OHS - Fight for the Colors - Behind the Lines - Captured Glory: Flags and Politics
Captured Glory: Flags Lost and Recovered
Flags and Politics
In the closing decades of the 19th century, the return of captured battle flags
was a controversial political issue. In the spring of 1865, just before the
end of the war, the federal government decreed that Confederate battle flags
in the possession of Northern states were to be turned over to the War Department.
However, captured colors were cherished symbols of the bravery of Union soldiers.
Ohio and many other states chose to keep the flags taken in battle. President
Grover Cleveland issued a presidential order in 1887 that captured battle flags
were to be returned.
B. Foraker, then Governor of Ohio, did not believe that the president had the
authority to issue the order without action by Congress. Furthermore, President
Cleveland was not a Civil War veteran. Foraker, who joined the 89th O.V.I. when
he was only sixteen years old, did not consider Cleveland to be sympathetic
to veterans concerns. In his autobiography, Notes of a Busy Life, Foraker
asserts that he received "a perfect shower" of letters and telegrams protesting
the return of captured flags. Foraker famously responded to one letter: "No
rebel flags will be surrendered while I am governor."
the Flags?" a poem published in 1887 in The Ohio Soldier, a veterans
magazine, was dedicated to Governor Foraker and expressed the strong feelings
that many veterans had against returning captured battle flags.
Engraving of Joseph B. Foraker as a young soldier in the 89th O.V.I. From Archives/Library collection PA Box 26 17, page 6.
In 1905, the United States Congress passed a resolution requiring that all
flags captured by Federal and Confederate troops be turned over to the War Department
and then returned to the home state of the regiment. The resolution was authored
by a Democrat from Virginia and supported by the Republican majority who mostly
represented northern states. By then Joseph B. Foraker was serving as an U.S.
Senator for Ohio and supported the resolution.
Foraker explained his change of heart in an address that he gave at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day in 1905. He approved of Congress passing legislation to address the matter, rather than the president issuing an order. Furthermore, Foraker felt that the country had entered an "era of peace and good will" marked by improved relations between northern and southern states. He stated during his speech: "It was [also] settled that American heroism and valor were the same no matter under which flag displayed, for neither side could justly charge the other with any lack of these high qualities of vigorous manhood..."