Civil War Top 100

Flags of the 28th Massachusetts (continued)

hen the men of the 28th Massachusetts enlisted in late 1861, they were told they would be joining the Irish Brigade under the command of Gen. Meagher, a leading Irish patriot. This promise was belatedly fulfilled in November 1862, when the regiment joined the brigade's other units — the 63rd, 69th and 88th New York — in camp near Falmouth, Virginia.

Meagher immediately presented the 28th with a green flag similar to those carried by his other regiments. Made by Tiffany & Co. of New York City, it was embroidered entirely by hand so its lettering appeared backward on the reverse, and was bounded by a fringe of yellow silk. The flag's stave had silver furnishings and the lower three feet could be bent upwards by means of a hinge which under normal use was covered by a plated metal sleeve.

It appears that Meagher commissioned this flag at the same time the New York regimental colors were made, since he understood that a Massachusetts unit would eventually be joining his brigade. Not knowing what its state designation would be, he had the flag inscribed simply: "4th Reg't., Irish Brigade."

As fortune would have it, the Irish 28th Massachusetts was sent first to the Carolinas by Gov. Andrew, who gave Meagher the non-Irish 29th regiment instead. Meagher had a special green Tiffany flag made up for his new unit, complete with its regimental number and state designation, but not being Irish, the 29th refused it. The beneficiary of this turn of events was the other Irish-American unit from Boston, the 9th Massachusetts, which served in the 5th Corps. Meagher simply had the "2" removed from the "29" on the richly embroidered flag and presented it to his friend, Col. Patrick Guinee of the 9th.

When the Irish 28th finally replaced the Yankee 29th a year later, Meagher merely pulled the flag he originally had made for this unit out of storage, and the 28th Massachusetts was as well equipped as the other three regiments of the Irish Brigade. This newly issued Tiffany flag would gain special significance less than a month later.

Before the Battle of Fredericksburg, Meagher had sent the tattered and torn green flags of the three New York units back home so that replacements could be made for them. As the Irish Brigade was ordered up the hill at Marye's Heights in that legendary charge, all four of its regiments closed ranks behind the inspiring green flag of the 28th Massachusetts. Seen by combatants on both sides as the Irish went up the slope time and again in spite of withering fire from the rebels at the top, the banner came to symbolize the sacrifices that Irish-American patriots made so readily for their newly adopted country.

Extensive battle damage rendered much of the Tiffany flag unsalvageable when it was turned over to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for safekeeping after the war. Today, the surviving remnants are backed by a replacement green cloth that in no way duplicates the richness of the original.

On December 26, 1862, the 28th sent Capt. Charles Sanborn of Company K back home to Massachusetts, bearing the battle-torn first national color and Pilot flag. The state issued the regiment its second national flag on January 20, 1863. The replacement was larger and more regulation than the original, with a similar dark blue canton. Apparently, no new state color was issued, but the city of Boston provided a replacement green Irish flag.

When Capt. Sanborn returned to camp in Virginia with the new flags, future color bearer Peter Welsh remarked in a letter dated February 15, 1863: "Our captain has got back and brought a new green flag for the regiment." Although no one knows what this flag looked like, it probably was nearly identical to the Pilot flag.

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