Riddled with bullet holes and stained with its bearer's blood, this flag represents the first experience of the Civil War for young men from Emporia, Kansas.
The Second Kansas Volunteer Infantry was organized in Lawrence on June 11, 1861, in response to President Abraham Lincoln's first call for troops during the Civil War.
Company H of the Second Kansas was formed in Emporia. The Company was presented with this flag by the ladies of the town, who had sewn it using red and white challis purchased from a local store or ordered from Lawrence. Having no blue for the field, one woman provided blue cashmere from a dress pattern sent by her mother.
Battle of Wilson's Creek (Springfield)
The entire regiment was mustered in at Kansas City, Missouri, for three months' service. The Second Kansas took part in several battles in Missouri, including Wilson's Creek, also known as the Battle of Springfield, as noted on the flag itself. The Adjutant General's history of Kansas regiments observed that "The Second regiment was the last one to leave the field (Wilson's Creek), and the only regiment which kept its line and organization unbroken from the first to the last of the fight, which lasted about six hours."
"Our little flag the ladies gave was completely riddled with shot and shell. And the brave one who carried it will not carry it home again. Tell the donors it has not been disgraced. You know the odds we fought against! I feel proud of our little Emporia Company. The State will never be disgraced by us. Our boys fought like devils for five long hours, and when the field was cleared the Kansas Second was the last to follow and cover the whole force."
A letter from Lt. C.S. Hills to the Emporia News and printed August 31, 1861, indicates:
"Our company suffered more severely than any other of the Second Kansas Regiment, as we carried the only flag in the regiment, ours being selected as the colors. . . . Thomas Miller, our Ensign (a term used for standard bearer), I fear is dead--shot through the kidney--suffered beyond description."
In addition to Thomas Miller, who was killed bearing the flag, two other members of the company are said to have been wounded carrying it.
Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon was leading the Second Kansas into the battle when he was killed. It is said that this was the only Union flag on the field when this happened, suggesting that no other northern units carried flags into the battle.
A Sad Homecoming
On September 7, the Emporia News began to prepare the city for the return of their boys:
"One thing is pretty certain, and that is that our little Emporia company will come home in a few days. They have done themselves honor, and we are proud of them. They had the only colors on the battlefield in the Second Regiment, the one presented by the ladies of this place, and it has been honored by Gen. Fremont by having 'Springfield' inscribed on it. It is riddled and smoke-stained. They will probably bring it with them. Shall the boys have a public reception? Every citizen will answer yes. Let us get up a meeting and take measures to give them a public and hearty reception. They deserve it at our hands."
On October 12 the News reported on the return of the company:
"They brought with them the old blood-stained and bullet-riddled banner of Springfield. It was immediately hoisted in front of the Emporia House, and was admired of all admirers during the remainder of the day. . . . The company was enlivened with the presence of many of the ladies of the village, who had assisted in making the banner, and who always love to honor the brave."
Connelley's The Life of Preston Plumb gives an account of the homecoming by Mrs. Anna Watson Randolph of Emporia:
"Sadly they marched up the aisle. Father Fairchild, who had prayed over them and sent them to battle such a short time ago, received them with tears rolling down his wrinkled cheeks. They placed the flag in his hands. He unfolded it. We saw it full of bullet holes, ragged and battle-stained. He pointed to the dark stains on the staff where the blood of the young soldier had trickled down, and told us how even in the struggle of death he had borne it up until a comrade could take his place. It was the target for the whole rebel army, having been chosen the flag of the Second Kansas regiment because of its lightness.
We sobbed and cried aloud. It was our first experience of the horrors of war."
The regiment was mustered out at Leavenworth, and the service of the Second Kansas Volunteer Infantry was over. On October 19 a notice appeared calling for recruits to serve under the "Old Flag," and many of the men would serve in the newly formed Second Kansas Volunteer Cavalry for the duration of the war. There is no evidence that the Springfield flag was carried by this later unit. It was presented to the State Adjutant General after the war, and eventually donated to the Kansas Historical Society in 1905.
This flag is in the collections of the Society's Kansas Museum of History. To view more Civil War flags in the collections, see the online exhibit Keep the Flag to the Front: Battle Flags of Kansas.
Save the Flags!
The Kansas Historical Society raises funds for flag conservation and preservation through the Save the Flags! project.
At right is an image of the Second Kansas Colored Infantry flag before it received professional conservation treatment.
Help us preserve our collections by donating funds to the Save the Flags! project through our Museum Store. Specify "Save the Flags" in the drop-down menu.
Entry: Springfield Flag
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: November 1996
Date Modified: February 2016
The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.