Trust but verify: looking at a fragment of Civil War history

At some point in our lives most of us pass through that phase where we believe “if you see it in print, it must be true.” In the world of Special Collections, this can also mean that when an object has a handwritten note identifying it, you accept the note as factual. Unfortunately, real life is rarely so reliable.

Take for example, a set of reprints we found of the Ulster County Gazette dated January 4, 1800 and reporting the death of George Washington. Accompanying several obvious reprints was a very nice copy on rag paper in a folder marked “Original.”  Was this in fact an incredibly valuable original? Had we discovered a long lost treasure hiding in the archives? Our hearts beat a little faster until we determined that, no, it was a reprint too. Someone creating that folder (in the days before internet access) had been mistaken.

But even with all the resources of scholarship at your fingertips, authentication remains a tricky business. Consider the framed bit of cloth pictured above and its two captions. The first, handwritten on the paper to which the cloth is attached, reads

Ft. Moultrie (S.C.)

Garrison Flag ““ size about 15 ft. by 18.

It flew while Heroic Sumter was bombarded April 12th – 13th 1861.


The second note is on a separate sheet at the bottom and says:

Piece of bunting from the flag

that floated above Ft. Sumter

during its bombardment  April 12-13, 1861.

It was 15 ft. by 18 ft.

Sent to Hon. Geo. Clark in a letter.

R.E. Pare, Macon, GA

So where did the flag fly and whose flag was it? The original object indicates that this flag flew over Fort Moultrie–a position from which the Confederate Army fired on Fort Sumter.  The second caption says the flag came from Fort Sumter–which would mean it was a Federal flag. And, while it seems likely that this second note is an error made by a descendant or a later owner, if this is a Confederate artifact, what do the words “Heroic Sumter” mean?

If you have any thoughts you’d like to share with us on our latest puzzle, we hope you’ll leave us a comment below. By the way, there is a Texas connection to the Battle of Fort Sumter: a completely unauthorized surrender was arranged with the Union troops by Texan Louis T. Wigfall who rowed out to the fort in a skiff. Wigfall, a one-time U.S. Senator, went on to lead the Texas Brigade until his fondness for whiskey and hard cider made it necessary for him to resign his commission. He was replaced by John Bell Hood.


  • Michael Wilson

    January 24, 2015 at 12:06 am Reply

    I know who wrote this. C.H. is Charlie Herbst, I found his flag scrapbook in October.
    That is his hand writing and I have those initials all through out this scrapbook.
    approx. 50 flag fragments, signatures, dozens of letters. essentially a trove of confederate memorabilia.

  • Michael Wilson

    January 24, 2015 at 12:59 am Reply

    the second page of my scrapbook has (i believe) a piece of the storm flag from ft. sumter. I have 3 confirmed reg. flag fragments with flags in museums. All the fragments
    (40-50 of them), have descriptions almost identical to this page on this site. Some have the actual letters from soldiers(and envelope) bound in the spine of the book on those particular pages. Herbst had these capabilities because after the war he was a librarian in Macon Ga. He was in the Ky orphan brigade during the war and was injured in, i think Tenn. Shot once in both legs,(the scrapbook actually contains the battle flag from his regiment in this battle)+and gives his injury description on this page.—following the war he was a major factor in finding remains of orphan brigade soldiers buried on battle fields through correspondence (letters) with soldiers who dug graves, and had much success. (that is an amazing feat if you ask me).— A few years down the road he was in charge of Orphan Brigade reunions,and other confederate reunions (campouts is what they called at that time). Herbst has a book of general signatures out there. one volume is in lousville filsom historical society. their volume contains engraving and thats about it)

  • Michael Wilson

    January 25, 2015 at 8:32 pm Reply

    More than likely this page you have framed prob came out of the scrapbook. The stain below and too the side of fragment are consistent with stains found in the scrapbook, created by glue from the opposite page after years of being shut. A good example would be the note on your page, do you see where the glue began to seep through the note? If my memory serves me right, the name Clark, Pare, and Fort Moultrie ring a bell from the scrapbook. 50% sure the envelope of this note is in the scrapbook. 110% sure this was in Charlie Herbst collection.

  • joey oller

    February 22, 2015 at 12:53 pm Reply

    The Kentucky Historical Society has his notebook and scrapbook, along with other papers. I have no idea how many scrapbooks and journals he kept, but he did work at some Georgia Historical Society after the war. Also, pages from the books have been removed, assuming the above framed page.

  • joey oller

    February 22, 2015 at 1:04 pm Reply

    Mike can you tell me if the book you have has fragments of Orphan Brigade of orphan brigade flags?

  • Michael Wilson

    February 23, 2015 at 9:02 am Reply

    Yes, many orphan brigade flags. I took the book there and confirmed 5 or 6 fragments from 2 different flags. Filson historical society has his book of engravings

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