It’s Virginia versus Minnesota again in the debate over a Confederate flag.
By Jen McCaffery
July 2, 2004

Gov. Mark Warner has officially joined the fight to reclaim a Confederate battle flag from Minnesota.

The latest Virginia politician to join the quest for the flag’s return, Warner plans to broach the subject of the return of the 28th Virginia Infantry Regiment’s battle flag with Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty at the National Governors’ Association meeting in Seattle later this month, said Ellen Qualls, a spokeswoman for Warner.

The flag was captured from a unit of soldiers from the Roanoke Valley in 1863, during Pickett’s Charge in the Battle of Gettysburg. People have fought over the flag for more than 140 years. Now, neither Virginia nor Minnesota shows any sign of relinquishing its interest in the flag.

Warner, a Democrat, has met with the Sons of Confederate Veterans about the issue, Qualls said. The governor was aware that Sen. George Allen, R-Va.; U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Roanoke; and Republican Attorney General Jerry Kilgore had asked the U.S. Army for help in securing the return of the flag, Qualls said.

"The governor has long been willing to look into it," Qualls said. "We were just looking for the appropriate way to do it."

Warner decided to get involved in the issue after Lt. Col. Michael Bigelow of the U.S. Army’s Center of Military History communicated to Warner through a Washington Times reporter earlier this week that the Army doesn’t really have legal grounds in the fight, and that Virginia would need to take the next step to secure the battle flag’s return.

Bigelow did not return repeated calls for comment.

"I’m glad to see this is still a bipartisan issue that everyone supports," said Chris Caveness, executive director of the 28th Virginia Infantry Regiment, a Civil War re-enactment group. Caveness has led the fight to reclaim the flag for about six years. The regiment was made up of soldiers from Roanoke, Botetourt, Bedford, Craig and Montgomery counties.

Caveness referred to efforts over the years by the Virginia Senate and the Virginia Historical Society to get the flag returned. In the latest round, Caveness hoped the flag, which he says is federal property, would be returned to Virginia and housed in an Army museum planned in Fort Belvoir.

But Minnesota still doesn’t plan to relinquish the flag, which was seized during the Battle of Gettysburg by Marshall Sherman, a private in the 1st Minnesota Volunteer Infantry regiment who won the Congressional Medal of Honor for capturing the flag.

"He’s certainly willing to hear him out and discuss the issue, but as far as we’re concerned, nothing has changed," said Daniel Wolter, Pawlenty’s communications director. Pawlenty is a Republican.

In February, Allen, Goodlatte and Kilgore co-wrote a letter to the Center for Military History, requesting help to get the flag back from Minnesota.

They argued that the flag should be returned to Virginia by virtue of a 1905 congressional decree to the War Department that said Union and Confederate battle flags should be returned to their respective states.

Caveness said he respected all the U.S. Army is presently doing.

"But nonetheless, the United States government has an obligation to retrieve this federal property and return it to Virginia," Caveness said.

Wolter, meanwhile, emphasized the flag’s great sentimental value to Minnesotans.

"The Minnesota 1st is an institution in Minnesota," Wolter said. "It’s one of the proudest pieces of our history. From a legal perspective, we’re confident that we’re on firm ground."

Caveness also pointed out that while he’s hopeful that the flag will be returned, the debate is serving another purpose – balancing out what he says are 20th century interpretations by special-interest groups and politically correct individuals who think the flag is racist or un-American.

"As long as this struggle continues with Minnesotans, to have the 28th’s colors returned to Virginia, the Minnesotans are indirectly giving us a national forum to clear up misunderstandings about the Confederate battle flag," Caveness said.

Caveness described it as a "Southern soldier’s flag … [that] symbolizes Southern valor and courage of our forebears that fought and died under it."