Independence Day 1866 - PA Civil War Flags Independence Day 1866

Independence Day 1866

Upon mustering out or after receiving a replacement, no specific provisions were established for the receipt and care of the battle flags. As such, some flags were left in Harrisburg, Philadelphia, or Pittsburgh within GAR posts while others were taken into private collections.

On June 13, 1865 the War Department ordered the chief mustering officers to turn over all colors in their possession to the governors of the individual states. However, Pennsylvania's Civil War flags were already scattered across the state. The few flags that were already in the state's collection were not properly cared for, and many of the veterans in possession of flags were not yet willing to return the colors. By the end of 1865 it was realized that proper care for the flags was necessary, and the government-issued colors were to be formally returned to state care in a ceremony on Independence Day 1866 at Philadelphia's Independence Hall.

Adjutant-General A.L. Russell compiled a list of absent flags, researched the possible location of the colors, and wrote letters requesting them to be officially returned to state care. In the meantime, the city of Philadelphia and state of Pennsylvania worked hard to organize a grand parade and memorable ceremony. Major General Winfield S. Hancock was appointed as grand marshal of the parade. Children of the Commonwealth who were attending special schools established for war orphans were also invited to participate, and won the hearts of a sympathetic public. General Meade also participated, and received the loudest applause as the "Hero of Gettysburg."

At the parade's end, General Meade stood in front of Independence Hall and officially returned the colors to Governor Curtin with these words:

"Sir, of all the honors that have been showered upon me for the humble services which it has been in my power to render to my country, none have been so grateful to me, and of none am I so proud, as being on this occasion the representative of these hardy and noble men who stand before you… This war is over; peace has returned to bless our happy land. By the concurrent action of the Legislature it has been determined that you should receive on this day, sacred to the memory of liberty, these battle-stained banners, that have passed through their fiery ordeals. In the name of the soldiers of Pennsylvania, I present to you these banners, which were received from the State, and which were borne through the war with honor and credit, and of which we, as soldiers, are justly proud. Receive them, sir, as mementos of the prowess and deeds of valor of the noble sons of Pennsylvania."

Governor Curtin responded by honoring the bravery and heroism of Pennsylvania's veterans. "A Commonwealth may exist without cherishing her material wealth, but no Commonwealth can worthily, or should exist, which does not cherish, as the joy of life, the heroic valor of its children." Speeches and fireworks thus concluded the official transfer of possession of the state's colors. At the time, the flag collection totaled 270 colors.

PA Capitol Preservation Committee | Room 630 Main Capitol Building | Harrisburg, PA 17120