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Rucker's Brigade (U.S.)

Last modified: 2015-03-28 by rick wyatt
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[Rucker's Brigade flag] image located by Bill Garrison, 29 June 2008

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Design of the flag

Originally posted for sale at (no longer available)

In Alabama, in the State Archives, there is a flag made for Rucker's Brigade. "According to an account attributed to Colonel E.W Rucker, this flag was presented to his brigade by Mrs. Lorenzo Leedy, a widow of Aberdeen, Mississippi. The flag was made from Mrs. Leedy's wedding dress by the ladies of Aberdeen. Captain C.P. Storrs (Company F, 7th Alabama, Cavalry) reported that some of the patriotic ladies contributed material from their best dresses in order to make the flag. Storrs further stated the flag was presented to the brigade in 1863 during a Tennessee campaign, and at that time Company F was chosen as escort and color company. This company carried the flag to the war's end with F.C Gregory of Montgomery, Alabama, as color bearer. The flag was preserved after the War by Captain Storrs who presented it Alabama Archives and History on July 8,1907."

This ornate flag is rectangular with a white field and a red cross, the cross does not terminate at the corners, but has decorative oak leaves at the ends of each arm. The flag is predominantly made of silk. It measures 36 inches on the hoist by 44 1/2 inches on the fly, and is surrounded on three sides by a fine white fringe. There are thirteen green (once blue) stars made of crepe with gold metallic edging . The center star is 4 inches across the arms, the other twelve are 4 1/2 inches across. The motto: FORTUNA FAVET FORTIBUS is printed/painted in 1 1/2 inch black letters in the obverse lower quadrant. On the reverse one reads: RUCKER'S BRIGADE in the upper quadrant and in the left and right quadrants respectively: FORREST'S CAVALRY.

This Aberdeen flag was made in Mississippi, allegedly in 1863, for Rucker, a Tennessean and his Tennessee Brigade. But Rucker did not have a brigade in 1863, he commanded a Legion consisting of the 12th and 16th Tennessee battalions. He led this legion from June 1863 to February 29th 1864. Rucker got his first brigade in 1864 (7th Tennessee, 8th and 18th Mississippi regiments), but this too was disbanded in July of 1864 with Rucker's wounding. The history of this silk presentation flag, now at the Alabama State Archives, is in all but one respect correct. This flag was not given to Rucker in 1863. Storrs was misquoted or mistaken when he gave that presentation date. After being wounded in the left arm and below the knee near Tupelo Mississippi, Rucker was nursed back to health by Mr. Adams of Aberdeen Mississippi. Here, he, "received a tastefully made and costly flag" from Mrs. M.A. Leedy also of Aberdeen. This flag was delivered to Rucker on Aug. 20th 1864. With the flag was a note from the donor, saying that. "The accompanying flag is presented to the officers and men of the 6th Brigade, Forrest's cavalry...". To this Rucker responded, "In behalf of the officers and men of my Brigade, I tender you my sincere thanks for the beautiful Battle Flag...".

It was NOT given to the 7th Alabama (which was not yet in the brigade), but clearly the BRIGADE entire, which was then a Mississippi/Tennessee Brigade! Sometime, over a month later, Rucker gave it to a company in the 7th Alabama Cavalry. The 7th joined Rucker's new brigade on Sept 25th of the year 1864. It is worth noting that C.P. Storrs believed the flag was presented in 1863; in this he erred, it was 1864, but he obviously had no problem in reconciling the use of the white and red brigade flag with an 1863 date. Rucker presented this flag to Co. F, 7th Alabama late in September of 1864. But, this does not mean it was the first flag of its type used by Rucker. In fact, this particular silk flag shows little "period" wear or us. And like a number of fine presentation flags, it may have been saved for parade or review? The fact, as you shall see, that it was not captured at Nashville, confirms this suspicion.

There exists ANOTHER FLAG OF RUCKER'S BRIGADE! The one for sale in this auction. This color is sewn from imported English wool bunting. Measuring 47 inches on the fly by 44 on the hoist. The crimson cross traverses from corner to corner and is approximately 8 inches wide. There are 13 blue wool bunting stars which are 3.5 inches across the arms respectively. The coarse linen hoist edge is 7/8 of an inch wide and still retains its upper and lower ties. The middle tie is missing and appears to be torn off. The flag is identical on both obverse and reverse. Stars on both sides. The wear and distortion of the flag's field plainly show that it was used in the field. It remains in fine condition, with the minor overall insect tracts one would expect to find on a woolen flag of this age. There are several holes that resemble bullet holes. One of these actually has a period darned repair. There is a long clean tear in the lower white quadrant, which must have been the result of a violent tug.

The material used in the making of this flag is about as "substantial" as flag cloth got in the mid-19th century; wool, but treated, to have the feel of a fine burlap. The material was tough and water resistant. The Rucker bunting flag is constructed in a fashion typical of battle flags we call "depot" made in both the eastern and later western theaters; generally, all hand sewn with French seams at the junctions of sections, stars on both sides of the cross and, in this case, as a result of having no applied border, the selvage of the woolen bolts are exposed, making fraying difficult. Three ties on the osnaburg hoist is common for a bunting battle flag. On the hoist there is, an inscription, sadly, too faded to read. This flag's almost square shape is encountered among the few existing brigade colors; while surviving
division flags are more often swallowtail (pennant) shaped.

A possible exception to this is the flag of brigadier general of cavalry William H. Jackson of Tennessee. Jackson ended the war under Forrest as a division commander, but was never formally advanced to the rank of major-general. His brigade flag, if it is his brigade flag, rather than his division color, is described and illustrated in Colours of the Gray, published 1998 by The Museum of the Confederacy, Richmond VA. This red flag has a white canton with a blue cross and white stars. An unusual color scheme, like the Rucker flag. It is swallowtail shaped, unlike the Rucker flag(s). I quote directly from Time-Life's Echoes of Glory, where a differentiation is made between Union and Confederate headquarters flags. One reads on page 277 that, "The Confederate army, however, left it to individual generals and departments to devise their own system of flags for indicating higher commands". Also, we should add that it is not uncommon to find cavalry commands carrying four foot by four foot flags and perhaps even larger.

Our bunting flag was found by an antique dealer in 1997. The highly respected fellow was sadly, but typically, unwilling to provide further background fearing his contacts and cash-flow might be compromised by a competitor. The flag found an immediate home in a premier Confederate collection, there it remained for ten years. He sold the flag in 2007 to one of the most respected dealers in this country. Forensic fabric testing done immediately, and with the latest available techniques, proved, beyond a doubt that the flag was made in the Civil War.(1) ... The great fallacy concerning this flag was that it somehow had an Alabama connection, NOT SO! The Alabama State Flag of today has no immediate ancestor in the Civil War. Today's Alabama flag has a white field with a crimson cross running from corner to corner, NO STARS. It was designed in 1895 by John W. Sanford Jr.1865-1912.(2) Refer to WIKIPEDIA, FLAG OF ALABAMA.

When can we speculate that Rucker got his first white flag with a red cross and blue stars? Rucker was Major in the 16th Tennessee Battalion of Cavalry and it is unlikely, even though, he took command of the regiment for a time, that the flag of this unit was uniquely his own. In June of 1863 the 16th Tennessee Battalion was consolidated with the 12th Tennessee Battalion to form a legion, Rucker's Legion (also called 1st East Tennessee Legion). It is possible, then, in 1863 that a flag for Rucker's Legion was commissioned, designed and executed, this being the white battle flag with its 13 blue stars on a red Saint Andrews cross. The Flag of Hilliard's Legion is an extant example which illustrates that Legions, and there were several in the Confederate Army, had their own distinctive flags. Hilliard's flag which dates from mid-1862 it is 48 inches by 70 inches and has a red St. Andrews cross running from corner to corner on a blue field, it bears twelve painted stars.

Also of interest is the fact that 2nd Battalion, within Hilliard's legion, carried a conventional battle flag based on the Army of Northern Virginia model. On August 23, 1863 a Federal report placed Rucker's Legion (part of Pegram's Command), with four pieces of artillery at Kingston. Rucker's Legion fought with Wheeler's Cavalry, Forrest's Corps, Davidson's Brigade in many skirmishes and at the battles of Chickamauga and Chattanooga. In April of 1864 the 12th and 16th departed for the valley of Virginia. Rucker's Legion disbanded, and regiments transferred to Dibrell's Division, and Vaughn's Brigade. Rucker, stayed for a time in Tennessee, never to rejoin these two regiments. I can find no evidence that the Legion, nor either regiment in the Legion lost a flag in battle. Rucker was soon ordered to Mississippi by General N.B. Forrest to head up a brigade of cavalry. Rucker's Brigade was formed in March of 1864 and composed of the 7th Tennessee Cavalry, 8th Mississippi Cavalry, and 18th Mississippi Cavalry.

Was it at this then he introduced his standard, the Rucker's Brigade Battle Flag? At this time the Aberdeen Mississippi presentation flag was not yet made, but the citizens of Aberdeen certainly became aware of Rucker, his command and his unique personal flag, in fact, he was lying wounded in the town in the late summer of 1864. The idea was hatched to make a special quality flag to be presented to Rucker's Brigade. That it was the ladies of Aberdeen Mississippi who designed the flag they sewed for Rucker in the summer of 1864, does merit some consideration. But their special presentation flag was likely based on a pattern pre-existing, a flag known to these ladies, first hand, or was described to them by someone familiar with it. Could the bunting flag have been modeled on the Aberdeen silk presentation flag? Was it, indeed, made later as a more serviceable color? It is possible; bear in mind, the original Army of Northern Virginia Battle Flags of 1861 were initially conceived in silk, but these being expensive and fragile, and were quickly changed to a fine cotton and soon bunting. However, the author feels, that if the flag was a late 1864 concept its model would have been the flag of the Department of Alabama, Mississippi and East Louisiana, with the 12, rather than 13 star configuration. Earlier, in the year, when not yet with Rucker, the 7th Regiment Tennessee Regiment of Cavalry got a fine silk banner.

A Memphis newspaper article from March 17,1864 about this flag and Aberdeen MS says that the, "...The young ladies of Mrs. Wallace's school showed their patriotism by making and presenting a beautiful flag to the 7th Tennessee Cavalry Regiment, in acknowledgment of their gallant defense of our homes and fire sides. I think great credit is due them for the promptness and energy; for the idea was originated and carried into execution in one day. The regiment left yesterday morning, but a few of the their number were detailed to stay and receive the flag when it was finished. It was presented this morning, and before 10 o'clock its graceful folds had disappeared over the red hills of Aberdeen, and laden with the kisses of the fair donors..... A lady's wedding dress furnished material for the white portion of the flag...." This flag was a 2nd National pattern, the regimental history of the 7th states that this flag was torn up at the end of the war, specifically mentioning the blue cross and a ladies white wedding dress. So, the 7th Tennessee flag and Rucker's presentation silk flag were made by ladies of Aberdeen Mississippi, but months apart .Certainly Aberdeen had a ladies patriotic sewing circle, these were common in both North and South. Like the Rucker silk flag, this 7th Tennessee's flag was retained until the surrender, but, as Howard Madaus in his book, The Battle Flags of the Confederate Army of Tennessee points out on page 88, a bunting issue flag of  "Alabama, Mississippi and East Louisiana" was captured December 24, 1864 by Yankee Cavalry from the 7th.

This, raises two probabilities. One, that the silk flags of presentation quality were often held in reserve and, two, that in cavalry units, each company carried a full size battle flag. Cavalry companies were often detached and fought independently and flags were vital to unit cohesion and maneuvers in the field. Because the silk presentation Rucker's brigade flag was never surrendered, it is this author's belief that a bunting flag, was the one captured during the rout and pursuit of the Confederate Army at Nashville, December 16, 1864. The fact that Rucker lost his brigade flag is a documented fact. I quote here from the TNGenWebProject in reference to the 12th Tennessee (Union) Cavalry at Nashville: "....The regiment (12th TENN U.S.) in Hatch's 5th Division took a prominent part in the battle of Nashville, December 15- 16,1864, and in the pursuit that followed. On December 15, on the Harding Pike, the regiment captured the train of Brigadier General J. R. Chalmers; 14 wagons loaded with records, clothing and forage, along with 43 prisoners. On the 16th, after participating in the fighting that broke the Confederate lines, the regiment pursued out the Granny White Pike in an attempt to reach Franklin in advance of the Confederates. After proceeding about a mile they came upon the enemy's cavalry under Chalmers, posted across the roads, and behind barricades. The position was charged by the 12th Tennessee Cavalry, Colonel Spalding Commanding, and, the enemy's lines broken, scattered him in all directions, and capturing quite a number of prisoners, among them Brigadier General E. W. Rucker. In this engagement the 12th Tennessee Cavalry U. S. A. clashed with the 12th Tennessee Cavalry C. S. A. Captain Boyer, of the 12th, had a hand-to-hand fight with Colonel Rucker, then commanding a brigade. Each wrested the sabre of the other from his hand. One account says Captain Boyer then drew a pistol and shot Rucker in the arm. Another account says Rucker was shot by an unknown soldier standing near by. The flag of Rucker's Brigade was also captured."

The following reports are from the Official Records.  Report of January 20th, 1865 of Datus E. Coon, Colonel 2nd Iowa Cavalry. Commanding 2nd Brigade, 5th Division Cavalry Corps. He states: "...At this place Brigadier General Rucker was captured by Joseph C. Boyer, Twelfth Tennessee Cavalry, who received a severe blow on the forehead from the hand of the rebel general. In this personal contest Captain Boyer wrenched the rebel general's saber from his hand, who in turn seized and took his, when a Federal soldier, name unknown, shot the general in the arm, causing him to surrender... Private Barry Watson, Co. G Twelfth Tennessee, captured and brought away General Rucker's division (sic) flag and was promoted to Sergeant by Colonel Spaulding the same night for gallant conduct..." Following this report, a report also dated January 20th 1865, was penned by Lieutenant Sidney O. Roberts, Acting Provost-Marshal of Operations 2nd Brigade, Dec. 15-16,1864. It reads in part: " Major: I have the honor to submit the following report in regard to captures by this brigade.. .The Twelfth Tennessee Cavalry, in a charge on the right of the pike rode down the enemy. Captain J.C. Boyer Twelfth Tennessee Cavalry had a hand-to-hand fight with General Rucker of Forrest's command.. ..The division (sic) colors borne on the report as captured by the Twelfth Tennessee Cavalry were taken by Private B. Watson, Company G, Twelfth Tennessee Cavalry, who killed the rebel standard bearer. At this a rebel officer rode up to him and said, "Stick to your colors boys, "I'll do it", said Watson; and he did. The standard was given in possession of General Hatch, and is now in Nashville, Tenn. All property mentioned in the report has been turned over to the division and corps provost-marshals The saber taken from General Rucker is now in possession of Captain Boyer who will forward it at the earliest convenience." The report of General Edward Hatch U.S. Army, commanding the Fifth Division says in part, in ending his report,"...This ended the pursuit of Hood's army by my division. It has  captured 20 guns, 1000 prisoners.. .2 battle-flags (division colors) and 4 battle-flags taken with prisoners by Colonel Spalding on the second day...". Note how Hatch differentiates division battle flags from the other 4 battle flags. At least one of the 2 colors, described as division colors, was the battle flag of Rucker's Brigade. There is absolutely no evidence that Rucker was commanding Chalmer's Division in the retreat; Chalmer's himself was actively on the field in personal command of his division. It is, however, likely that Chalmer's also lost the division flag in the confusion of retreat, but to date it too has not surfaced. Rucker was certainly fighting under his brigade flag, his color-bearer was killed and the flag was captured. Both division, and brigade were overrun by the Yankees. In this confusion no one asked the dying standard-bearer to tell them if this was a brigade or division flag. And, the reports were done weeks later. The captured color obviously did not say "Rucker's Brigade" on it, that one, the silk presentation flag may have been in the baggage train? In fact, 7th Alabama was not detached from the brigade at this time, they were in the fray, and we know their presentation flag was retained by the color-bearer after the official surrender of the Confederate forces in April of 1865. The captured brigade flag, we believe, was this bunting color.

This flag was NEVER TURNED OVER to the War Department; disappearing sometime after the end of January 1864, its whereabouts unknown until 1997. A belief we have heard, but this author feels is totally unfounded and false, is that the flag actually captured and identified as that of Rucker's Brigade December 16th, 1864, was, in fact, the flag of the 12th Tennessee Cavalry CSA. Anyone postulating such a theory ignores and disqualifies three contemporary official accounts? Also, there exists no conflicting, or confirming report from the 12th Tennessee stating that they lost their flag. Also, Rucker was a real "Jim Dandy", always out in the forefront of every fight. At this particular battle, often called the Battle of the Barricades, we should assume that Rucker, mounted, was right behind, or just in front of his works, there, as the commander of his brigade; certainly accompanied by his personal flag. Again, read above, how Hatch himself, differentiates between headquarters flags and battle flags captured.

Portions of my description come from an extensive article I have written.

1) Text provided by Old South Military Antiques, Hanover Co. VA. Copies of this "state-of-the-art" report available.
2) Mr. Robert B. Bradley, Chief Curator of Collections, Alabama State Archives.