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Treasury Guards (U.S.)

Last modified: 2016-03-29 by rick wyatt
Keywords: treasury | united states | lincoln |
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[Flag of the Treasury Guards]
submitted by
Steve Stringfellow, 6 July 2001
[Flag of the Treasury Guards]
image by
Blas Delgado Ortiz, 8 July 2001

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Excerpted from a July 3, 2001 New York Times article by Paul Zielbauer:

Five flags surrounded Lincoln's box in Ford's Theater - three American flags and two Treasury Guard flags, the only two such flags issued by the department. The discovery means that three of those five are now accounted for, Civil War historians said. A bloodstained American flag, which was used to cushion the head of the mortally wounded president, was discovered and verified in Pennsylvania in 1998. It is now in the collection of the Pike County Historical Society. The other Treasury Guard flag, a blue banner that hung from a pole several feet to Lincoln's right on the opposite side of the theater box as the flag discovered in Hartford, is in the Ford's Theater National Historic Site in Washington.

Hours before Lincoln was to arrive at the theater for a production of "Our American Cousin," James R. Ford, the theater manager, sent workers scrambling around Washington to find flags to adorn his presidential box. They found one American flag, now lost to history, at a local bookshop, and the two Treasury Guard flags at the United States Treasury.

The flag's importance, said Thomas Reed Turner, a professor at Bridgewater State College in Massachusetts and the author of two books on Lincoln, is in its proximity to the nation's first presidential assassination, five days after Gen. Robert E. Lee's formal surrender at Appomattox, Va. As with most historical relics, though, there are gaps in what is known of the flag's exact place in history. Whether the dying president indeed grabbed this newly discovered flag after his assassin, John Wilkes Booth, shot him, for instance, may never be known for sure. One of the best illustrations of that moment shows Lincoln clutching a flag with red and white bars, but it may be impossible to verify whether that image is accurate.
submitted by Lewis Nowitz, 5 July 2001

The flag at Ford's Theater, one of the two original flags of the Treasury Guards, has a tear along one edge. Treasury officials believed that the flag was what had snagged John Wilkes Booth's spur when he leaped from Lincoln's box to the stage. They hung the flag outside the Treasury Building, with the tear prominently displayed, as Lincoln's funeral procession passed.

A nylon replica of the Treasury Guards flag (complete with the tear) is on display in the Office of the Under Secretary of the Treasury for International Affairs. This was the Office of the Secretary at the time of Lincoln's assassination, and its anteroom served as the Office of the President of the United States, Andrew Johnson, from then until the end of June when Mrs. Lincoln moved out of the White House. Both rooms were carefully restored 15 years ago.

Bill Falls, 10 June 2004

Flag Description

It's got 35 stars on a thin (width) canton. In the upper part of the canton, it says (in white) "Presented to Treasury Guard Regt." and in the lower part "By the Ladies of the Treasury Dept. 1864" (the date a bit lower). This is a bit interesting - the Secret Service, part of the Treasury Department, now guards the President, but this didn't start until decades later. In the center of the canton is a full color, oil painted eagle, of the seal variety (as it was then, flying view- see "variation", but in reverse). The eagle appears to be on a dark background, and it's not clear if it's painted on both sides, as only the "reverse" is shown. The pattern of stars is therefore 2-inscription-6-7-2-eagle-2-8-6-inscription-2, with the stars "rolling" (I don't know the technical term).
Nathan G. Lamm, 5 July 2001

U.S. regiments, like British ones, carry pairs of colors. At that time, infantry units carried a S&S as national color--in this case with the U.S. COA added on the center of the blue "union"--and a blue flag with the COA as the regimental color. The COA on the center of the Union was not regulation Army-style, but the Treasury Guards were not an Army unit. I would suppose, since they were a unique organization within the Treasury Department, that whatever flag they carried was by definition their official flag and no one would have cared that it didn't match the War Department pattern.
Joe McMillan, 7 July 2001

Detailed Cantons

[Reverse Canton of the Flag of the Treasury Guards]
image by Blas Delgado Ortiz, 7 July 2001
Reverse Canton
[Obverse Canton of the Flag of the Treasury Guards]
image by Blas Delgado Ortiz, 7 July 2001
Obverse Canton

The Treasury Guards

The Treasury Guards had nothing to do with guarding the President. They were a civilian militia formed, like those of other Federal Departments during the Civil War, to help protect the Capital from Confederate attack. The city was right on the border between the Union and Confederacy and such an attack was a constant threat.

These militias were taught to march and shoot but in the end they were clerks and apparently not a very impressive military force. When Jubal Early attacked Washington from the north in June 1964, he was counting on their weak resistance but Union intelligence was better than his; a Union Army detachment arrived just in time to drive him away in the Battle of Fort Stevens. Still, I've read accounts of a cheering crowd waving handkerchiefs at the Treasury Guards as they marched up 16th St. to the battle, and apparently the Treasury was very proud of its boys. There are some great stories from the Battle of Fort Stevens. The fort's earthworks are open to the public on upper 13th St. NW.

Bill Falls, 10 June 2004