03 September 2009 by Published in: General News 5 comments

The first Battle of Middleburg occurred late in the day on June 17, 1863. Maj. Gen. Alfred Pleasonton, the acting commander of the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps, was known to be a terrible xenophobe. He felt that foreigners had no place in the American Civil War, and he didn’t trust any of them. Once he took command of the Cavalry Corps, he took steps to purge his command of all foreign-born officers. One of his prime targets was Col. Alfred N. Duffie of the 1st Rhode Island Cavalry.

Duffie, a Frenchman of questionable military lineage, had briefly commanded a division before a reorganization and poor performance caused him to be demoted to regimental command. Pleasonton sent Duffie’s regiment, the 1st Rhode Island Cavalry, on a mission far behind enemy lines to find out whether there were any enemy in the town of Middleburg. This small but fine regiment got chopped to bits when it got there, unexpectedly finding Brig. Gen. Beverly H. Robertson’s large but green brigade of North Carolina cavalry there. The Tar Heels chopped Duffie’s regiment to shreds, and only a handful of men avoided capture. Not surprisingly, they lost their regimental flag, which was, for years, part of the collection of the North Carolina Museum of History.

In his blog post today, Michael C. Hardy shared this interesting piece of news:

The North Carolina Museum of History has returned a Civil War flag of Company L, First Rhode Island Cavalry to its home state. The V-shaped flag, called a guidon, was captured by the 63rd North Carolina Troops (Fifth North Carolina Cavalry) on June 17, 1863, during the Battle of Middleburg, Virginia. The battle was part of the Gettysburg campaign, a series of battles in June to July during Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s movement through Virginia toward Pennsylvania.

The silk, striped guidon of Company L, with stars and letters on a field of blue, was donated to the Museum of History in the early 1900s. The gold-fringed banner has been fully restored by the museum and has appeared in previous exhibits.

In a gesture of goodwill, the Museum of History initiated the offer to return the flag to the State of Rhode Island. In 2008 the Rhode Island National Guard accepted the gift from North Carolina.

“The Rhode Island National Guard is thankful to the North Carolina Museum of History staff for graciously returning a Rhode Island Civil War guidon,” says Maj. Gen. Robert T. Bray, Adjutant General and Commanding General of the Rhode Island National Guard. “We are delighted to display the banner, especially given its pristine condition as a result of the careful preservation provided by the museum, among the many historical artifacts at the Varnum Armory in East Greenwich.”

The Museum of History hopes the State of Rhode Island will return a North Carolina flag captured by Rhode Island soldiers at New Bern on March 14, 1862. “We would like this Confederate flag, along with ones held by other states, to eventually be returned to North Carolina,” says Tom Belton, curator of military history.

In addition to the Rhode Island guidon, the Museum of History has given back a Civil War flag to Louisiana. The banner was mistakenly identified as being associated with North Carolina. Within the last few years, the Museum of History has received North Carolina flags from Arkansas and Massachusetts to add to its collection.

The Museum of History boasts the third-largest Confederate flag collection in the world. All banners in the collection were carried by Tar Heel troops. The museum is currently engaged in an extensive flag conservation program in anticipation of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War; commemorative events will take place from 2011 to 2015.Company L, First Rhode Island Cavalry at the Battle of Middleburg

Company L, First Rhode Island Cavalry suffered devastating losses during the Battle of Middleburg. On June 17 Union Col. Alfred N. Duffié led more than 230 men into Middleburg around 4 p.m. After hearing of their arrival, Confederate Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart ordered Brig. Gen. Beverly Robertson to move the Fifth North Carolina Cavalry in, and at 7 p.m. the regiment surrounded and attacked the Rhode Island unit. Several of Duffié’s men were killed or wounded, and the rest were driven out of town and fought their way through the night.

Most of Company L’s soldiers were captured the next morning. Only four of Duffié’s officers and 27 soldiers made it back to Centreville on June 18. A few more men from Company L returned during the next two days, but the regiment’s losses were about 200.

For more information, call 919-807-7900 or access ncmuseumofhistory.org. The Museum of History is located at 5 E. Edenton St., across from the State Capitol.

I’m pleased that this flag has been returned to Rhode Island where it belongs–it’s a generous and worthy gesture by North Carolina to do so. Thanks to Michael Hardy for sharing this good news with me.

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Comments

  1. dan
    Thu 03rd Sep 2009 at 10:07 pm

    Eric,

    Always good news when the country is brought closer together by the return of captured Civil War flags; most especially during this time of national strife and divisiveness.

    I would like to see somebody in authority from Rhode Island reply to this extraordinary gesture of reconciliation immediately and pledge to return captured North Carolina Confederate banners in Rhode Island’s possession back to their home state.

    Bravo, North Carolina! Rhode Island… step up!

    Best,
    Daniel

    >The Museum of History hopes the State of Rhode Island will return a North Carolina flag captured by Rhode Island soldiers at New Bern on March 14, 1862. “We would like this Confederate flag, along with ones held by other states, to eventually be returned to North Carolina,” says Tom Belton, curator of military history.

  2. Fri 04th Sep 2009 at 10:00 am

    Glad I could help! I too hope Rhode Island steps up and returns the gesture.

  3. Mike Peters
    Fri 04th Sep 2009 at 10:55 am

    And then there’s Minnesota …

    Mike

  4. Rick Allen
    Mon 07th Sep 2009 at 1:22 pm

    I agree that Minnesota should fork over the flag, but that doesnt taint this particular gesture regarding NC, and for that matter ALL of the Northern states who have seen fit over the years to return Confederate flags.

    It is in this spirit that things should be done almost 150 years later, though ideally they would have been done sooner.

  5. Tue 05th Jan 2010 at 5:51 pm

    It’s always a great gesture when flags are returned to the states they were captured from. The flag of the Beaufort Plow Boys, the company my 2nd Great Granduncle was Captain of, was returned by the State of New Jersey in 1904. The Plow Boys’ flag was recovered by the 9th New Jersey at the Battle of New Bern.

    I’m most interested in finding out which Company or Regimental flag was captured by the troops from Rhode Island during the Battle of New Bern.

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