THE AUDRAIN COUNTY FLAG
CONFEDERATE VETERAN, Vol. XXXVI 1928
In the following, an interesting flag history is given, though the story is hardly complete with its present whereabouts unknown. Perhaps it is one of those trophies which went North with the Federal troops and which have been held as the spoils of war. These flags are coming back South now and then, and it may be that the Audrain County flag, which proudly led the Missouri boys from its first baptism of fire in Missouri to the bloody field of Franklin, Tenn., and then to the sea, may yet come back to those who swore to cherish and protect it in victory or defeat.
Joe Lee Bomar, of Mexico, Mo., Historian for the county, tells that it was after the first aggressive movement by the Federal element in Missouri, in which Gen. Nathaniel Lyon bore such a conspicuous part, that many of the noted men of the State with Confederate sympathies sought refuge in the solitudes of that section near the mouth of White Oak Branch, with its dense forests and thick underbrush, about midway of the Ryan Ridge country, which became a great "Rebel" rendezvous and bivouac camp. Among these prominent men were Gen. Martin E. Green, Gen. Henry Little, Dr. Hardin, Dock Cundiff, the great orator Col. Jeff Jones, Capts. Purcell, Love, McIntyre, McCulloch, Day, Cobb, Bill Anderson, Todd, Perkins, and Capt. James Cawthorn. This is Mr. Bomar's story.
"The Southern women of Audrain said they would present a battle flag of beauty to the first full company of Confederates in Audrain and to the camp. Captain Cawthorn, in company with Dr. Hardin (a brother to the governor), Tom Williams, and M. Y. Duncan, came to receive the flag. The material was purchased and given to one of the John B. Morris girls, who, in turn, delivered it to Ruth Bomar (my mother) near Prairie Church. Margaret Eller, one of Dr. Burt's girls, Fannie Kesler, Caizier Wilson, and Mariah McIntyre made it. My mother designed and cut out the flag, while the others sewed it together.
"It was sixty inches long, and its width was three-fifths of its length, or thirty-six inches wide. A red stripe one foot wide at the top, a white stripe one foot wide under the red one, and another red stripe of same width at the bottom. Stripes, or bars, as they were called, ran lengthwise of the flag. A blue field two feet square in the upper corner, or the flag staff corner, with the coat of arms of Missouri worked out in silk in the different colors in the lower part of the blue field; and at the top of the blue field were eleven silver stars, nine inches in circumference from their five points, representing the eleven sister Southern States. The material was of the best satin obtainable, and the needlework was superb.
"George Bomar and old man George Burhop swiped a ten or twelve-foot seasoned straight grained rail from a fence, and it was taken to Bryan, in Callaway County, who, with turning lathes, fashioned the staff out of the rail and varnished it. It had a great flat spear head at the top of the staff, on which was printed 'Missouri' with the county and company, in red letters.
"Ben F. Stanford was carrying on a singing school at Seed Tick. To this, Nick McIntosh, Joe McGee, John Thomas Watts, John M. Sanford, Jim Hall, Dig LeVaugh, William Eller, Alex Bomar, John West, Tom McIntyre, John F. Harrison, Andy Lucky came, and were joined by Colonel Swan, Jim Will Martin, Tom Scott, and Goodman Cowles, bringing the finished flag with them. At the singing school, Isabelle Staniford, Caddy Brooks, Belle Surber, Mary Sanford, Narcis Sanford, and Martha Evans met the boys having the flag, and went with them to the 'Rebel' camp, about one and one-half miles northwest. Some of these young men were already enlisted, while others were just 'Rebel bushwhackers.' Little Vannie Offutt, a beauty of that day, carried the flag beneath the folds of her riding skirt, and Isabelle Sanford, the best girl elocutionist in that section, made the presentation speech. Captain Cawthorn thanked them, and, in turn, introduced them to Dr. Hardin, a celebrated stump speaker, who made the response. Belle Surber, another beauty, assisted by Miss Offutt and Lieutenant Edmondson, tied the flag to the staff, and then all the girls kissed it.
"A part of Hardin's response was, 'We will cherish, guard it in defeat or victory, and carry it to the sea,' words that were near prophecy.
"The flag got its first baptism in smoke and battle at Drywood and Carthage, where in an all-day running battle the Federals were routed and swept off the field. George Simpson, the flag bearer, was killed while carrying it on to victory. He was a brother-in-law of Capt. D.H. McIntyre.
"For days the flag was carried on the dusty march, in summer heat, drilling on Cowskin Prairie, and proudly waved at Neosho when the ordnance of the State's secession was passed and one hundred guns were fired in salute by order of General Price, celebrating the event. In the storm and smoke of the great battle of Wilson Creek, in the utter defeat and killing of General Lyon, and in routing the running remnants of his command, just three months to the day after the had fired on Camp Jackson at St. Louis. A great Missouri and Confederate victory was Lyon's complete undoing.
"Then on to Lexington, and the besieging and surrender of General Mulligan's Federal army to Price as prisoners of war.
"Then on to Fullbright Springs, Mo., where its brave Captain Cawthorn's time was out, and, in ill health, he soon afterwards departed to the Pacific slope in Oregon, in quest of health.
"A general reorganization of Price's force, and the old flag became the regimental flag of the 2nd Missouri Infantry, Colonel Gates and Lieut. Col. F. M. Cockrell commanding, and which was attached to the 1st Missouri Brigade, C.S.A.
"Then on to the great battle of Elkhorn, a drawn battle, but really a Confederate victory.
"On to DesArc, Ark., where they embarked on flat boats down the White River and up the Mississippi to Memphis, thence on to Corinth, Miss., where General Rosecrans was entrenched with a powerful Federal army. His formidable works were assaulted with fierceness and great determination, but even the Missouri and Texas forces, led by the brave Colonel Rodgers, recoiled from the volcano of steel and fire from Fort Robinette, the main citadel. Seeing the Missourians with their old flag flying amid a deluge of fire, Rodgers yelled to his men, 'See the brave Missourians!', reformed his men under the awful fire and led them on, as the Federal historian says, in a 'Bold and heroic charge of the Missouri and Texas men.' Bareheaded, hat in hand, Rodgers fell on the Federal parapets, his men fighting like demons. Colonel Gates grabbed the old flag and tossed it in the Federal breastworks, while his men, fighting like demons incarnate, with bayonets, clubbed guns, bowie knives, captured Fort Robinette and all its artillery and rescued the flag. Poor Zeke Reagon, an Audrain County boy, was killed in grabbing the flag from a Federal flag bearer, but in so doing, he took not only his flag, but the flag of the Federals, belonging to an Ohio regiment. Price and the Texans held the works against attack and the enfilading fire for six hours, repelling every assault of the Union army, until ammunition was exhausted and no sign of help. When, with victory in hand and tears in his eyes, Price was bound to abandon the ground, and went off with drums beating and the old colors flying and captured batteries of Captain Richardson hurling grape, canister, and defiance into the faces of the late owners. Colonel Rodgers was given a military funeral by his adversary, Rosecrans, because of his great bravery. An awful battle, heavy losses on both sides.
"Then on went the flag to the Hatchie River, Tupelo Lake, a hard battle, where Gen. Henry M. Little was killed; at Millikins Bend, Port Hudson, Grand Gulf, Champion Hills, Raymond, and Big Black, and weeks and weeks of the incessant fighting; through the awful slaughter of the great siege of Vicksburg, it waved in grandeur over the bloody ramparts.
"By land, with an overwhelming force, Grant was attacking fiercely, aided with a powerful fleet of gunboats. The siege continued for weeks, Mule meat giving out, starvation compelled the surrender of Pemberton's 26,000 starving heroes. The old flag that had been the flag of honor for Generals Green, Little, and Bowen, smoke-begrimed, blood-stained, shot full of holes, in tatters, was torn from its staff and hidden under one of its defender's shirts. I believe it was Ben Brothers.
"At last, an exchange of prisoners was effected. The Missouri and Texas men were the ones the Richmond government asked for, giving up two Federal prisoners for one of these. The exchange was consummated after the Vicksburg surrender, at Demopolis, Ala., and the wreck of the 1st and 2nd Missouri Confederate Brigades was consolidated into one, Francis Marion Cockrell commanding the Missouri Brigade. The old Audrain County flag was brought to life again, with a pine sapling for a staff, and became the colors of the second Missouri Brigade.
"Then on to Chickamauga, a tremendous battle and very heavy loss, but a great victory for the Confederates. Then the Lookout Mountain disaster and one hundred days' retreat, and incessant fighting. Kenesaw Mountain, Peach Tree Creek, Jonesboro, Atlanta, then the abandoning of Atlanta, on back to Altoona, where the old flag waved to a desperate and useless combat. Then on to Franklin, Tenn., where the Federal army was strongly entrenched. Desperate charges were made by the Confederates, led by such brave men as ever went to battle. General Hood, with desperation, called on General Cockrell to deliver to him the Federal works and the fort in the locust grove in the bend of the Harpeth River. Dressed in line, officers with hats in hand, the bugle blast called the charge across the old field. A regular cyclone of fire smote then; but on and on they went. The cedars rocked and quivered in the fiery blast, and the air was torn with the explosion of shells. Ah! it was where death stalked abroud, where thousands of souls leaped from their earthy tabernacle and sought refuge in the shades of time, eternal groves. Smoke, fire, steel, cannon, bayonets, gun clubbing, the ground shook; but the smoke-begrimed flag moved on.
"At last a lodgment in the enemy's first line of trenches. The flag bearer, Louis Simpson, a brother of George Simpson, was killed. Others grabbed it up and held it aloft beside its sister flags. Colonel Gates, the only mounted Confederate officer, and that because of a wound at Altoona, leaped his horse over the breastworks, though getting his jaw and both arms broken. But he stuck to his horse and came out alive. One arm was so mangled it was amputated. At night both sides, with only four feet of dirt between them, crawled silently away from each other. The Federals spiked their guns, left their dead on the field, and moved on toward Nashville.
"At Nashville, opposed by a large Federal force, Hood's army was routed and had to abandon the place and much war material, retreating southward to Florence, Ala. The Federal army in vast numbers followed, hanging in the distance on both flanks. Hood resigned and left the army, but Cockrell and his veterans of eighty-seven battles and skirmishes, with flags waving, in company with other equally resolute officers and forces, battled and moved on. Bledsoe and Guibor's Missouri Batteries, supported by the the best under the old flag, repelling and thundering defiance in the fade of the Federal advance, tendered their exploits immortal in history.
"Hopeless, desperate, outnumbered twenty to one at Fort Blakely, the little band of heroes received honorable terms and surrendered. The old flag was torn again from its staff and secreted, never surrendered. How true the promise at White Oak Branch Rebel Camp, 'We will carry it in defeat or victory to the sea.' The prophecy was fulfilled. Never a flag with a more glorious history. Eighty-seven pitched battles and skirmishes. 'Never ordered,' said Capt. McDowell Anderson, the historian, 'to hold a position or break a line but what they did as gloriously as the seventy of the old guard of Napoleon with its victorious eagle standard.'
"General Cockrell told me at Hill, Mo., he remembered that grand old flag and others said that all the main engagements it had gone through were stamped on it. He never knew what became of it after it was taken from its staff. Who knows anything of its whereabouts? If in existence, all glory to it and and its defenders!'