Flag: 28th Alabama Infantry
According to an account given on July 17, 1912 by Carlos Reese formerly of Co. C, 28th Alabama Infantry, this flag was made from the wedding dress of Mrs. Sumter Lea (wife of the regimental adjutant) and was painted by Nicola Marschall of Marion. Reese claimed that this flag was presented to the regiment just prior to the Battle of Stones River and was at that time referred to as "my wife's wedding dress" by Sumter Lea. However, a letter from Mrs. Lea dated September 10, 1907 states that the flag made from her dress had "a picture of a cotton plant on it." In addition, in a letter dated March 2, 1861, Julia Anne Cocke refers to "the cotton plant flag" made from "Mrs. Sumter Lea's wedding dress." The flag in the Department's collection has a St. Andrew's cross bearing 13 stars on the obverse and a star burst with the regimental designation on the reverse. The confusion stems from the fact that for a time the 28th Alabama Infantry carried two flags. One of these was the cotton plant flag made from Mrs. Sumter Lea's wedding dress.
Sumter Lea was originally a member of the Marion Rifles, a company formed in Marion shortly before Alabama seceded. According to Lea, "I had been married only a few weeks and my wife's bridal dress of white silk was used to make our flag. I remember the cotton stalk painted in its three stages of bloom and fruitage: the lower limbs with open bolls and the pink and white blossoms in the middle and at the top." The flag was made by the ladies of Marion and was painted by Nicola Marschall.1 It was presented to the company on Thursday, December 13, 1860 in front of the Judson Female College by Miss Zitella Cocke. After Alabama seceded, the Marion Rifles along with other companies was sent to occupy Ft. Morgan near Mobile. After their service there had expired, the company returned to Marion. Many members of the Marion Rifles entered other companies. Sumter Lea remained with the portion of the company which became the Alabama Rangers. This company continued to carry the cotton plant flag and was mustered into service as Co. A, 8th Alabama Infantry. Eventually, Sumter Lea and others were detailed to raise a new regiment which became the 28th Alabama Infantry. In April, 1862 Mrs. Sumter Lea presented the cotton plant flag to the 28th Alabama Infantry at Shelby Springs, Alabama. According to one account, the regiment continued to carry the flag for some time, and at Orchard Knob it was saved from capture by Chaplain William W. Graham. Graham apparently retained possession of the flag and following the war moved to Texas. In 1908, he returned to Birmingham for the Confederate Veterans reunion where he was reported to have "carried the flag aloft." No further mention of the flag has been found, though various accounts tend to intertwine the history of the two flags.
The flag in the Department's collection was also painted by Nicola Marschall. The date of presentation is unknown. The flag was captured at Orchard Knob on November 23, 1863. This was the opening engagement of the Battle of Chattanooga, November 23-25, 1863. The flag was captured by Corporal G. H. Kramer, Co. I, 41st Ohio Infantry. Corporal Kramer "ordered and received the surrender of 20 men with the colors." Instead of forwarding the flag to the U.S. War Department in Washington, Brigadier General William B. Hazen, commanding the Second Brigade, Third Division, 4th Army Corps, apparently retained it as his personal property.
Following the war, the flag remained in General Hazen's possession. In 1903, his son John McClean Hazen placed the flag on loan to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Learning of its existence, Dr. Thomas Owen, Director, Alabama Department of Archives and History requested the return of the flag on August 20, 1905. On August 21, 1905, R. Rathbun, Acting Secretary of the Smithsonian replied that the flag had been placed on loan and that they were quite willing to return it but needed the permission of Hazen's mother. Mrs. Hazen had remarried and was now the wife of Admiral George Dewey. Dr. Owen then wrote Mrs. Dewey who granted permission in a letter dated August 29, 1905. The Smithsonian acknowledged Mrs. Dewey's request on September 6, 1905. The flag was accessioned on September 8, 1905.
On June 4, 1908, Dr. Owen received a request from I. W. McAdory to
borrow the flag for the reunion of the 28th Alabama Infantry to be held in
Birmingham. While Owen made no official reply and it was his policy to deny
such requests, a photograph taken at the reunion shows the veterans with their
1An advertisement placed by flag maker J. O. Belknap in the Montgomery Mail, November 17, 1860, noted that an order for the flag of the Marion Rifles had been recently "executed." The connection, if there is any, between the flag mentioned in the advertisement and the cotton plant flag remains unclear.
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Updated: October 25, 2006