Presentation of the Iron Brigade Flag

Sept 18 1863, H’DQ’RS, 1st DIV., 1st Army Corps Camp near Culpeper, Va.

EDITORS SENTINEL:-Yesterday the 17th, being the anniversary of the battle of Antietam, is a day long to be remembered by the 1st Brigade of the division and by all who were present and witnessed the presentation of one of the most beautiful flags ever presented to a body of soldiers.

The Brigade had for some time past been encamped near Rappahannock Station and the 17th of September having been the day appointed as the day upon which the flag should be presented to them they had devoted all their energies to making preparations for a grand demonstration in celebration the anniversary of one of the hardest fought battles of the war and in honor of the flag to be presented to them and the donors.

They had erected a beautiful bower in the midst of a grove of trees; laid floors, fitted up stands and tables and most tastefully festooned it all with flowers and evergreens- they laid out a fine race course for riding and driving on; in fact everything was in the most complete shape that circumstances would permit for a grand celebration. A large number of guests had been invited and had signified their intention to be present and participate in the ceremonies among them Hon. J. P. Usher, Secretary of the Interior, Hon. D. P. Holloway, Commissioner of Patents, Hon. A. W. Randall, First Assistant Postmaster General and other distinguished guests. A special train had been provided to take them from Washington to Rappahannock Station.

The prospects of a grand jubilee were suddenly cut off by an order issued on the 16th to march at 5 o’clock a.m.. The Brigade broke camp and marched toward the enemy; they bought up near Culpepper in the evening where they are now encamped.

The flag to be presented to them had that day been brought from Washington by W. Y. Selleck, Esq., Military Agent for Wisconsin, who, finding that the brigade had left Rappahannock Station, proceeded to Culpeper. In the same train was sent out the dinner which had been prepared for the occasion in Washington together with the refreshing and invigorating liquids which inspire in man "a feast of reason and flow of soul."

The flag and the necessary articles for refreshing the inner man having arrived it was concluded by the commanding officers of the brigade that the ceremonies of presentation should take place that day – the 17th – as previously designated.

Several wagons were detailed and sent to Culpepper to bring up the provisions while about two hundred men went to work and built some rustic tables in a beautiful grove, near the encampment.

At 4 o’clock P.M. the ceremony of the presentation took place.

The regiments composing the brigade – the 2d, 6th and 7th Wisconsin, 19th Indiana and 24 Michigan and also Battery "B" 4th U.S. Artillery- were drawn up in line forming three sides of a square, within which stood Major General Newton, commander of the 1st Army Corps, General Rice, commanding 1st Division and General General Robinson, commanding 2d Division of the same corps, together with a brilliant array of staff and other officers of the army also the fine band of the brigade which discoursed sweet music on the occasion.

The flag, in the absence of Hon. A. W. Randall, who intended to be present and present it, was presented by W. Y. Selleck, Esq. Military Agent for the State of Wisconsin, with the following short and appropriate address:

"SOLDIERS OF THE IRON BRIGADE!"

This day was appointed by your commanding officers for the presentation of this beautiful flag. Quite a number of the distinguished citizens of Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan intended to be present on this occasion and witness the ceremonies of the presentation and reception of this flag. It was intended that Hon. A. W. Randall of Wisconsin, First Assistant Postmaster General, should be present on this occasion and present this flag to you. The movements of the army have interfered with the intended programme and prevented his attendance, together with that of others of your many friends who with great pleasure would have been present at this time. It devolves upon me to present to you this beautiful flag on whose folds is inscribed our country’s motto, "E Pluribus Unum."

Those States in the far West, your homes, look upon you and your achievements with pride and admiration. Though far distant they have not forgotten you but watch with anxious solicitude your movements. They honor you for your bravery and valor as also do the whole country…

More than two years since the majority of the regiments composing this brigade marched through the city of Washington to join and form the grand Army of the Potomac. I witnessed your arrival.

You then numbered in each regiment a thousand or more.

You marched with light steps and buoyant hearts. Since that time your ranks have been decimated, not so much by disease but by hard fighting on many a hard contested battlefield to all of which I say it with the greatest pride – you have conducted yourselves with the greatest bravery and gallantry and have never at any time on any battle-field given cause for your friends, the States from which you came or your country to be ashamed of you.

Your courage and valor have been shown on the battlefields of Gainesville, Bull Run, South Mountain, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Fitzhugh’s Crossing, Chancellorsville, and last but not least the Glorious battle of Gettysburg where your noble corps commander fell, the brave and gallant Gen. Reynolds.

By desperate fighting in the many battles in which you have been engaged your numbers have been so reduced that you brigade numbers less than a thousand men. I hope that what remains of you may be spared to return to your homes and friends in those glorious States of the West.

This gigantic rebellion has been prosecuted with a vigor and energy worth of a better cause; but methinks the sun of their treason is set; their vigor and energy is faltering and giving way before the triumphant march of the army of freedom and the Union.

Press on to the glorious end which, I believe, is near at hand. There is a black speck that hovers on the horizon far away across the ocean’s waters, threatening to interfere with us in our efforts to restore peace and preserve our great and glorious country. We say let them come!

They will learn that a nation of freemen can and will preserve their country and its glorious institutions whether assailed by foreign foes or domestic traitors. That glorious emblem of our country emblazoned on the folds of this flag – the eagle – shall be borne aloft on your banners by the hosts of freedom when the Lilies of France shall have withered and the Lion of England shall lay rotting the noonday sun.

Soldiers of the Iron Brigade!

I will not ask you if you will rally around and protect and preserve this flag; it would be a foolish question for me to ask. I know that you will; and, if needs be, sacrifice your lives for its preservation and maintenance. Remember, soldiers, the motto inscribed upon its folds, "E Pluribus Unum," one formed of many.

Though the old Allegheny may tower to heaven,
and the father of water divide
The links of our destiny cannot be riven
While the truth of these words shall abide.
Then oh! let them flow on each helmet and brand,
Though our blood like our rivers shall run;
Divide as we may in our own native land,
To the rest of the world we are one.

In behalf of the citizens of Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan resident in Washington, I present to you this flag. Take, protect and preserve it; may your future be, like the past, brilliant and glorious and may you be spared by God in his providence to once again witness a united and happy country, enjoying peace, happiness and prosperity.

The flag was received and the address of Mr. Selleck responded to by Col. W. W. Robinson of the 7th Wisconsin Volunteers – commanding the brigade – in the following remarks:

SIR:-

In behalf of the officers and men of the brigade, I return you and the gentlemen associated with you in this donation, sincere thanks for you beautiful gift. If our conduct as soldiers during the two years and over that we have been in the field merits the commendation of our countrymen, your present is appropriate. Since the organization of the brigade over two years ago, the four original regiments Second, Sixth, and Seventh Wisconsin and Nineteenth Indiana have served together. They have shared the labors, privations, and hardships of the camp together with two or three exceptions only, they have endured the fatigues of the march, breasted the storms and waded the mud of the severe campaigns of the Potomac and together they have met the foe.

During the past thirteen months, these regiments have stood shoulder to shoulder more than twenty days under the enemy’s fire; in one stream has mingled the blood of their comrades slain – poured out a willing sacrifice in the cause of our suffering country.

Soon after the battle of Antietam, the 24th Michigan was assigned to the brigade.

At that time it was a young regiment, though large of its age–neat and soldierly in its appearance. We thought from the circumstances of its broad front and bright uniform that it was inclined to put on airs, and were somewhat anxious to have the time soon when we could take it into a fight and see the rebels take the conceit out of it.

At the first battle Fredericksburg in December last, the Twenty-fourth was with us the first time in a fight. After that battle they were taken into full fellowship and since that time we have felt proud of the connection.

At Gettysburg (with a disposition common to the younger boys of a family to imitate the feats of the elder brothers) it undertook to whip a division of rebels who were turning our left flank; although it received severe punishment, it came promptly to time after every blow and came handsomely out of the fight; although it lost heavily in flesh and blood it was lost nothing in spirit.

The feeling existing in the several regiments is that of mutual confidence in each other; perhaps no body of troops ever possessed this feeling to a greater extent.-

Whenever a duty is assigned the brigade where hard fighting is expected, there is but one other circumstance required to give the men entire confidence in their strength and ability, to accomplish the object desired and that is for them to see that Battery "B" is on hand to back them.

This battery is manned principally by volunteers from the brigade commanded by Lieut. Stewart of the regular artillery than who a braver officer is not in the service.

If laurels have been won by any of the regiments of the brigade since its organization they have been won by the assistance of the others; and we feel a deep interest and are peculiarly sensitive in regard to praise or censure bestowed.

Under these circumstances your gift is a meet and appropriate reward for any merit we may possess; and coming, as it does, thro’ the donations of some of the most distinguished and patriotic citizens of the states from which the several regiments respectively hail, this banner, inscribed with the name which our over admiring friends have have conferred upon the brigade, and with the names of the several regiments together with the names of the battles in which we have participated, we look upon it as the highest compliment that could be paid us.

I need not undertake to tell you with what love and pride it will be cherished by the brigade nor with what firm resolve and stern defiance it will be flaunted in the face of the foe; but I will say that our conduct will be such as never to cause a blush to mantle the cheek of the donors.-

This day will be remembered with pride by every member of the brigade as long as life shall last and in future years the day and the gift will be pointed to by our children as a testimonial to the services rendered by their fathers to the country in the hour of its sore trial; not only to us, the fragment of the old brigade which you now see before you, but we feel it to be also a testimonial to the gallant deeds and faithful services of you brave comrades who have won honorable graves in the field; and their children also will have an equal interest in the memory of this day and this gift.

If it be true – As we trust it is – that the spirits of the departed have cognizance of the affairs of this life then the balance of our brigade, the commander we miss, whose life blood moistens the sods of Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania are now marshaled near us in the bright uniform of the Heavenly Corps to which they have been transferred, witnessing with approving smiles the ceremonies of this occasion.

This mark of your approbation, Sir, will add new life to the brigade; the sight of this banner will recall proud memories to cheer the drooping spirits in the hour of fatigue and revive every man’s arm to deal heavier blows in the hour of battle.

And now, Sir while we continue the fight with traitors in arms whose power is rapidly crumbling away under the blows of the army and navy, you, with our fellow patriots at home have a duty to perform, if not so dangerous to life and limb, perhaps, no less arduous – the struggle with and final victory over the subtle invidious and dastardly treacherous foe in our rear.

For our sakes, and for the sake of the memory of the deeds of which you have this day by this token signified you approbation – for the sake of the memory of the patriots slain – for the sake of our beloved country, the cause of human freedom and the progress of civilization, we admonish you to put down this foe at the North.

We can now easily crush the rebellion in the field if you will crush the scoundrels at home.

Let not the sophistry and whining about respect for the Constitution of these treacherous office seeking self-appointed leaders mislead the unthinking portion of our people into acts of disloyalty to the government and opposition to the highest interests of the nation.

Let it not be recorded by the future historian that in the latter part of the Nineteenth Century the United States of America, one of the most powerful of the nations with the best Government ever organized, a model for the world, a country most rich, beautiful and salubrious, the hope and asylum of the oppressed of all nations, in the height of prosperity while every branch of industry was thriving beyond precedent and every channel of commerce was flowing with untold wealth the government was shocked by a revolt in a certain portion of its territory where the system of Negro slavery, a relict of the barbarous ages existed authorized and sustained by the local laws instigated by a few unprincipled, ambitious politicians, men who had been pampered by the government until they had become so arrogant as to claim as a right all the principal places of trust in the gift of the people, and who had become so pregnated with aristocratic notions through the influences of their domestic system as to become disgusted with democratic institutions and had, by insidious arguments, for a long time been poisoning the minds of the people until excited to madness they rose in armed revolt.

In the first place, they find fault with the Emancipation Proclamation and say it is unconstitutional and should be revoked; that the measure was intended to, and would, incite servile insurrection; that it would create a feeling of hatred against the North that could never be allayed.

I suppose that the opposition will not dispute the premises of the old arguments used against the Abolitionists, that the slave is as much the property of his master as his horse or cow.

Now I think it would puzzle these astute politicians to show us the law – either constitutional or national – that prohibits the appropriation or destruction of the property of our enemy, if by so appropriating, or destroying, we cripple him. I am confident no one measure has done, and is doing, as much to cripple the power of the rebels as the appropriation of their slaves.

Over eight months have passed since the emancipation order was issued and we have looked in vain for the servile insurrections prophesied of.

As to that sweet love feast that these prophets held as was to be so rudely and unconstitutionally interrupted, we were never much alarmed about; we knew their hatred could be no greater against the North, we know that nineteen twentieths of the slaveholders were rank traitors and we are satisfied that there are more loyal Union people in the seceded States today than on the day the first rebel gun was fired at Fort Sumter and we further know should any loyal citizen lose slaves through the operation of this order he would have the same claim against our government that he or any other loyal citizen may have, North or South, for the loss of a horse or other property used or destroyed by the orders of the government.

We have implicit confidence in the integrity and ability of the President and our generals in the field. As I said before if our patriots at home can hush the blatant traitors in their midst (for there is where the greatest danger now lies) we will finish the traitors in the field. And when our work is done, when from the crystal lakes on the north to the Gulf on the south, from the Atlantic on the east to the Pacific on the west, over every mile of our domain – when every piratical leader – these Southern thieves – shall have fled from our soil, we will return to our homes and upon our banners shall be inscribed the Wheat States, the Cotton States, the Gold States, the Lumber States, the Granite an Marble states and also the Nutmeg States, (our Southern sisters to the contrary notwithstanding.)

E Pluribus Unum and the Union forever.

To the distinguished officers of the army present whose names have become associated with fame and are house hold words through the land, I return sincere thanks for the approbation expressed and honor conferred by their visit.

Again, I thank you, sir and the gentlemen donors for this highly prized present.

May you all live to enjoy the blessing of a reunited and happy country.

Under the favor of God, we hope ere long to return to our homes in the Northwest – the land of crystal lakes, pure running brooks and beautiful rolling prairies where the wild rose and honeysuckle bloom in rich profusion, the land where the wild vine and linden intertwine in peaceful and loving embrace.

When that time shall come when the patriot can point with pride to a reunited and prosperous nation saved by her sons from dissolution and anarchical ruin and can dwell with renewed confidence in the justice and wisdom of God to counteract the machinations of the admirers of the institutions of the dark ages, to stay the growth of liberty and the progress of civilization , we shall be happy to meet you at our homes on the beautiful prairies and in the shady groves of the northwest.

Be assured that all our companions in arms and all the patriot friends of the Iron Brigade will ever be welcome guests on the hearthstones of its members.

The flag was handed over to the Color Sergeant and was escorted by the 2d Wisconsin Regiment, Lieutenant Colonel Mansfield, and proceeded by the Brigade Band to the Brigade Headquarters.

The officers of the brigade, together with their invited guests, proceeded to that part of the grove where the tables had been prepared and which were spread with everything for a sumptuous feast one that would have done honor to any of our first class hotels.- Champagne and other wines flowed and all went merry as a "marriage-bell" the table was three hundred feet in length and lined on either side with a glittering array of officers of all grades dressed the the best.

After the wines had been discussed, toasts and speeches were the order.

Captain Halstead of Gen. Rice’s staff proposed the following: "The Iron Brigade" which was drank amid loud cheers and responded to by Col. Morrow of the 24th Michigan Volunteers in a very happy speech.

Col. Edward S. Bragg, of the 6th Wisconsin Volunteers, chairman of the committee of arrangements, then introduced Mr. W. Y. Selleck who read the following letter received from the Hon. J. M. Edmonds, commissioner of the General Land Office;

General and officers, Sept. 14, Sir:- I gratefully acknowledge the receipt of your invitation to attend the flag presentation to be made to the Iron Brigade composed of regiments from

Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana.

I thank you for the invitation which I would gladly accept did other duties permit. To me the interest of the occasion is enhanced because one of the regiments whose services you thus recognize is from my own State and among its numbers are many personal friends. Let me assure you that these are worthy associates of the heroes from Wisconsin and Indiana.

The Iron Brigade! Oh fit synonym for the inflexible courage which had hurled back the traitorous hordes from Antietam , Gettysburg and other equally well contested field.

But the Iron Brigade requires no praise from me. No recital of mine can add luster to its glittering steel or to the existing roll of its noble achievements.

It had carved for itself and the flag it upholds a broad pathway though the ranks of treason wherever and whenever they have been encountered. It has illustrated some of the brightest pages in our country’s history – flowing as that history is with deeds of heroic daring and patriotic devotion. It is a worthy representative of the great and free Northwest and of the Nation it has helped to save.

The Iron Brigade! Most appropriate designation -strength, durability, tenacity – good for guns, balls or bayonets, it can destroy or resist either, it is more than a match for copper whether in heads or balls. It is our means of defense and offense. It fights our battles; transports our munitions; clothes our ships; protects our enemy, it is our reliance, our safety. It will give us victory, liberty and country. It is indispensable. Therefore let us love and cherish the Iron Brigade.

Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin – three free States carved out of the territory ceded by Virginia with the express condition that slavery should be forever prohibited therein.

In the hour of trial, their sons have remained true to the precepts of the fathers of the Republic and are now ready with their lives if need be to restore to the people of the mother of States, the priceless boon which treason, inexcusable and senseless treason and traitors, have deprived them.

But for the wisdom of the early statesmen of this once honored and patriotic commonwealth, as exhibited in their provision for the freedom of the great Northwest, never more apparent than at this moment, whose arms would now be raised for the redemption of the people from the grinding despotism prepared and enforced by her degenerate sons.

But, thank God, Virginians are not all traitors. The denizens of her mountains have wrenched their farms and houses from the hand of the spoiler and planted forever and in congenial soil that standard which in little more than half a century had made an empire of the territory Northwest of the Ohio. And one of the regiments of the Iron Brigade is led by a brave and loyal son of eastern Virginia who has breathed the fire air of our western plains and whose hand will not be stayed whilst the old dominion is furrow by a single bondsman, or her soil pressed by the foot of a despot.

Virginia wants but that freedom which she imposed upon the people of the Northwest to make her again the pride of the Republic. Shall she have it? The answer is in your hands.

Grave it upon her valleys and mountain sides with pens of steel and in characters that shall be ineffaceable by the hand of time or treason.

Plant there the standard which she placed in your hands at the nation’s birth. Point to her the developments under its protection. Invite her participation and remove all obstacles to its enjoyment. Give us back the constitution as it is and Virginia and all other erring States as God and our fathers intended they should be – free, united, prosperous and happy for all time.

This is your mission. Your work to this time is evidence of your fitness and ability for its accomplishment. We feel we know that it will be done and quickly

For encouragement I might point you the victorious marches of the Union columns their advance from place to place and from state to state, but you know these you see with practiced eye the waning proportions of the rebellion and the rising destinies of the national cause. Every where the standard of Liberty is triumphant. The sun of peace and unity already gilds the horizon and but for the black spec over the great waters we would soon emerge into perfect day., That black speck is the shadow of the crumbling despotism of the Old World and if, in their decrepitude, they desire to break a lance with the giant of America, let our answer be ready.

Respectfully, you ob’t serv’t
J. M. Edmunds
To W. Y. Selleck, Esq., Washington, D. C.

The reading of the letter was received with much enthusiasm and at its conclusion

Mr. Seleck proposed the following toast:-

"The non-commissioned officers and privates of the Armies of the United States"-which was responded to by Major General Newtown, Brigadier Generals Robinson and Rice; giving great praise to those soldiers for their patriotism, endurance, courage, gallantry and valor; stating that there were thousands among them fit, capable and worthy to wear a general’s shoulder straps which they had earned by their intelligence, patriotism and bravery. The following toast was given by General Robinson:-"To the memory of that brave and gallant soldier, Major General John F. Reynolds,"- which was drank uncovered and in silence.

Toasts were given to the health of the President, the invited guests, Generals McClellan, McDowell, Hooker, Meade, Newton, Rice, Robinson, Wadsworth, Meredith, Gibbon, King and others.

Speeches were made by Cols. Williams, Morrow, Bragg and others. Col. Bragg made a very handsome and appropriate speech in which he gave a glowing history of the old "Iron Brigade" and its achievements and a just and merited tribute to its gallant dead. The soldiers, non-commissioned and privates, were not forgotten but received their full share of those substantials &c., which go to support and revive the inner man and which they greatly enjoyed.

Notwithstanding their disappointment, caused by by being obliged to move after they had made such fine preparations for the ceremonies attending the presentation of the flag, they were greatly elated by the pleasant manner in which the occasion passed off.

The following letters were received from Generals McClellan, McDowell and Paine, regretting their inability to be present and witness the ceremonies of the occasion.

New York, Sept 14, 1863
W. Y. Selleck, Esq,. Military Agent for Wisconsin:

DEAR SIR:- Your very kind invitation of the 9th was received this morning.

I regret that it is impossible for me to visit the Army of the Potomac even for the purpose of participating in a ceremony so interesting as the presentation of colors to the gallant Northwestern Brigade.

It happens to be precisely one year to day since I first saw them in action at South Mountain and with the recollection of their superb bearing brought thus freshly to my mind, I feel renewed in my heart the pain of separation from them and their comrades.

But say to them that my heart and prayers are ever with them and that although their new colors can witness no more brilliant acts of patriotism and devotion than those which the old torn flags have shared in; I know that on every future field they and the whole Army of the Potomac will maintain, on their part, the honor of their country and their colors. With my sincere thanks for your kindness,

I am very truly
And respectfully yours
GEO. B. McClellan
Major Gen., U.S.A.