Statements re: Capture of Flags at Spotsylvania, May 1864

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Mahone's Statement (Virginia) 
Etheridge (41st Virginia) 
Brinkley (Co "I" 41st Vir) 
Mills's Request to Reiddick 
Reiddick (Co "I" 41st Vir) 

Lane's Statement (North Carolina)


Anderson's Division
Battle Field Spottsylvania C.H.
20th May 1864

My attention has been called to your note of the 13th inst to Maj Gen C.M. Wilcox acknowledging the receipt of certain stands of colors claimed to have been captured by parties of Lane's Brigade the day previous 12th May and in justice to a modest but none the less gallant Soldier, I beg to invite attention to the following facts and circumstances as furnishing abundant testimony that the flag of the 17th Mich claimed to have been captured by Lieut J.M. Grimsley Co K 37th NCT and accordingly accredited in your note was, in fact, beyond doubt, captured by Private Thos W. Savage Co F 41st Va Regt.

Savage, than whom no man stands higher for integrity and soldierly conduct, tells me that he captured a color bearer and several prisoners together with two of Lane's Brigade whom the Yankees had in possession, that he ordered the party to the rear under the charge of the two recaptured men of Lane's Brigade, first placing guns in their hands; that he did not stop in the heat of the fight, to take the colors from the Yankee Color bearer, deeming if more important to pursue the fight. Capt Girardy, acting upon the Division Staff, met a squad of Yankees in charge oftwo of our men, embracing a Yankee Color Bearer, yet carrying his own colors. He directed the Surrender of these colors to a Lieut of ours, standing near by. This was just outside the woods near the icehouse.

Maj Etheridge Comdg 41st Va Infty at the time, and Lieut Keilby of Savage's Co bear testimony to the correctness of Savage's statement as will be seen by their communication to me herewith enclosed.

There were in all but four flags captured in the flank movement of the two Brigades Lane's & Mahone's of the 12th of May and one of these was a guidon. Two stands of the 51st Penn & the 17th Mich. There is no dispute about the guidon or the two flags of the 51st Penn- one of these latter was captured by Lane's Brig and in your is accredited to Lieut O.A. Wiggins Co "E" 37th NCT - the other stand, one which bears a plate of inscription as a present of the Regt, was handed by myself to Col W.H. Taylor. This flag was captured by a "little bearer" Private Leonidas H.Deans Co B 12th Va Infy who seized a gun in the fight and captured these stand of colors, color bearer, and eight prisoners, and delivered the whole over to me. It is clear then that the flag was captured by Savage must be the same flag which Capt Girardy caused to be surrendered to a Lieut because there was but one flag of the four brought out by the Yankee Color bearer: and it is equally plain that these were the colors of the 17th Mich - the other three men are plainly accounted for.

I invite attention to this matter, that merit may not be accredited to the undeserving more than to secure for Savage the little credit that may be due for the capture of a flag.

I am Col.
Very Respectfully
(Signed) Wm Mahone
Lt. Col. C.S. Venable Brig Gen Comdg
A.I.G. Anderson's Division

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Head Quars 41st Va Infy
Mahone's Brigade
May 24th, 1864

Brig Gen Mahone

I have the honor to State that I know that I saw a stand of colors, with a lot of prisoners sent by me to the rear which were captured by Private Thos W. Savage Co "I" of this Regt on the 12th of this month in a charge made by this Brigade on the enemy and the said Savage captured from the enemy at the same time, two North Carolinians of Gen Lane's Brigade. I believe the colors were from the 175th Mich Regt. The Statement of Lieut I. B. Reiddick Co I of this Regt who was an eye witness of the transaction will more fully explain the matter. There are several Non Commissioned Officers and Privates who know the same facts and whose statements can be procured if deemed necessary.

(Signed) W.H. Etheridge
Maj Comdg 41st Va Infy

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In line of Battle
May 21st 1864

I know Priv Thos W. Savage to be a truthful and reliable man and I take pleasure in stating that I believe he is wholly entitled to the credit of capturing the colors of the enemy on the 12th May. I did not see the transaction, because I was in the center of the Regt at the time and Co "I" is on the extreme left.

(Signed) R.B. Brinkley
Capt Co I & Actg Maj
41st Va Infty

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Head Quars Anderson's Division
May 21st 1864
Lt. Reiddick Co "I" 41st Va Infty

Gen Mahone desires your statement of the facts connected with the capture of the colors of the 17th Mich Regt & 51st Penn Regt. Your early attention to this matter is desired.

I am Sir
(Signed) Thos L Mills

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Mahone's Brigade

Maj Mills
Thos W Savage of my company captured one stand of colors - Regt not known.

(Signed) I.B. Reiddick, Lt

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HdQr Lanes Brigade
10th June 1864

I have the honor to submit the following statement in regard to the recent capture by this Brigd of a guidon and two flags from the enemy in a flank movement upon them on the 12th ulto. The "guidon" was captured by Prvt. Jas H. Wheeler Co E 18th Regt NCT. and was witnessed by many of the officers and men of the Regt. The colors of the 51st Penn Regt. was captured by Lieut O.A. Wiggins Co E 37th Regt. NCT. in the presence, and by direction of Brig. Gen. Jas H. Lane. The colors of the 17th Michigan Regt. were captured by Lieut J.M. Grimsley Co K 37th NCT and was witnessed by twenty-five or thirty-five men of this Brigade. The latter stand of colors is the only one in dispute, claimed by Gen. Mahone, and "that merit may not be accorded to the undeserving, more than to secure for" Lieut Grimsley "the little credit that may be due for the capture of a flag."

I invite your attention to the following facts, establishing by evidence which cannot be questioned his right and title to the credit of capture. I regret to say that Lieut Grimsley was severely wounded at Jericho Ford on the 23rd ulto, and is now at home, rendering it impossible for me to get a written statement of his capture in time for embodiment in this report. Yet, lest the controversy may be continued, I have written him to forward his deposition concerning it, properly authenticated. Before his departure Capt. Hale AAG and Capt. Nicholson AIG to this Brigade heard Gen. Lane say to him that he had heard, that some of Gen. Mahone's Brigade claimed to have captured his flag to which Grimsley very indignantly replied denying it, asserting upon oath the falsity of their claim, and his ability to prove his own by a number of his Regt., who were "eye witnesses" to the transaction.

Corpl Plummer Co K, Prvts. Heath Co B Alexander Co C & Mitchell Co K 37th Regt. NCT, "eye witnesses" to the affair, "than whom no men stand higher for integrity and soldierly conduct" have been closely and carefully examined by myself and they all agree in the following statement; that Lieut Grimsley with twenty-five or thirty of his Regt. Met up with a Yankee Color Sgt. and some half dozen other Yankees - that Lieut G demanded their surrender to which the Sgt. replied "certainly Lieut but as I have carried the colors so long please let me carry them to the rear." that Lieut G. consented directing some of his men to take charge of them and keep a sharp look out upon them. Cpl. Plummer in addition and just here testifies that at that time the Yankee Sgt. Took off the oil cloth cover which belonged to the flag and which he had tied around his waist and also the Staff pouch now used in the 37th NCT and gave them to him. Just then a Yankee officer "a large man whom the men called Colonel" came up with a squad of fifteen or twenty men. Lieut Grimsley went up to him and remarked that he (the Col.) Was completely surrounded and in order to save his own life and the lives of his men had better thrown down his arms and be conducted to the rear. The "Col." agreed, remarking to his men "Boys we are surrounded and had better throw down our arms" they did so, and Lieut G. with his men conducted the party to the rear with the colors. Just before getting to the edge of the woods, Lieut Grimsley probably desirous of carrying his capture himself into our lines, told the Yankee Sgt. To hand the flag over to him which he did. The four witnesses above named, assert positively that they remained with Lieut Grimsley and by the side of the Yankee Ensign the whole time - that none of Mahone's Brigade were near during the capture nor at the time, but they are aware of - than their line of battle, the nearest point of which was some sixty (60) yards in rear of Lane's*. I have yet to see the officer or man of this Brigade who is aware that Mahone's Brigade got nearer them at any time during the action - Gen. Mahone's unofficial yet public declaration and this Brigade had "deserted" those brave Virginians" to the contrary not withstanding. The four men whose names are given above further state that they did not at any time see Capt. Girardy.

It will be seen, that Capt. Girardy directed some colors to be handed over to a Lieut "in the field near the icehouse" when the testimony shows clearly that Lieut Grimsley took the colors himself from the Yankee who he had permitted to bear them before he reached the field. Capt. Girardy's testimony is of no weight whatever. He simply saw the two men with a squad of Yankees and a set of Yankee colors, which more likely were the colors of the 51st Penn - he did not see the colors captured, nor does he know what colors they were, and as he says, he directed the already captured colors to be surrendered "to a Lieut of ours whether Lanes or Mahone's Brigade I know not."

It is further stated by the four men mentioned above that Savages asserted gallant charge, single handed and alone upon the enemy, by which they were recaptured from them by him together with the Yankee color bearer, colors and "several" prisoners, was a gratuitous and unnecessary act of chivalry on his part, for which they do not feel the weight of their indebtedness as it did not come under their observation; - an act, the daring and gallantry of which like those of the vain glorious Knight Don Quixote, existed in his imagination without even a Sancho Panza to witness his rash performances.

With all due respect to Gen Mahone, I beg leave to say that he has jumped at his conclusions too hastily. Examine the ground upon which he bases Savage's claim. First Savage's Statement to himself has already been examined. Next Gen Mahone asserts that "Maj Etheridge and Lieut Keilby (Reiddick I suppose he means)" bear testimony to the correctness of Savage's Statement as will be seen by their communication to me (him) herewith enclosed." Yet it will be seen by examining Maj Etheridge's note that a stand of colors, and a lot of prisoners, captured by Savage and a couple of North Carolinians of Lane's Brigade all of which Maj Etheridge was not an eye witness to as he does not say so, was sent to the rear by him Maj Etheridge and he believes, without ever insinuating a reason for his belief, that the colors were the very stand captured by Lieut Grimsley 37th Regt NCT in the presence of twenty-five or thirty men of this Brigade. Again, Maj Etheridge promises that Lieut Reiddick, an "eye witness of the transaction will more fully explain the matter." Still upon examination it will be seen that Lieut Reiddick in his note simply asserts that, "Savage captured one stand of colors - Regiment not known."

As Capt Brinkley has given his testimony in a note appended to Maj Etheridge's it might not be remiss to remark that his evidence is that "Savage is wholly entitled to the credit of capturing the colors of the enemy on the 12th May." From which I might reasonably infer that he meant that Savage captured the whole four. Capt Brinkley would doubtless like to modify his assertion and I would suggest that his note be returned to him for correction. As it stands now his testimony would not only be useless, but ridiculous. It will be seen, that there is no positive assertion made by the friends of Savage that the captured colors were those of the 17th Michigan.

I do not deem it necessary to pursue the argument further and trust that "in justice to a modest but none the less gallant soldier," the facts and circumstances stated above furnish abundant testimony that the flag of the 17th Michigan, captured by Lieut Grimsley 37th Reg NCT was "properly accredited" in Col Venable's note of the 13th.

While I would not wittingly deprive any brave and gallant Virginian, or any Brigade from any state of any of their dearly won and highly prized honors and fair name, (Mahone's Brigade is doubtless entitled to and possesses its full share) I cannot quietly consent to seeing any man of this Brigade deprived of any of his laurels by such evidence as is contained in the papers, which I have the honor herewith to return.

Very Respectfully
Your Obt Servant
(Signed) Jno. D. Barry
Col Comdg Lane's Brigade

[To] Maj Jos A. Engelhard

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--Transcriptions made by Terri Stout-Stevens, Pfafftown, NC, in 1997 and 1998.  Edited by Marty Olliff, Assistant Archivist, Auburn University, who takes all responsibility for any errors.


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