Back in the 1980s, when I first became aware of this fight, I was intrigued by the identification of the regimental standard captured by the Confederates that evening. The flag was identified as belonging to the 164th New York Infantry, but the blockhouse was defended by men from the 155th New York Infantry. The accounts were consistent, but could someone have made a mistake?
“I will send [the flag] down to Richmond,” Rosser told his wife, in his letter of Christmas Eve. Twenty years later Rosser spoke of “a very beautiful flag, presented by the city of New York to the One Hundred and Sixty-fourth Regiment of New York Volunteers,” which “I presented…to the Virginia Military Institute and recently (1883) the same flag has been returned to the Mayor of the city of New York by the corps of cadets of the Virginia Military Institute and by him handed back to its old regiment.” Certainly there was another story here.
The New York Sun, of July 5, 1883, reported the return of the flag under the banner, “Virginia to New York, The Captured Battle Flag Handed Over to Mayor Edson.” On the 107th Anniversary of the country, “the corps of cadets from the Virginia Military Institute marched from the armory of the Sixty-ninth Regiment to the Fifth Avenue Hotel.” There they were met by a host of dignitaries, including President Chester Arthur. “I regret,” the President stated, “that a previous engagement will make it impossible for me to be with you at the City Hall at the restoration to the city of the flag of the One Hundred and Sixty-fourth New York Volunteers. I trust I may be permitted to express the hope that whenever hereafter the flag of a New York regiment is assailed and in danger, Virginia soldiers may be on hand, ready and eager to defend it.” After vigorous applause, the President presented the graduating cadets with their diplomas.
The cadets then marched down Broadway to City Hall, behind veterans from the 69th New York and thirty veterans from the 164th and 155th New York, led by Gen. William De Lacy. “Their marching elicited applause all along the route.” Moving into the Governor’s Room, the cadets and veterans were greeted by several dignitaries, including Mayor Franklin Edson and Col. Mottrom Ball. Maj. Gen. Francis H. Smith, Superintendent of the Institute, held the flag, described as “of blue silk with a yellow fringe.” It was said to be “a little soiled and [with] a few rents in it [but] otherwise in good condition.”
When Colonel Ball, 11th Virginia Cavalry, was introduced, he explained, “the circumstances attending the capture of the flag had been somewhat misrepresented” over the years. He described attacking the “small stockade…with all his force, about 300 men,” and being repulsed. The men of the 155th New York “probably thinking [Ball] had only a small force of guerrillas, made a sally from the stockade, leaving it in charge of seventeen men. We then charged upon the stockade again…and captured it. The mistake that the One Hundred and Fifty-fifth made in sallying from the stockade was the only thing that saved us from discomfiture,” Ball admitted.
The flag was found in the blockhouse. “It was boxed up, and had never been used,” according to Ball. The officer then concluded his remarks. “[The country] needed the sword to remove the evil of slavery. I thank heaven the deliverance came in my day, and that the curse does not remain for my children.”
Mayor Edson then received the flag and further related “the circumstances attended upon its capture.” The flag was prepared by the citizens of the city after the 164th New York “had gone to the front.” It was completed while the regiment was posted at Fairfax Court House. “On the way [there] the flag came, on December 17, 1863, into the custody of a body of our troops…a part of the One Hundred and Fifty-fifth New York, then at Sangster’s Station.” Concluding his remarks, Edson stated, “The stockade…was on that day attacked by Gen. Rosser’s command and captured, and with it this flag, so that the gift which the city of New York intended for the One Hundred and Sixty-fourth is today for the first time seen by any of the regiment.”
As the Mayor stepped aside, “the cadets gave three rousing cheers for the State of New York, three for the city and its Mayor, and three (in which all present joined) for Virginia.” After lunch at the City Hall, the cadets marched back to the “armory of the Sixty-ninth Regiment.”
One mystery had been solved, but one more remained – what of the monument that once stood at the scene of the fight?