17th Virginia Infantry Regiment
The Old Dominion Rifles
A brief overview of our search for the correct flag.
As our re-enacted unit is portraying mid-1863 we set out to discover the correct flag to fly for this time. Our research was long and interesting and we will attempt to outline our choice and the reasons for it.
Firstly, we could only find a few references to flags carried by the 17th Virginia. One was issued to the Regiment on November 28th, 1861 and was described by Lee A. Wallace's book (17th Virginia Infantry) thus:
"[it] embraced the St. Andrew's cross with twelve five-pointed white stars, and was about four feet square. Around the edge of the flag was narrow yellow border. Most likely, this was the flag that received nine bullet holes at Williamsburg, as noted by William McKnight of the Mount Vernon guards."
The next reference to a battle flag was of the one issued to the regiment between June2nd and 25th, 1862. Unfortunately, this flag was captured by 2nd New York Infantry at the battle of Frayser's Farm, June 30th, 1862. This flag was described as being made of cotton bunting and 49 1/2" by 471/2". It had an orange border of about 1 5/8" wide and had thirteen five-pointed stars. Along one edge it had a 2" white cotton canvas heading with three eyelets through which a cord could be passed to enable the flag to be attached to the staff. The battle honours "Williamsburg" and "Seven Pines" were painted in black block letters on strips of white cotton. These strips were sewn onto the flag on the edge of the border in the upper and lower quadrants respectively.
The 1862 Flag - now in the (private) 17th Virginia's museum owned by the Mary Custis-Lee Chapter, UDC, Prince Street, Alexandria.
The next reference to a flag specifically noted as being carried by the Regiment is the one that was cut up and the pieces handed to survivors of the Regiment at Appomattox. There is no description of this flag or when it was presented to the regiment.
We then ploughed through any book on the war - looking for photos of flags. We found hundreds so we narrowed them down to those being noted as being carried around 1863. We knew that by this time the border had changed to white as the Richmond Depot flags were being issued. Some of the flags captured at Gettysburg varied in where the unit designation was placed and where, if any, the battle honours were put on.
Flag of 61st Virginia, carried at Chancellorsville.
At last we found a reference to Pickett's Division being issued the Third Issue Richmond Depot flag just prior to Gettysburg. This was issued without battle honours and had the unit designation painted on the left and right quadrants. It was constructed in three sections (two of 18" and one of 12") sewn to form a 48" square and had a border of white cotton.
This is the flag that we are currently in the process of having made to the correct dimensions - unless any of you know any better? If you have any more information that would help us please, please get in touch with us and pass it on. Thank you.
Now we come to the State Flag.
17th Virginia's State Flag - now in the (private) 17th Virginia's museum owned by the Mary Custis-Lee Chapter, UDC, Prince Street, Alexandria.
The first, and only, reference we have found was the State flag issued to the Regiment by Governor Letcher on 30th October, 1861. It was "made of dark blue merino, approximately 53" on the staff side and 65 1/2" on the fly". It had a sleeve for the staff formed on the edge by doubling over the leading edge. The top and bottom edges were unfinished but the fly-edge had a 2" wide fringe of white silk. Visible on both sides was a white cotton oval disc of 33" high and 32" wide. The coat of arms of Virginia were painted on this. The standing figure of an Amazon wears metal armour over a blouse of blue and a skirt of red edged with gold. The fallen king has metal armour and wears a red blouse and blue skirt. His crown is gold with a red lining. The centre section has the word "Virginia" in block capitol letters and are white with serifs. At the bottom of the disc there is a dark blue scroll with the words "Sic Semper Tyrannis" in white block capitols.
As we have found no more references to any other State flag being issued to the Regiment we must assume that this was the one carried for the whole war - unless, of course you know differently!
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Last updated - 28th November, 2003