Confederate flag’s history well documented

Evidence shows banner on display at Central Annex was captured at Battle of Blakeley, report concludes
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
Staff Reporter

BAY MINETTE — The Confederate flag displayed at the county’s Central Annex was captured by Union forces at Blakeley during the last major battle of the Civil War, not removed later from a courthouse in Mobile, the county’s director of archives and history concluded in a strongly worded report.

In response to a critic’s claims, John Jackson presented county commissioners last week with the 49-page document laying out "thorough and conclusive evidence" the banner on loan from Illinois was taken from the courthouse in the town of Blakeley.

"Since none of us were present at the Battle of Blakeley on 9 April, 1865, we must base opinion on all evidence at hand," Jackson wrote. "Due diligence has been served in the search for details confirming the provenance of the flag, and it remains our opinion that the flag in our custody originated at Blakelely."

According to the report, Illinois records show that Capt. Henry Miller of the Eighth Illinois Infantry seized the flag and gave it to his commander, Maj. Daniel Sayer. The battle ended the same day Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomat tox Courthouse, Va.

Sayer’s family kept it until 1925 when his son, Rockwell Sayer, gave the flag to the state of Illinois. From then until May — when it was unveiled in Baldwin County — it was in the Illinois Military Museum in Springfield. The 9-foot by 14-foot banner is in a case at the entrance to the commission chambers in the Robertsdale facilities.

JoAnn Flirt, director of Historic Blakeley State Park, told commissioners in June that it was too big to be a garrison flag and evidence shows it was pulled down in Mobile by Sayer after the city surrendered.

"There is a preponderance of documentation and evidence that the flag in question did not fly over Blakeley and that if it flew anywhere, it was over the Mobile County Courthouse," she said in her report to commissioners. "Capt. Miller captured a battle flag approximately four feet by four feet, roughly one-sixth the size of the Robertsdale flag."

Flirt said the flag captured by Miller is in the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Va.

Jackson said his department doesn’t dispute that Miller may have captured a smaller flag too, as several were taken during the battle. Miller was awarded a Medal of Honor for "capture of flag" while helping lead the assault.

"Military records do not specify whether it was an unidentified battle flag or a garrison flag. … It is equally open to conjecture that Miller turned in the unidentified battle flag and did indeed send the Blakeley Garrison Flag back to his friend and comrade Daniel Sayer," Jackson’s report states.

Jackson said flags of the type on display in Robertsdale were "routinely used in Confederate ‘forts’ for garrison function and duty.

"The flag has sustained battle damage that was verified by not only the Illinois History Museum, but the state of New York textile conservation specialist," his report states, adding, "there is absolutely no possible way for the flag to have sustained battle damage if it had been taken from the courthouse in Mobile."

Jackson said the confusion seems to have arisen because Rockwell Sayer claimed his father took the flag from a courthouse in Mobile. Union records sometimes refer to the entire area as Mobile, he said. Jackson points out that a 1925 article about the flag, cited in Flirt’s report, said only that it was captured by troops "under command" of Sayer in the "battle of Mobile, Ala."

Flirt told commissioners that local Civil War history should remain the focus of Blakeley and Fort Morgan, not the new county Bicentennial Park in Stockton being built in conjunction with next year’s 200th anniversary celebration of the county’s creation. The flag will eventually be moved to a permanent exhibition site there, Jackson said.

"This raises a question about the trustworthiness of efforts by that department to research, recreate, construct and operate a historic theme park containing elements of Civil War and other history of Baldwin County," Flirt wrote. "We respectfully submit that the history of those four Civil War years is better left to Fort Morgan and Blakeley."

Jackson responded: "Professional historians may debate opinion on interpretation. They may not agree on findings. They, however, do not wildly attempt to turn an interpretation into a vehicle for personal or political agenda, as seems to be the case in this matter," he wrote.

Commissioner Wayne Gruenloh said no official action is planned on the reports.

"I have not read every jot and tittle of the report, but I have every confidence in John and his professionalism. I have no reason to doubt what he has said or the authenticity of the flag," Gruenloh said. "Ms. Flirt came to the work session with her analysis and we asked John to prepare a similar document.

"I would like to think we have enough Civil War history to go around for Fort Morgan, Blakeley and whatever we might do at Bicentennial Park."

© 2008 Press-Register.

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