Flags are powerful symbols. When scarred by war, they can be compelling reminders to those who serve under it of the action they have seen, and of those no longer with them. It can be an extraordinary bond between soldiers and the people back home. Such is the case of the Second Kansas Infantry's Springfield flag.
In 1861 Kansas was a new state, the 34th to enter the Union, yet it was going to war. Volunteers were needed, and Kansans were answering the call. The region had been at the center of the conflict over slavery since its formation as a territory seven years earlier. Now its citizens would play their part in settling the question.
One of the places that answered the call was Emporia. The men who enlisted there formed Company H of the Second Kansas Infantry, a regiment recruited to serve 90 days, which many hoped would be the duration of the war. Once the ranks were filled, the company would leave for Lawrence, where the regiment would organize.
The women of Emporia felt their soldiers should have a flag to carry during their service. Red and white challis, or wool, was purchased from a local store or ordered from Lawrence. Having no blue for the field, one woman offered some blue cashmere from a dress pattern her mother had sent her. White silk was found to create the stars.
The day before the company departed for Lawrence, the women presented the flag to the troops. Fannie Yeakley delivered a patriotic speech as she presented the flag to the standard bearer. Father Fairchild, a Methodist minister, offered an eloquent sermon and a prayer for the safety of the company.
Company H saw little action in the field, and it appeared it would survive the 90 days without seeing a major battle. That changed on August 10, 1861, southwest of Springfield, Missouri, along a stream known as Wilson's Creek. The Union army, led by Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon, attempted to defeat a Confederate army led by Brigadier General Ben McCulloch. Through much of the five-hour battle, the Second Kansas was held in reserve.
The flag made by the women of Emporia was now not just the company flag but was the only set of national colors carried by the Second Kansas. The Union did not win that day. What happened to Company H is best described by Lieutenant C.S. Hills, who wrote home to Emporia: "Our company suffered more severely than any other of the Second Kansas Regiment, as we carried the only flag in the regiment . . .Thomas Miller, our Ensign (the flag bearer), is dead—shot through the kidney." Hills would add that the little flag the women gave was completely riddled with shot and shell.
In October Company H came home to Emporia. By order of General John C. Frémont, the battle name "Springfield" was added to the flag, an honor for the service given at what eventually was referred to as the Battle of Wilson's Creek. The Emporia News wrote that when the company arrived, the flag was immediately hoisted in front of the Emporia House for all to see.
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: April 2009
Date Modified: April 2013
The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.