By Christina Bellantoni
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Virginia Civil War heritage groups and state officials are pledging to use the law as a weapon in their fight to force Minnesota to return a Confederate battle flag captured by Union troops during the Battle of Gettysburg.
Asking nicely hasn’t worked for the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV), a group of re-enactors from Roanoke Valley, and state officials including Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat.
"Asking will not do the trick," said Brag Bowling, national officer with the SCV. "The SCV has gone as far as requesting the attorney general work with the federal government and sue if need be to get it returned."
Virginia Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore, a Republican, wrote a letter outlining his opinion that the flag is legally Virginia’s property.
"There is clear legal authority that directs Minnesota to return it," Kilgore spokesman Tim Murtaugh said.
A congressional resolution and executive order from 1905 ordered the War Department to return all Civil War flags to their original states. The flag, however, was not in the possession of the War Department at the time, so Minnesota officials said the ruling does not apply in this case. The Department of Defense is the successor of the War Department.
"[The 1905 action] was meant to be an act of regional reconciliation and showing that the nation could be brought back together," Mr. Bowling said. "Even today, Minnesota refuses to reconcile."
Minnesota officials have rejected repeated requests to return the 140-year-old flag, which is guarded in temperature-controlled storage at the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul.
Mr. Bowling said his group also will try to persuade U.S. Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, to get involved and to urge the Justice Department to sue to determine who owns the flag. Mr. Warner is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
John Ullyot, a spokesman for the senator, said yesterday Mr. Warner will consider any request from his constituents. Mr. Warner supports the efforts to get the flag returned, Mr. Ullyot said.
In February, Sen. George Allen, Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte, both Virginia Republicans, and Mr. Kilgore asked the U.S. Army Center of Military History in Southwest to persuade Minnesota to return the flag. The center maintains the history of the Army and runs the Army’s historical museums.
A spokesman for the center said it doesn’t have any legal grounds to persuade the state to return the flag and that the Army would stay out of the dispute.
However, Brig. Gen. John S. Brown said in December 2002 that Americans from all states should "see the flag, learn its remarkable story and remember the courage of men who fought that crucial engagement."
Earlier this week during the National Governors Association meeting, Mr. Warner planned to speak with Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican, about returning the flag, but Mr. Pawlenty did not attend the meeting.
"We’re willing to listen, but our position has not changed a bit," said Pawlenty spokesman Daniel Wolter.
The Washington Times first reported Tuesday that the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond proposed a compromise that the flag remain in Minnesota, but that Minnesota must officially recognize the flag to be the property of Virginia. The museum would draft a loan agreement that would allow the flag to remain in Minnesota as long as it receives proper care.
If Minnesota rejects the proposed compromise, "the entire history and heritage community will get together and demand the return," Mr. Bowling said.
The flag was captured by Pvt. Marshall Sherman of St. Paul from the Minnesota 1st Volunteer Regiment. Pvt. Sherman was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions.