Monday, July 19, 2004

The Museum of the Confederacy has proposed a compromise to settle a long-standing feud between Virginia and Minnesota about a Confederate battle flag taken by Union troops during the Battle of Gettysburg.

The Richmond museum’s is the most recent voice in a call to arms of Confederate groups, Virginia officials and residents who for six years have been asking for the flag’s return.

“We’re keeping our fingers crossed that there is a reasonable compromise that can be struck here to make sure the flag is displayed correctly,” said S. Waite Rawls III, executive director of the museum. “Our number one concern is that the flag is properly cared for.”

Minnesota officials have rejected repeated requests to return the 140-year-old flag, which is guarded in temperature-controlled storage at the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul.

Mr. Rawls outlined his suggestion in a letter to Gov. Mark Warner last week.

The Museum of the Confederacy is proposing that the flag remain in Minnesota, but Minnesota must officially recognize the flag to be the property of Virginia. Then, the museum would draft a loan agreement, allowing the flag to remain in Minnesota as long as it receives proper care.

Mr. Warner, a Democrat, was planning to speak with Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty at the National Governors Association meeting in Seattle, which wrapped up yesterday. Mr. Warner became chairman of the group yesterday.

Warner spokeswoman Ellen Qualls said last night she was unsure whether the governor had spoken with Mr. Pawlenty during the meeting. If the two did not get a chance to speak, Mr. Warner will phone him personally on the issue, Miss Qualls said.

The museum’s proposal “bothers” Chris Caveness, executive director of the 28th Virginia Infantry Regiment, a group of Roanoke Valley re-enactors.

He applauded the museum for showing interest and for affirming the flag is Virginia property, but said his group wants the flag returned to Virginia.

“We’ve been fighting for years for that,” Mr. Caveness said. “We don’t see any reason to surrender the flag to Minnesota.”

Mr. Caveness said his group would consider sharing the flag with Minnesota, but said the North Star State has never shown interest in such an arrangement.

Mr. Pawlenty, a Republican, has repeatedly rebuffed attempts by Virginia officials to have the flag returned, saying it is the “rightful” property of Minnesota.

Earlier this year, Sen. George Allen, Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte and Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore, all Republicans, asked the U.S. Army’s Center of Military History to persuade Minnesota to return the flag.

A spokesman for the center said Virginia would have to fight its own battle.

“We pretty much don’t have any legal grounds,” Lt. Col. Michael Bigelow, executive officer of the center, said this month. “It’s too emotional of an issue.”

Patrick McCormack, deputy director of the Minnesota Historical Society, said the 1st Minnesota Regiment suffered severe casualties at Gettysburg and the flag is a source of pride among Minnesota residents.

He said Virginia has no right to the flag, which was captured by Pvt. Marshall Sherman of St. Paul from the 28th Virginia Infantry Regiment. Pvt. Sherman was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions.

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 the possession of the War Department at the time, so Minnesota said the ruling does not apply in this case.

Mr. Caveness contends that the Department of Defense is the successor of the War Department and that the Army has an “obligation” to force Minnesota to return the flag.

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