The 12th Louisiana Infantry
by R. Hugh Simmons

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Last Updated:  January 07, 2009

The 12th Louisiana Infantry's Regimental Colors

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1861 - 1863 1864 - 1865

The process of documenting the flags carried by the 12th Louisiana Infantry has been a difficult and frustrating enterprise.  Two flags currently identified in the collection of Confederate Memorial Hall in New Orleans are credited to the regiment. 

A 2nd national pattern flag [white field with St. Andrews Cross or battle flag pattern in the canton] with a gold fringe was collected from the battlefield at Peachtree Creek north of Atlanta, Georgia on July 20, 1864 by the men of the 105th Illinois Infantry.  This flag was among the captured Confederate flags returned by the United States War Department to their individual states in 1905.  Painted in black on the white field is the following legend:  12th La flag, captured July 12th, 1864, at the battle of Peach Tree Creek, Ga. by the 105th Regt. Illinois Infty. Vols., 20th Corps, Army of the Cumberland.  My personal research plus consultations with other experts on Louisiana Confederate flags, notably Howard Michael Madaus of Cody, Wyoming and Ken Legendre of Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, has led me to the conclusion that this Peachtree Creek flag did not belong to the 12th Louisiana Infantry regiment.

In the years following the return of the captured Confederate battle flags, veterans of the 12th Louisiana Infantry hotly denied that they ever lost their regimental colors.   Analysis of troop positions on the field at Peachtree Creek places the main body of the 12th Louisiana regiment several hundred yards to the west of the probable point of capture for this flag.  The right three companies of the regiment did split off from the main body while guiding on the 55th and 57th Alabama regiments advancing to their right.  Wounded and dead from these three companies of the 12th Louisiana were on the ground retaken by the 105th Illinois at the close of the battle.  However, the Regimental Color Sergeant should have been at the front center of the regiment, and  with the main body several hundred yards away.  His survival of the battle and subsequent promotion strongly suggests that the 12th Louisiana regimental colors were not captured at Peachtree Creek.  This flag belongs to either the 55th or 57th Alabama regiments of Scott's Brigade, or perhaps to a Mississippi regiment of Featherston's Brigade.    Surviving regimental colors from Featherston's Mississippi regiments were adorned with the gold fringe.

I have not researched the usage of brigade headquarters flags in a Confederate line of battle, but General Scott was out in front actively leading the men on this part of the field.  It would be a purely speculative conjecture that this Peachtree Creek flag was General Scott's brigade headquarters flag.  The color bearer would have come from one of the Alabama regiments since nobody in the 12th Louisiana records was ever  detailed to carry a brigade headquarters flag.  Howard Michael Madaus' research indicates that such flags were probably not adopted by Stewart's Corps until the fall of 1864 after the end of the Atlanta Campaign.

Confederate Memorial Hall has another 2nd national pattern flag credited to the 12th Louisiana Infantry which was presented to the Benevolent Association of the Army of Tennessee, Louisiana Division in 1881.  This flag, which was to have been turned in with their rifles and other ordnance equipment, was "stolen" by the Regimental Adjutant the night before the 12th Louisiana was officially surrendered and paroled at Greensboro, North Carolina in April 1865.   Lieutenant Leonidas N. Polk took the flag home with him to Bastrop, Louisiana and kept it there until 1881.  Soiled and stained from war time usage, and now discolored from age, this flag was used by the regiment from January 1864 through April 1865 and appeared as depicted above.   This flag was requisition by Colonel Thomas M. Scott through his regimental quartermaster in December 1863 and served as the regimental colors until the end.

Many of the independent companies reporting to Camp Moore in the summer of 1861 brought their own colors with them.  A flag belonging to the Claiborne Rangers was captured while they were serving on detached cavalry duty at Jackson, Mississippi on May 14, 1863 and currently resides in the collections of the Minnesota Historical Society.  This flag is an eight starred 1st national pattern constructed of double sided silk inscribed with "Our Rights" (obverse side) and "Claiborne Rangers" (reverse side).

The Caldwell Invincibles were given a grand sendoff from Columbia, Louisiana with a flag presented by the ladies of Caldwell Parish.  No complete description of this flag has been found.  The presentation speech given by the daughter of a local Baptist minister gives only a hint:  "Upon this flag is inscribed the Pelican as our Southern Confederacy."  Based upon other early war flags from Louisiana, this may have been (1) a 1st national pattern with the Louisiana Pelican displayed in the center of the blue canton, perhaps surrounded by some number of stars representing various states of the Confederacy.  (2) It could also be a white flag with a red star in the center ala the Bonnie Blue Flag with the Pelican emblazoned within the star.    Jefferson Davis Bragg [Louisiana in the Confederacy, LSU Press, 1969, p 24] quotes a New Orleans Picayune article dated December 21, 1860 describing the display of this flag from the third story window of the "rooms of the Southern Rights Association, No. 72 Camp street" upon learning of the news of South Carolina's secession.  This little remembered Louisiana flag was raised in front of the State Capitol building in Baton Rouge immediately upon passage of the Ordinance of Secession on January 26, 1861.   Referred to as the "Pelican flag," it was described in Baton Rouge newspaper reports of the event as having a white field with a red star, but with no mention of the Pelican emblem.  (3) And finally, it could have been a solid blue field with the Pelican emblem emblazoned in the center similar to the modern state flag officially adopted in 1912.  A flag of this description caused much confusion during the first Battle of Manassas [Bull Run] in Virginia in July 1861 and led to the eventual adoption of the St. Andrew's Cross battle flag for all Confederate regimental colors in the Army of Northern Virginia.

The first colors adopted at Camp Moore by the Twelfth Regiment of Louisiana Volunteers were brought to camp by the Beauregard Fencibles under the command of Captain Henry V. McCain.  This company of Winn Parish volunteers had been presented with a "Stars and Bars" or 1st national pattern flag made by the ladies of Montgomery, Louisiana at their departure ceremony conducted at Mount Zion Methodist Church near Montgomery.   Custodial records at Confederate Memorial Hall seem to suggest that this original Stars and Bars flag was given to the Association of the Army of Tennessee in an informal and badly documented way in New Orleans in 1887 or 1888 at the close of a veterans convention.  Identification of this flag in the CMH collection has been lost. 

Adoption of the Beauregard Fencibles company flag as the regimental colors probably reflected its size and lack of local markings.  Eleven states had joined the Confederacy by the time the 12th Louisiana volunteers reached Camp Moore and this first regimental flag which served from August 1861 through December 1863 may have appeared as depicted above.  Surviving examples of both 11 starred and 13 starred 1st national flags used this star in the center of a circle of stars pattern.

The smoke and haze of battle in 1861 combined with the plethora of local flags used by various state volunteers induced the Confederate armies in the eastern theater to adopt the St. Andrew's Cross battle flag as the standard regimental flag to be carried by all units on the battlefield.  Units operating in the Trans-Mississippi, with the Army of Mississippi, and the Army of Tennessee all carried unique regimental flags during the first two years of the war.  Many of these were captured and destroyed by souvenir hunters following the surrender of Vicksburg and Port Hudson in 1863.  There is no documentary evidence to suggest that the 12th Louisiana used any other flag than the original Stars and Bars until late in 1863.

I first visited Confederate Memorial Hall in the summer of 1965 and saw hanging from a display staff to my left as I entered the door an unusual flag that was attributed to the 12th Louisiana Infantry.  Never dreaming that I would be unable to find it again, I made no effort to document its existence at the time.  My very clear recollection is of a mixed pattern flag as depicted in the right hand panel.

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Was the original regimental "Stars and Bars" modified?

In 1992 while researching the participation of the 12th Louisiana Infantry in the battle of Bentonville in North Carolina in March 1865, I again visited Confederate Memorial Hall.   On this trip I acquired copies of the notes and documents in the CMH files pertaining to the 12th Louisiana flags.  Included in this document collection was a 1991 flag conservation estimate containing a description of a flag as depicted here.  From another source I obtained a copy of a note attributed to Dr. John D. Winters who had observed a "first national pattern" flag belonging to the 12th Louisiana on display at CMH during the late 1950's.  Only the Peachtree Creek flag folded and in a glass covered display box was available for public viewing in 1992.   I went away assuming that the flag brought home from North Carolina was the mixed pattern flag I had seen on display in 1965 and described in the 1991 restoration estimate. 

Subsequent research into period newspaper accounts shared with me by Ken Legendre establish clearly that the flag brought home from North Carolina at the end of the war was a 2nd national pattern flag [white field, blue St. Andrews Cross without white edging in a red canton] as depicted at the top of this page. Howard Michael Madaus' exhaustive research has determined that all regiments which were in Loring's division in the Army of Mississippi carried similar regimental flags. A flag of the 9th Arkansas Infantry, a sister regiment to the 12th Louisiana in Loring's division during much of their shared history, also meets this description. Neither flag has the gold fringe that appears on the Peachtree Creek flag.

The mixed pattern flag which I observed in 1965 can not now be accounted for.  The textile restoration expert has been unable to reconcile her 1991 description which stated that "The upper and lower bars of the flag are red; the middle bar is white" with the physical appearance of the flag brought home from North Carolina which she examined in 1998.  She has reluctantly concluded that the white field of this flag made by sewing together three parallel white bars caused her to incorrectly describe the flag in 1991.  I accept her explanation and greatly appreciate her intellectual honesty and willingness to make an extra effort to reconcile what she wrote in 1991 with what she saw in 1998.  But I saw the mixed pattern flag depicted above on display in 1965 and Dr. Winters saw a "1st national pattern" on display in the late 1950's!

Hand written notes presenting a brief history of the 12th Louisiana flag brought home from North Carolina were given by Leon Polk in 1881 to the Benevolent Association of the Army of Tennessee veterans organization in New Orleans.  These notes give the impression that this was the only flag ever used by the 12th Louisiana Infantry and recount the regiment's service from Columbus, Kentucky in 1861 through the end of the war in North Carolina.   However, according to the June 11, 1881 New Orleans newspaper account of its formal presentation, this flag was described as "the second flag adopted by the Confederacy, the white field with the Union." 

The August 13, 1886 issue of the Southern Sentinel newspaper published in Winnfield, Louisiana carried an account of a local Civil War reunion held three days earlier at Montgomery, Louisiana during which a flag of the 12th Louisiana Infantry was presented along with a United States flag.   Partitioned off from Winn Parish into Grant Parish during Reconstruction, Montgomery on the Red River was perhaps the largest organized community in this frontier farming region at the beginning of the Civil War even though Winnfield was officially the parish seat.  Seven companies of Winn Parish Confederate soldiers served in the 3rd, 12th, 27th, and Gray's 28th Louisiana Infantry regiments and had their origins in the surrounding area.  Interestingly enough, local Unionists were included in the re-union celebration! 

According to the 1886 account, Major Van McCain [12th Louisiana Infantry] had arranged with a Captain J. W. Dryan of the Continental Guards of New Orleans for the loan of "an old Confederate flag" and the flag of the 12th Louisiana Infantry was sent up from New Orleans for the re-union.   The Southern Sentinel reporter gave a history of the flag which appears to be taken verbatim from the 1881 handwritten notes submitted by Leon Polk.  But he provided no description of the flag beyond its being "tattered and torn with bullets" which more likely represents the typical Victorian prose of the era rather than a close personal examination of the flag itself.  Van McCain's company had supplied the original Stars and Bars adopted by the 12th Louisiana at Camp Moore in 1861, but there is no indication that this flag was displayed at this reunion.

An account of the 1887 annual meeting of the Benevolent Association of the Army of Tennessee held in the Odd Fellows Hall in New Orleans was published in the New Orleans Times-Democrat on April 8th.  The 12th Louisiana's flag was again displayed, and while no description of the flag's design was given, this flag was most likely the 2nd national pattern brought home from North Carolina and presented to the Association in 1881.  The 1887 article states:

The hall was tastefully decorated.  At the head of the table, directly behind the seat occupied by Judge Rogers, was a flag with a history.  It was the flag of the Twelfth Louisiana Infantry, Scott's Brigade, Loring's Division, Polk's Corps.  --- made by the ladies of Montgomery and presented to Capt. H. V. McCain's company by Miss Aurelia Townsend, July 1861; was adopted as regimental colors by the Twelfth Louisiana Infantry at its organization, at Camp Moore, Louisiana, August 1861, and was borne by said regiment through the following engagements:  Bombardments at Columbus, Ky ---- surrendered with Johnston's army on April 23, 1865 at Greensborough, N. C.

Again quoting verbatim from the 1881 hand written notes, the 1887 Times-Democrat article stated that this flag of the 12th Louisiana Infantry was the only flag that the regiment ever used and was the flag made by the ladies of Montgomery, Louisiana in June or July 1861.  In April 1905 while examining the Peachtree Creek flag received from the Federal War Department, Colonel J. A. Chalaron, Custodian of Memorial Hall attached his own handwritten notes to the 1881 notes commenting that:

"This flag of the 12th Louisiana Regiment could not have been its first flag for it is of the pattern adopted by the act of the Confederate States Congress approved May 1, 1863.  The 12th Louisiana was organized at Camp Moore, Louisiana in August 1861 and the battle flag that forms the union of this flag was only adopted by Generals Johnston and Beauregard in September 1861.  The above has reference to the flag of the 12th Louisiana that hangs in Memorial Hall which when given was accompanied by the legend on the other side."

Colonel Chalaron noted in a separate 1905 description of the returned Peachtree Creek flag that:

Professor J. W. Nicholson of the Louisiana State University who was with the regiment throughout its career does not remember the capture of its flag in any battle.  In Memorial Hall hangs a flag of the 12th Louisiana which is identical with the one returned as belonging to the regiment.  It is the one the regiment had at the final surrender at Greensboro, North Carolina.

The following paragraph from the handwritten minutes of the Association of the Army of Tennessee dated February 12, 1889 sheds light on the probable existence of still  another 12th Louisiana flag!  A member had inquired from the floor about a flag which had been sent to the Association by men from another Louisiana Confederate unit and which had not been acknowledged.  After a brief discussion, another member noted that there was stored in the Association's safe an unidentified flag which had been "some Corps battle flag."  The minutes then state:

"This brought up Comrade J. A. Chalaron, who pleaded guilty to an omission in that some time back a man had left with him a battle flag of the 12th La Regiment to be given to the Association which he had failed to do, but wanted to take the first opportunity to transmit it to our Headquarters as intended."

No other reference to this mysterious flag in the Association's safe has been found.   But this opens the door to several possibilities.  Dr. John D. Winter's circa 1960 notes stating that the "Flag of the 12th Regiment is still there in good condition" and is a "first pattern national" point to the existence of the original Stars and Bars given to Captain McCain's company by the ladies of Montgomery, Louisiana.  Or perhaps this flag in the safe was the Pelican flag presented to the Caldwell Invincibles by the ladies of Columbia, Louisiana! 

Or perhaps the mixed pattern flag I saw hanging on display in Memorial Hall in 1965 was in fact the original Stars and Bars altered during the fall of 1863 in an attempt to continue the use of their original flag by placing the battle flag in the canton to bring it up to date with the national flag.  Colonel Scott did not requisition a new regimental flag until December 1863.  Or perhaps the original Stars and Bars was altered in the post-war period for use at veteran's gatherings.  But a "battle flag of the 12th La Regiment" was quietly given to Colonel Chalaron sometime before 1889.  Whether the mixed pattern flag that I remember exists at all remains to be determined, but the collective evidence suggests that there is another flag in the Memorial Hall collection belonging to the 12th Louisiana Infantry!

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LSU Class of 1965.   Geaux Tigers!!

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