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Museum of the Confederacy Custer's flag (U.S.)

Last modified: 2016-01-03 by rick wyatt
Keywords: united states | general custer | george armstrong custer | museum of the confederacy |
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[General Custer's flag] image provided by Cathy Wright, 3 April 2012

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Discussion about the flag

[Editor's Note: At Cathy's request: this discussion which began on the FFF, is being added here, as she would like to compile the responses to this inquiry, as she wants to accurately identify (even if tentatively) this flag.]

The MOC has a flag in its collection with which I'd appreciate your assistance. It has been tentatively identified (before I came here, so I'm not sure by whom) as Custer's HQ flag. I assume this tentative identification is based on its appearance.

It is listed in the "Record of Rebel Flags Captured by Union Troops" as a "Rebel Battle Flag capture in Battle of Sailor's Creek April 6th 1865 by Major John Allestron 3rd N.Y. Cav. Vols. 1st Brigade 3rd Cavalry Division Genl. Custar Commdg." The MOC has it tentatively identified as, "Believed captured by Confederate troops and later recaptured at the battle of Sayler's Creek, Virginia..."

My questions are:
1) Is this flag pattern definitively Custer's HQ, or could this flag have been used by some other U.S. unit?
2) Is Custer ever known to have lost a flag during the war?

Cathy Wright, Curator, The Museum of the Confederacy, 3 April 2012

Howie Madaus did an article on Custer's flags some years ago and did not find reference to any "extras" that were not otherwise accounted for. This would be one of those extras. Based on his research, he was puzzled by this one, as was I. Still, it is indeed the pattern of Custer's personal flag. Whether it was one adopted by someone else that just happened to be the same, whether it was some sort of Confederate "decoy" (without any supporting documentation) or whether it was indeed one of Custer's, captured and then recaptured is a mystery. Some things aren't clear. Interestingly, Custer's own division captured it; and nobody commented on it? Then again, you have two of the battleflags captured by Tom Custer for which he received medals of honor. But Appomattox has one, too. That's three. What gives?.
Les Jensen, 3 April 2011

I have a copy of Howard Madaus' essay on "The Personal and Designating Flags of General George A. Custer, 1863-1865" that ran in Military Collector & Historian in 1968, it does not show the attached flag. That may be due to him not knowing about the flag when he wrote the article (I do not know when he first visited the MOC). The last two flags depicted in his essay are red over blue swallow tailed flags with the crossed sabers. These two flags are 72 inches (made of bunting) and 78 inches (made of silk) in length however, and the flag you have sent does not seem to be in that ballpark. This flag does resemble the first two flags above, so I am not sure what to think. Hopefully one of our members can add much more.

Does anyone have a copy of the 1952 article on "The Flags of the 7th Cavalry at the Little Big Horn" by Colonel WA Graham? if so would it be possible to copy it for me?
Greg Biggs, 3 April 2011

I believe you are looking for "Custer's Battle Flags" by WA Graham first published in 1950 in Los Angeles Westerners "Brand Book". It was reprinted as a pirate pamphlet, signed by him in 1952 and presented to the NY Public Library for insertion into the appropriate volume of the "Brand Book". I have some notes from an article not the pamphlet. You may wish to contact the NY Public Library to see if they have info for you.
If your interested, The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, Nov. 1891 - April 1892, (google books) published an article "Custer's Last Battle" by E. S. Godfrey, he mentioned the flags carried by Custer at the battle of Little Bighorn.
Tom Martin, 4 April 2011

image from Tom Martin, 4 April 2011

According to family history, Libby Custer made his personal battle flag in 1865, it was delivered to him at Dinwiddie Court House, VA on March 31,1865. An open question would be, was it a replacement for the one lost, I do not know. If it was captured and recaptured, yours is not the same one reported to have been made by Libby, it was sold at auction some years back. The U. S. Cavalry Corps, Military Division of the Mississippi, 2nd Brigade carried similar pattern flags. red over blue with crossed sabers. A large number of Union commanders did not list the capture of their units flags in official reports, if Custer did lose the flag, I have yet to find an official report on it.
Tom Martin, 4 April 2011

To my mind, this seems as likely as that the flag [Tom's] is actually Custer's HQ flag. I will strongly consider removing the info about Custer's HQ flag.
Cathy Wright, 4 April 2012

I am wondering if the flag at the MOC is some brigade or division flag sans numbers as with earlier flags of the cavalry? It is not as large as the flag Tom sent us below. The MOC flag is more crudely made than the flag [above] and from Howie's article one of the flags was made from a captured CS hospital flag and is not as fine as that below either.
Greg Biggs, 4 April 2012

I find myself wanting to be able to tell you yes, this could be a Custer HQ flag, but alas I cannot. Not only are all four personal Civil War Custer guidons accounted for, but none were ever captured or lost to my knowledge. I direct you to the Personal Guidons Chart of General George Armstrong Custer, all four of his personal guidons are there, present and accounted for. Unfortunately, from what remains there is also not any positive indication that your flag was even a guidon. For example, I could not see any indication that it was swallow-tailed at all, and the size seems a bit wrong. I should also mention, as a point of information, these were not officially his headquarter guidons, but rather his personal command flags (one reportably made by his wife), and I'm afraid none of this helps identify your particular flag, which remains open to speculation.
Pete Loeser, 9 April 2011

A belated "thank you" for your insights on this curious little flag. I'm with you - I would like it to be "the real deal," but the evidence doesn't come down on that side. In any case, I have compiled everyone's responses to add to the file, in hopes it will at least show we tried our due diligence in researching its identity. Sincere thanks for your assistance.
Cathy Wright, 23 April 2012