By Terry Calhoun
The situation was frantic. Decisions came slowly in the Confederate Army command as the resurrection neared its end in 1865. Finally, higher command decided that while Fort Anderson would be lost, there was no need to lose the 2,300-man garrison to the some 7,000 advancing Federals.
Literally as troops from Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky swarmed over the defenses of the fort at Brunswick Town, rebel officers and men escaped toward Town Creek, unable to take the time even to disable its artillery or destroy its stores.
What could be loaded onto quartermaster and commissary wagons, ordnance wagons and ambulances hastened to upper Town Creek bridge, joined by other wagons which already had been repositioned to Allen’s Creek along with camp followers near present-day Boiling Spring Lakes.
Eventually the Fort Anderson garrison retreated to Kinston before Lee’s sword was offered to Gen. U. S. Grant at Appomattox the next April.
A thin line of rear defenders who would spend the next few months in northern prisons remained posted as the last wagons pulled away on the bumpy Orton Plantation causeway, at least one hastily loaded wagon dropping its cargo as it went. (Great concrete columns, probably built in the 1930s, now grace that road’s entrance.)
The garrison flag, soon to be a piece of textile which signified nothing but a blip in U. S. history, fell from that wagon in the predawn hours of February 19, 1865.
That same flag is well-traveled now, but it could be back at Fort Anderson in time for the 140-year anniversary of the fall of the fort.
That’s the hope of historical interpreter Brenda Marshburn and Friends of Brunswick Town Inc., and it’s a realistic hope — but help is needed quickly.
A reputable dealer of antiquities in Gettysburg, Pa., now owns the flag, preserved under glass in museum-quality condition. The flag has been authenticated and inspected and experts on the value of such items says the $38,000 price tag is fair and reasonable, Marshburn said.
The tale of the Fort Anderson garrison flag, an example of the Second National Flag of the Confederate States of America, is recounted in historian Chris E. Fonvielle Jr.’s 1999 book Fort Anderson, Battle for Wilmington.
He describes how Federal troops arrived, only to capture a small contingent force; all the other Confederates under Brig. Gen. Johnson Hagood “smelled the rat and evackuated the fort before we got there,” according to an Indiana trooper.
But they evacuated so hurriedly they left the bodies of their dead in St. Philip’s Church and they left the garrison flag behind.
“A soldier of Company A, 140th Indiana Infantry, found the standard lying crumpled on the ground and turned it over to the regiment’s commander, Col. Thomas J. Brady. Four weeks later, on March 17, Col. Brady presented Anderson’s banner to Gov. Oliver P. Morton of Indiana at a ceremony in front of the National Hotel in Washington,” an event attended by President Abraham Lincoln.
“Lincoln took time to review the 140th Indiana and make a few remarks to the excited crowd of people who had come for the presentation of the ‘captured flag of Fort Anderson.’ But as one Union soldier later scoffed: ‘it was not captured; it was found.’”
The fall of Fort Anderson was a celebrated event in the North, recorded February 23 in a full front page in the New York Herald. Wilmington, the last supply route for Confederate troops following the fall of Vicksburg, Miss., signaled the coming end of hostilities.
“Our success virtually put an end to the rebellion,” Adm. David Porter reported afterward. The taking of Wilmington and its defensive forts not only closed the supply lines to Gen. Robert E. Lee’s struggling troops, but opened both communication and supply lines with Gen. William T. Sherman.
Marshburn said the flag was displayed for years at the Indiana State Museum in Indianapolis but eventually was declared expendable and fell into the hands of the collector from Gettysburg.
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