp Oglethorpe in Macon. The scene was described in the April 3 edition of the Sandersville Central Georgian:

On Monday previous to their departure, the ladies of Sandersville, with their usually liberality and promptness, prepared a sumptuous dinner in the Court House for the benefit of the Rifles, but of which all were invited to partake. We were not present, but we have heard but one opinion expressed in regard to the manner in which the affair was conducted, and that one is highly creditable to the fair donors. The ladies of our town know how to get up these things, and in the present instance they more than excelled any former public occasion amongst us. After all who chose had partaken of the dinner, an abundance for several days’ subsistence was packed away to be carried with the company. The ladies during the day presented the company with a handsome flag of the Confederate States. Sustained by the hand, and encouraged by the smiles of fair woman, what would not man dare—what would he not achieve?

Business also prevented our hearing the address delivered by Col. J. S. Hook before the company and the public on this occasion. We are told, however, that it was the most felicitous and appropriate; that in patriotic and soul-stirring words he depicted the honor and glory of a life devoted to the defence of one’s country, and said, that while he was conscious it was unnecessary to so speak in this instance, he would exhort them never to permit the flag confided to their keeping by the angel band of women to be tarnished by one unpatriotic act, or soiled by the hand of a foe. The ceremonies were highly interesting, and very creditable to all engaged.

During the retreat of General Robert S. Garnett’s Army of the Northwest from Laurel Hill in July of 1861, many of the flags belonging to the various companies of the First Georgia were stored in wagons. Panicked teamsters jettisoned equipment from entangled wagons as the column worked its way through the Allegheny Mountains, and many wagons were simply abandoned when they became stuck. One such wagon was left behind at a river crossing just north of Kalers Ford, where Colonel Ramsey fought a rearguard action against pursuing Union troops, and where six companies were cut off from the army and forced to wander lost in the trackless wilderness. This wagon contained the banner of the Washington Rifles. As Federal troops crossed the river in pursuit of the Confederates, a soldier of the Ninth Indiana found the Rifles’ colors in the wagon. Climbing atop the wagon, he unfurled the colors and waved it, either to urge on his comrades, or possibly just to show off what he had discovered. The banner was sent north, where it remained in the War Department’s collection of captured flags. It was returned to Georgia as one of the returned battleflags.

The image at the top of this column is from a brochure titled “The Returned Battle Flags,” which was given as a souvenir during the United Confederate Veterans Reunion held in Louisville, Kentucky, in June of 1905. It shows the Washington Rifles flag as it looked when returned to Georgia. The banner, made of silk, continued to deteriorate, but was restored by conservators in recent years. The banner is now part of the collection of the Georgia Capitol Museum in Atlanta. The restored flag can be viewed here.