Saturday, August 30, 2003

Today, Michigan will return to Virginia its spoils of war — the Civil War, that is.

About 50 representatives of the state of Michigan will turn over to Virginia officials a Confederate First National flag — known as the “Stars and Bars” — that was plundered by Union troops during the Battle of Fredericksburg more than 140 years ago.

“This is a wonderful thing for them to do,” said Eric Mink, a historian with the National Park Service. “The flag is a part of [Fredericksburgs] history. This is part of the healing.”

The flag’s return will follow a 2 p.m. ceremony in Fredericksburg dedicating a monument to the 7th Michigan Volunteer Infantry, Company B, Incorporated, which invaded Fredericksburg on Dec. 11, 1862.

The flag will be carried in a procession to the Fredericksburg Area Museum and Cultural Center, where it will be on display until it goes to a permanent home with the National Park Service. A free concert by the Quantico Marine Band will follow at 6 p.m.

The event will mark the first time Michigan has returned Civil War spoils since 1941.

“These flags are the most poignant symbols of [Civil War] wounds,” said Kerry Chartkoff, a historian with the Michigan state Capitol. “Men were expected to die rather than [surrender] their flags.”

Historians say a Confederate civilian had owned the flag, which was displayed in a home or government building about 141 years ago. The 4th Michigan Volunteer Infantry pilfered it Dec. 13, 1862, in the Battle of Fredericksburg.

Sgt. Henry Seage carried the flag to his Lansing home after the war. Seage’s descendants kept the flag until 1951, when they donated it to Michigan’s State Archives along with Seage’s letters and diaries.

“The family thought it would be safer [in the archives],” Miss Chartkoff said.

An arson fire devastated the archives three weeks later, and the flag was presumed lost. In 1941, Michigan returned 13 captured Confederate flags to their home states.

Last spring, archivists were stunned to find the flag during an inventory.

“We just stared at it for a while and said, ‘What is this doing here?’” Miss Chartkoff said. “We decided it must go home in the same spirit we returned the other flags.”

The first banner of the Confederate army, the Stars and Bars bears seven stars and three stripes. The Confederacy adopted it in March 1861, but abandoned the design in May 1863 because it was easily confused in battle with the Union’s “Stars and Stripes.”

An inscription on the Fredericksburg flag reads: “Part of a Reb. Flag. Captured at Fredericksburg, VA. December 13th 1862.” The flag also is stamped with the name “Seage.”

Milton DeVinney, 76, a great-grandson of Seage, will hand the flag today to a descendant of a Confederate family. “I am very happy about this,” he said.

Michigan’s decision to return the flag contrasts with that of Minnesota to keep its plunder. Minnesota officials refused the Virginia Historical Society’s repeated requests for return of a Confederate flag taken during the Battle of Gettysburg.

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

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