Tuesday, February 24, 2004

RICHMOND — Civil War groups in Virginia are outraged that the state of Minnesota is refusing to return a flag lost during the Battle of Gettysburg.

The groups have been fighting for the return of the battle flag of the 28th Virginia Infantry Regiment for six years, and now have the backing of key Virginia Republicans, including U.S. Sen. George Allen, U.S. Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte and Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore.

The politicians sent a letter to the U.S. Army’s chief of military history renewing their request the flag be returned to Virginia, where it would be preserved in a museum. The flag is held by the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul.

“It’s the property of Virginia,” said Carrie Cantrell, a spokeswoman for Mr. Kilgore. “We’d just like it returned so it can be in a museum in Virginia.”

The letter is the latest development in the dispute, which arguably began in 1863 and wound up on the CBS Evening News in August, with Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s unequivocal declaration that Virginia wasn’t getting the flag back.

Dan McElroy, Mr. Pawlenty’s chief of staff, said that as far as he knew, there had been no new developments in the dispute. He said the decision to keep the flag in Minnesota was made not by state government officials, but by the Minnesota Historical Society.

It’s been nearly a century since the U.S. Congress ruled that Minnesota must return the flag, which a private from Minnesota captured from the Salem regiment during Pickett’s Charge. The flag was one of 12 captured during Pickett’s Charge.

Chris Caveness, executive director of the 28th Virginia Infantry Regiment, a group of Roanoke Valley re-enactors, wants the flag returned to Virginia as a symbolic gesture to honor those who died in battle. He called the Minnesota Historical Society “un-American.”

“The 28th Virginia Infantry Regiment suffered significant casualties at Gettysburg and many of them were never recovered. They were buried in mass graves,” Mr. Caveness said. “To bring the flag home is a way to bring those forebears home.”

The flag is the only known captured battle flag that has not been returned to its state of origin, Mr. Caveness said.

Brag Bowling, commander of the Virginia Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, is joining the fight.

“It’s an important Virginia historical relic that was illegally seized during battle,” Mr. Bowling said. “They’re whistling Dixie if they think they can keep it legally. It should have been returned 100 years ago.”

A congressional resolution and executive order from 1905 ordered the War Department to return all Civil War flags to their original states. The politicians from Minnesota voted in favor of the resolution, Mr. Caveness said.

Mr. Bowling said if the flag is not held in Roanoke it should go to Richmond’s Museum of the Confederacy. Mr. Caveness said he would be open to displaying the flag in the Army Museum in Northern Virginia.

Soldiers from Roanoke, Botetourt, Bedford, Craig and Montgomery counties made up the 28th Virginia Infantry, which sustained casualties of 80 percent in the battle, Mr. Caveness said.

The Minnesota 1st Volunteer Regiment also suffered casualties of 80 percent.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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