July 23, 2024, 1:38 am

The Story of Three Flags of the First Battle

The West Virginia Hillbilly
May 27, 1961

     Three flags were flying in Philippi, on the morning of June 3rd, 1861, when Colonel Ebenezer Dumont and Colonel Benjamin Franklin Kelley and their troops of the First and Second (W) Virginia regiments and Dumont's men made up of Indiana and Ohio soldiers swarmed over the little village of Philippi with its population of three hundred.
     One of these flags flew from the flagpost on top of the courthouse where it had been flying since the first day of January, 1861, and which had been made by Miss Columbia Jarvis of Philippi and said to be the first Confederate flag displayed in Virginia.
     The second flag was a headquarters flag which flew over the Virginia House where Colonel George A. Porterfield had his headquarters and was the standard headquarters flag of the Confederacy.
     The third flag must certainly have been a cavalry flag which women of Churchville had made and presented to the Churchville Cavalry when they left for Philippi just a few days before the Philippi affair. All three of these flags were captured by the Union forces.
The Courthouse Flag
     Just what unit of the Union forces captured the Courthouse flag is not known but today it. is on display at Battle Abbey in Richmond (l), and is marked as having been captured at Philippi on June 3rd.
     This flag is approximately the same size as the headquarters flag and is made up of a blue square with a single white star around which appears letters forming the word Virginia. The upper and lower stripes are of red and the center stripe is white.
The Churchville Cavalry Flag
     This flag is also at Battle Abbey and was made by the women of Churchville and presented to that unit when it left Churchville in the latter days of May 1861.
     This flag is much shorter than the other flags. The major part of the flag has a deep blue field with a white or light blue vertical stripe indicating that it was a cavalry flag. They followed the instructions for the new Virginia flag which had been recently designed and included the circle designated in the ordinance which follows:
     Among the ordinances adopted by the Convention of the Commonwealth of Virginia in session early in May 1861 was that for the adoption of a Virginia state flag.
     "Be it ordered by the Convention of the Commonwealth of Virginia, that the flag of the Commonwealth shall hereafter be made of bunting, which shall be a deep blue field with a circle of white in the center, upon which shall be painted or embroidered, to show on both sides alike, the coat of arms of the state as described by the Convention of 1776 for one side of the seal of the State, to-wit:
     Virtus, the genius of the Commonwealth, dressed like an Amazon, resting on a spear with one hand, and holding a sword in the other, and treading on Tyranny, represented by a man prostrate, a crown fallen from his head, a broken chain in his left hand, and a scourge in his right. In the exergon, the word 'Virginia' over the head of Virtus; and underneath the words Sic Sempter Tyrannis.
     This flag shall be known and respected as the flag of Virginia. The governor shall regulate the size and dimensions of the flag proper for forts, arsenals, and public buildings, for ships of war and merchant marine, for troops in the field respectively; and, for any other purpose according to his descretion, which regulations shall be published and proclaimed by him as occasion may require."
     So the Churchville women embroidered or painted the Virtus figure in the white circle and presented the flag to their young men who were going into the field.
     The Virginia House, a hotel in Philippi, had been selected by Colonel Porterfield as his headquarters. Not to slight the other tavern keeper, Mr. Barron, the General had his sleeping quarters in the latter's Barbour House. So his headquarters flag flew over the Virginia House.
     This flag, seventy-seven inches high and fifteen feet long, is said to have been the first captured in Philippi. Today it is on display at the West Virginia Department of Archives and History in Charleston.
     The flag is crudely made. About one-third of the flag is composed of blue material with a circle of fifteen white stars. While the upper left corner is squared, a part of the lower follows the circle of stars with the lower red stripe narrowed to fit the bottom of the blue field. The center stripe is white with the top stripe of red.
The Capture
     Earl Chapman May in his book Principio to Wheeling (Harper Bros.,) tells the story of the capture of Porterfield's flag:
     Among those who carried guns on their shoulders and ammunition in their pockets as they cautiously approached Philippi . . . on the morning of June 2nd, 3rd, 1861, were Frank Taylor, Finley McKinley, Jim Emory, Henry Hornbrook, William Travis and several other Wheeling members of the regiment under command of Lieutenant Charles A. Griffin from the La Belle works neighborhood. They spied a rebel flag floating over the Virginia Hotel in Philippi . . .
     "Boys," announced Griffin, "God and I are going to have the credit of lowering that flag!"
     As Griffin made a rush for the flagpole some Johnny Reb soldiers charged toward him through an orchard. But Griffin drew his sword, cut the ropes on the flagpole, pulled the rebel flag into his arms and made off with his prize amid a hail of bullets, some of which punctured the bunting but not Lieutenant Griffith . . .
     On June 7th a story appeared in the Wheeling Intelligencer with a headline:
A Secession Flag
     We were yesterday shown, by Lieutenant Griffin of the First Virginia Regiment, a large secession flag captured during a recent brush at Philippi, Lieutenant Griffin cut it from a tall pole, from the top of which it was fluttering in the early morning breeze.
     He brought it up to Wheeling for the purpose of presenting it to the Union Ladies of La Belle, from whom the boys had many kindnesses to acknowledge. This intention Lieutenant Griffin carried out. At a meeting of the Ladies of LaBelle Street, held at the residence of Mrs. Andrew Glass, he turned the flag over to them - and Mrs. Glass was named its custodian.
     The flag captured by young Griffin of the LaBelle street neighborhood was seven feet wide by fifteen feet long and had three stripes of red, white and blue (the reporter was wrong, it had two stripes of red and one of white) and a field of blue five feet square with fifteen five-pointed stars in a circle. There were several holes, resembling bullet holes, in it. The gallant captor carefully called attention to those holes.
     So Porterfield's flag went to the Ladies of LaBelle Street who probably didn't know what to do with it. Several years after the war was over someone sent the captured flag to the State of West Virginia where it remains today.

A comment on the flags that flew over the first battle by Lars Byrne
     The flag which has been described as the "Courthouse Flag" does not exist. It was called a Palmetto Flag, a South-Carolina-like flag. The Courthouse Flag is not on display at Battle Abbey in Richmond, which has records but no artifacts. The Blue and Gray Reunion uses the current flag of South Carolina as the "Palmetto Flag." The Churchville Flag was not the flag of Porterfield's headquarters. The headquarters flag, captured by the First W. Virginia Infantry, is in the museum in Charleston.

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