Thursday, April 21, 2016

Sunday will mark 155th anniversary of Conecuh Guards flag presentation

Conecuh Guards flag.
This coming Sunday – April 24 – will mark the 155th anniversary of the day that the Conecuh Guards mustered at Sparta to depart for service in Virginia during what we now call the Civil War or the War Between the States.

So far as I know, the best source about what happened at Sparta on April 24, 1861 is B.F. Riley’s 1881 book, “The History of Conecuh County,” which was published just 16 years after the end of the war. According to Riley, the Conecuh Guards, which was also known as Co. E of the Fourth Alabama Infantry Regiment, organized at Sparta on April 1, 1861 and mustered at Sparta on April 24 to depart “for the seat of war in Virginia.”

Prior to their departure, a “magnificent banner” was presented to the unit by a group that included Misses Stearns and Mathews, Mrs. Jay and Mrs. Dubose. They’d ordered this flag some time before, and it had arrived at Sparta the day before, just in time to formally present it to the “gallant company,” Riley wrote.

A large crowd gathered at the Sparta train depot to watch the formal presentation of the flag to the unit, and the banner was held during the ceremony by a young man named Henry Stearns. Standing with him were six young women, who were dressed to represent the states that had already joined the Confederacy. Those young ladies (and the states they represented) included Kate Autrey (Georgia), C. Cary (Mississippi), S. Crosby (Louisiana), L. Henderson (Florida), Mathews (Alabama) and Irene Stearns (South Carolina).

Members of the Conecuh Guards assembled in front of this group of young ladies, and Miss Mathews delivered a speech to mark their departure. At the end of this send-off address, the flag was presented to Capt. Pinckney D. Bowles, who accepted the flag on behalf of the company, which left the following day for Montgomery and mustered into the Confederate army at Lynchburg, Va. on May 7, 1861.

The Conecuh Guards served throughout the Civil War and lost many of its members before eventually surrendering with the rest of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House, Va. on April 9, 1865.

During the four years of the conflict, members of the Conecuh Guards saw service at some of the most important, ferocious and decisive battles of the war, including Cold Harbor, Chickamauga, Eltham’s Landing, First Manassas, Second Manassas, Fort Harrison, Fredericksburg, Gaines Farm, Gettysburg, Lookout Mountain, Malvern Hill, Knoxville, Petersburg, Seven Pines, Sharpsburg, Spotsylvania Court House, The Wilderness and Darbytown Road.

Years after the end of the war, on Nov. 22, 1907, the flag of the Conecuh Guards was presented to the Alabama Department of Archives and History by Col. Pickney D. Bowles and Capt. James W. Darby. Today, that flag is still housed within the flag collection at the Department of Archives and History in Montgomery, where the staff goes to great lengths to preserve dozens of flags of this type.

Many of you in the reading audience will be interested to learn that a typical company in the Confederate army consisted of about 100 men, and they were usually led by a captain. A review of the original roster of the Conecuh Guards shows a number of family names that will be familiar to current county residents. Those last names include such names as Bowles, Lee, McInnis, Darby, Travis, Taliaferro, Stearns, Green, Mosley, Downs, Cotton, Stinson, Boulware, Clark, Andrews, Floyd, Thomas, Crosby, Anderson, Robertson, Betts, Booker, Baggett, Brown, Carter, Chapman, Coleman, Dean, Hudson, Hyde, Horton, Johnston, King, Mathews, Morrow, Mason, McMillan, Peacock, Powell, Robbins, Stallworth, Snowden, Salter, Shaver, Wilson, Wilkinson and Watson.

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