Minnesota officials yesterday rejected a Virginia request for the return of a Confederate flag taken by Union troops during the Battle of Gettysburg.
“The flag will remain in Minnesota and will be held by the [state] Historical Society on behalf of the people of Minnesota, and that is not going to change,” said Patrick McCormack, deputy director of the society. “We have a clear legal right to possess the flag.”
Virginia officials had asked the U.S. Army’s Center of Military History to persuade Minnesota to return the flag, but a spokesman for the center said Virginia will need to fight its own battle.
“We pretty much don’t have any legal grounds,” said Lt. Col. Michael Bigelow, executive officer of the center.
Col. Bigelow said Virginia needs to make the next move to retrieve the 140-year-old flag and encouraged Gov. Mark Warner and the state’s congressional delegation to work directly with Minnesota.
“That’s what it’s going to take. It’s too emotional of an issue,” he said.
Mr. Warner has traditionally steered clear of issues involving either side of the Civil War.
But Warner spokeswoman Ellen Qualls said that since learning of the issue the governor has said he is willing to have communication with the necessary officials to get the matter resolved.
Miss Qualls said Mr. Warner plans to have an informal conversation with Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty at the National Governors Association meeting this month. Mr. Warner, a Democrat, will become chairman of the group during that meeting.
Mr. Warner will then start official correspondence on the matter, if that is appropriate, Miss Qualls said.
Mr. Pawlenty’s press office did not respond to a request for comment yesterday, but the Republican governor has previously said the flag is “rightfully” property of Minnesota and that Virginia won’t ever get it back.
In February, Sen. George Allen, Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte and Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore, all Republicans, sent a letter to the Center of Military History, renewing their request that the flag be returned to Virginia.
Kilgore spokesman Timothy Murtaugh said the attorney general is also willing to keep meeting with Minnesota officials on the matter.
The flag was captured by a private in the 1st Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment during the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863. During the battle, Marshall Sherman, of St. Paul, captured the flag of the 28th Virginia Infantry Regiment. Sherman was later awarded the Medal of Honor.
A congressional resolution and executive order from 1905 ordered the War Department to return all Civil War flags to their original states.
However, the flag was not in possession of the War Department at the time, so Minnesota said the ruling does not apply in this case.
Mr. McCormack said the 1st Minnesota Regiment suffered severe casualties and the flag is a source of pride among Minnesotans.
Chris Caveness, executive director of the 28th Virginia Infantry Regiment, a group of Roanoke Valley re-enactors, has been fighting for the return of the unit’s battle flag for six years. He wants the flag returned to Virginia and preserved in a museum to honor those who died in battle.
“Virginia is anxious,” Mr. Caveness said yesterday.