BATTLE FLAG OF THE 25th NY STATE MILITIA/ NATIONAL GUARD NEW YORK STATE

$1,500.00 SOLD

Quantity Available: None

Item Code: 1070-180

This flag comes with a great letter of provenance dated 1962 from the prominent collector Henry Gaidis of Baltimore indicating he had purchased it from the estate of, equally well-known collector, George D. Stewart in July 1962. It is accompanied by a second letter dated August 1962 and signed by Donald Stewart, son of George D. Stewart, indicating that his father had purchased it from Bannerman’s about 1940. Bannerman will need no introduction to U.S. militaria collectors.

The flag, or its remnants, is mounted in a frame dating about 1920 or so and bears a brass plaque at the bottom edge reading, “Fragments of the Battle Flag / 25th New York State National Guard / 1861-1865.” Established in 1847, the regiment was based in Albany and until officially mustered out in 1881. The designation “national guard,” is the later NY designation for its troops, changed officially from New York State Militia in April 1862. The flag originally would have measured roughly six feet by six. Made of silk, these regimental flags were easily damaged in service and contemporary photographs often show mere shreds after active service. In this case the remnants were framed with lengths of the more resilient fringe looped around bottom and both sides as a border, making it appear to have been smaller, but the remnants of the painted regimental designation give an idea of the proper scale. Only shreds of the blue silk ground remain, but the left half of the painted regimental designation is intact, reading “25th REGt. INFA[…] The gilt-bordered red scroll, with its flourishes, is intact for that portion of the designation, which clearly would have continued as “Infantry.” As should be expected, this constitutes the portion closest to the left edge, which would have remained on a staff even after sections of the fly had been lost.

The regiment saw two tours of active duty in the Civil War. In 1861 it was just the fifth New York regiment to be rushed to Washington after Fort Sumter’s fall, activated on April 19, 1861, and ordered to depart for Washington on April 22, under Col. M.K. Bryan. Bryan’s biography in “Heroes of Albany” records that on their way to board trains for New York City they paused in front of Stanwix Hall for presentation of a flag by the wife of Mayor Thacher. It could have been a different flag from this, but it may well have the formal presentation of a regimental flag kept at their armory.

The regiment, nine companies strong, departed New York City on April 24 and reached Annapolis on April 26. On April 29 they were dispatched by train to Washington, where they were eventually sworn into U.S. service for three months on May 4. Their tenth company, the Albany Burgess Corps, joined them shortly after. The regiment was quartered in the city and stationed as the Casparis House. In the early hours of May 24, they crossed Long Bridge as part of the seizure of Arlington Heights and Alexandria. They were among the advanced troops and were credited with capturing two Confederate cavalry pickets. Posted to Prospect Hill, 200 yards south of the toll gate on the Columbia Turnpike, they were tasked with building there the aptly named “Fort Albany,” which they garrisoned for the remainder of their service. Part of the Reserve Division during the advance to Bull Run, they were tasked with manning the defenses of Washington, a duty that was even more crucial as the rest of the army retreated from the disaster. They returned to New York on July 28 and were mustered out at Albany on August 4.

Their regiment was mustered a second time for three month’s U.S. service in late May 1862. Six companies left the state on June 5, again under Col. Bryan, and were assigned to duty under General Dix at Suffolk, Virginia. There they did guard and outpost duty until their return to Albany and muster out September 8. The 1962 dated letter of provenance from Henry Gaidis mentions that in a skirmish at Suffolk on July 5, 1862: “a shell from a six-pound Confederate Brooks rifle exploded killing the flag bearer and tearing the flag to pieces…” This could be a garbled reference to a 6.4 –inch Brooke rifle, but we find no supporting evidence for the anecdote (despite Confederate activity in the area,) suspect it might be a bit of salesmanship on Bannerman’s part, particularly to explain the fragmentary condition of the flag. Stewart’s letter of provenance mentions that he thinks the bronze plaque mistaken in the date of “1861 to 1865,” but this is common short hand for “Civil War” and Stewart refers only to the regiment’s second tour of duty from May to September 1862. Whether the missing section of the scroll used the designation NYSM or NGSNY can’t be determined, but the designation for the state’s troops was officially determined upon only a month before their departure for Suffolk and whether they cared or had time to alter it before taking the field would be doubtful.  [sr]

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