FLAG STAFF CAPTURED & USED BY THE 5TH CONNECTICUT VOLUNTEER INFANTRY, FROM THE ESTATE OF CONFEDERATE REPRESENTATIVE JAMES M. MASON OF “THE TRENT AFFAIR” FAME

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Item Code: 846-421

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This homemade staff once held a Confederate flag that proudly waved over a Winchester, Virginia estate called “Selma” which was the property of Confederate politician James M. Mason. Mr. Mason is well known for being captured by the USS SAN JACINTO with fellow politician John Slidell aboard the British mail steamer TRENT while they were traveling to England to represent the Confederacy. Their capture caused an international incident that almost brought the United States and England to war.

In March of 1862 the 5th Connecticut Infantry camped on Mr. Mason’s estate, removed the offending Confederate flag flying from this staff, and appropriated it for their use by attaching one of their colors to it. The regiment then carried the staff through the rest of their campaigns. Included above is a drawing of the flag pole on the house replaced by the Stars and Stripes, from Wikipedia (drawing does NOT accompany the item).

The staff itself meas. approx. 8.25 feet long x 4.50 inches in circumference with a homemade folded, pointed, tin finial at top. There are five holes drilled through the staff beginning approx. 1.25 inches from the base of the finial and are anywhere from 9.00 to 11.00 inches apart as they move down the staff. These holes could have been made for the Confederate flag that was once apparently tied to the pole as most Union flags had a sleeve on the hoist to accommodate a staff, but this is only a supposition. There are also several nail holes to be found along the length of one side. Screwed to the staff is a white metal plaque engraved with the number “51.”

With the staff is a beautifully done display card, no doubt from a veteran’s meeting hall where the staff was once displayed. The card reads “MARCH 13, 1862 THE FIFTH CONNECTICUT INFANTRY CAMPED UPON THE ESTATE OF JAMES H. (should be “M”) MASON WINCHESTER, VIRGINIA. FLAG STAFF FROM WHICH HAD FLOATED A CONFEDERATE FLAG AT MR. MASON’S HOME. REPLACED BY THE COLORS OF THE 5TH CONNECTICUT THIS STAFF WAS THEREAFTER CARRIED THROUGH THE MARCHES AND ENGAREMENTS OF THE REGIMENT.” The left edge of this 6.25 x 3.25-inch card is decorated with a full color badge representing the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States. The back of the card bears the number “51” which matches the number engraved on the white metal plaque attached to the staff. This is good evidence that this staff and tag were always together.

The 5th Connecticut’s presence on the Mason estate is confirmed by the unit’s regimental history written by Captain Edward E. Marvin which states on pages 65 & 66 “March 12th. … We are encamped upon the farm of James M. Mason. His house is occupied as regimental headquarters. The Union flag floats over the town.”

The 5th went on to fight in many important battles of the war and according to the information supplied by the label that accompanies the item, this staff was there. Some of the battles it saw were Front Royal, Winchester, Cedar Mountain where the color guard suffered heavy casualties and the regiments national color was lost, 2nd Bull Run, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Resaca, Dallas, Peach Tree Creek, Sherman’s March to the Sea and Bentonville.

At one point the regiment’s colors were replaced but this staff continued to be used holding either one of the regimental colors or guidons. Included above is a photo of the 5th Connecticut with their flags (does NOT accompany the item).

Unfortunately for Mr. Mason, his home did not survive. When the Union army took over Winchester in 1862, at first Mason's house was requisitioned for regimental offices. The lower officers probably did not know who Mason was. But General Banks, formerly a congressman and then governor of Massachusetts, certainly knew. Learning of Mason's pro-slavery activism and his authorship of the hated Fugitive Slave Act, the soldiers, on their own initiative, set about destroying Selma. The roof came off first. Sometime later the walls were pulled down and everything burnable was chopped into firewood. They were so thorough that "from turret to foundation stone, not one stone remains upon another; the negro houses, the out-buildings [there was an ice house], the fences are all gone, and even the trees are many of them girdled". According to Mason, the house was "obliterated". He never lived in Winchester again.

With the item is a blow-up copy of the tag as well as binder with information on the service of the 5th Connecticut.

This is a rare piece of history with good provenance that witnessed some of the most important battles in American history. [ad] [ph:L]

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