104th Pa Volunteers - PA Civil War Flags 104th Pa Volunteers

104th Pennsylvania Volunteers Saving the Colors

During the battle of Fair Oaks, VA on May 31, 1862, the 104th Pennsylvania was protecting a battery of artillery north of the Williamsburg Road. After fighting back Confederate attacks for about two hours, and seeing more Confederates approaching Colonel William W. H. Davis determined that his regiment (minus two detached companies) would attack the approaching rebel troops to give the artillery time to limber up and withdrawal. The men of the 104th sprang forward crossing an open field and seeking shelter behind a worm row fence, which ran diagonally to the line of battle.

The men of the 104th were able to stop the Confederate onslaught, but with high losses and no support in sight, they were forced to withdrawal to the rear. As the regiment slowly withdrew in good order, the color bearer, Sergeant Slack was badly wounded. Not wanting the flag to hit the ground as he fell, Slack jammed the flagstaff into the ground and exclaimed, "I have hit the ground, but Old Glory has not." Seeing Slack fall and the flag unguarded, several Confederates sprang toward the color as Colonel Davis, bleeding from a wounded left arm shouted for the men who were closest to rescue the colors. Major John M. Gries wheeled and led a small squad of men to charge the oncoming rebels, when Sergeant Hiram W. Purcell carrying a Bucks County presentation flag, leapt back over the worm fence and grabbed the state color before the rebels reached it. Purcell quickly wheeled and bearing both colors made a beeline for the rear. As he again jumped the fence a bullet slammed into his thigh, causing him to fall to the ground. Staggering to his feet he mustered enough energy to keep going until he finally collapsed from loss of blood due to two subsequent wounds in the neck and arm, but he had saved both colors. Upon his collapse two other soldiers grabbed the flags and carried them safely to the rear. Division Commander Silas Casey's bugler found the exhausted, wounded Purcell and carried him to the rear on his horse. Purcell would later receive the Medal of Honor for his rescue of the colors, a well-deserved and hard-won accolade.

In 1899, Bucks County artist William T. Trego, himself crippled by a childhood disease that severely affected the use of his hands, created an amazing picture of Purcell's rescue of the colors at Fair Oaks in 1862. The original painting hangs in the Mercer Museum of the Bucks County Historical Society.

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