Civil War Top 100

Flags of the 28th Massachusetts (conclusion)

rom this point on, no one really knows which of its two green regimental flags the 28th Massachusetts carried: the fine embroidered Tiffany flag or the replacement Irish color from Boston. As a unit of the Irish Brigade, which by this time had won considerable laurels, the 28th might have chosen the Fredericksburg-christened Tiffany over the Pilot flag replacement. Absent evidence to the contrary, it is assumed that the regiment carried its second national color and Tiffany flag at: Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and Mine Run in 1863, and Wilderness, Po River, and Spotsylvania in 1864.

During the winter and spring of 1864, Col. Richard Byrnes was back in Massachusetts with several other officers on recruiting duty. Toward the end of his visit, Gov. Andrew on April 22 presented Byrnes with yet another set of colors: the third national flag and second regulation state flag issued to the unit.

This third national color was the same size as the second, which it would replace in the field, but it had a much lighter blue canton, known at the time as "Old Glory" blue.

The new state flag had a gold fringe and a slightly different state emblem in the center that was common issue during the last year of the war, but like the 28th's first state flag, was never carried by the regiment in the field and likely was not even taken back to Virginia.

Just before Byrnes was about to depart Massachusetts to rejoin his unit, Boston Mayor Frederic W. Lincoln Jr. presented him with the regiment's third green Irish flag. The design in the center was different from the earlier flags, but mimicked their Irish imagery and patriotic motifs.

There was a gold band around the edge of the flag recalling the 28th's early battle honors. Interestingly, these included separate listings of "Antietam" and "Sharpsburg," which of course are alternate names for the same battle. Apparently, the designer of the new green flag misinterpreted a letter that Capt. Sanborn had written the previous winter, recounting the regiment's battles as "James Island, Bull Run, Chantilly, South Mountain, Sharpsburg & Antietam, and Fredericksburg."

The third national color must have quickly replaced the second, since it bore considerable evidence of field use. The new flag was likely carried proudly at Cold Harbor, Petersburg, First and Second Deep Bottom, Reams' Station, Hatcher's Run (Petersburg), and ultimately during the triumphant march down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., in the May 23, 1865, Grand Review that celebrated the war's conclusion.

On the other hand, the third green Irish flag may never have seen service. In 1925, the family of Charles Grainger, a veteran of the 69th New York, donated this flag to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. For reasons still unknown, Grainger claimed to have taken it home after the war.

Since it is hard to fathom one regiment entrusting one of its battle flags to a soldier from another unit, for any reason, historians speculate that Grainger came across this green flag in storage, kept it hidden, and took it home as a souvenir without raising any suspicion among surviving members of the 28th. Whether Grainger deserves the notoriety or not, the flag still bears his name to this day.

The eight surviving flags of the 28th Massachusetts are in the collection of the State Archives in Boston, which provided the images seen on these pages.

Based on an article originally written by Steven Eames, with research assistance from Steve Hill, and contributions from Don Williams and Jason Gauthier.

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