Just prior to the regiment's departure from Readville, it was issued its first two National colors, along with two markers from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. These colors were used by the regiment through the Peninsula Campaign of 1862.
During the Second Battle of Bull Run on August 30, 1862 the state color was captured by the Rebels. At the height of the battle the Eighteenth and the brigade it belonged to made an unsupported attack against the rebel forces, who were strongly entrenched and protected by artillery. The brigade, attacking on an open field, received fire from three sides, found their attack come to a halt. The brigade clung to their positions, waiting for reinforcements.
In 1905 veterans on the 18th told the Boston Globe that the "color bearers were changed several times as men were either killed or wounded. Finally, not receiving any support, the order was given to fall back, every man for himself. " When the regiment formed again in the rear, the state color was missing.
When the Eighteenth counted up its losses, it found it was reduced by 60% of its prebattle size. No one was quite sure how the color was lost either.
In a 1905 interview, Lieutenant Amasa Guild was quoted to say about the missing flag, "Inquiry at the time gave nothing definite as to how the flag was lost. One story was that the bearer leaned it against a bush and seized the national flag when it fell, and that he was himself killed or wounded. I think the more probable story is that the beare of the state flag was either killed or wounded just at the time we started back."
On December 13th, 1862, the Eighteenth was again caught in a fierce battle, the Battle of Fredericksburg. "Every member of the color guard was wounded, so severe was the fire upon the colors," says Massachusetts in War. David C Meechan of Company E wrote to G.B. Weston, "our Company was Color Company, which may account for our serious loss, the Color Company always suffers the most in action." Sergeant Martin Mullen, a nineteen year old shoemaker from Duxbury, carried the regiment's single national flag into the battle. He was hit in the ankle in the first charge and gave the color to Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Hayes, commander of the regiment. Lieutenant Colonel Hayes passed it to the corporals of the color guard, who during the course of the battle were disabled one by one. At the end of the battle, Private Edmund F Churchill, carried the color safely off the field. Churchill was a new soldier, arriving from Plympton only four months before hand. Churchill would continue to carry the color into battle, but was not officially promoted to Sergeant until the following May. Mullen was discharged on account of his wound on March 12, 1863.
Near the end of 1862 new colors were requested for the Eighteenth. The Adjutant General issued two new flags in 1862, but they were slow to make it to the field. On January 16, 1863, Private Meechan wrote home, "Our old flag is so tattered and torn by constant use and the bullets and shells of the Enemy that there is hardly enough of it left to tie on the staff, but we love it all the more and more we suffer for it the dearer it becomes to us..." When the new color was finally received the old one was sent back to the Commonwealth and received by the Governor. In a letter written to Lieutenant Colonel Hayes on March 11, 1863, by the governor, receipt of the color is acknowledged.
The Eighteenth reached the end of its commitment in August 1864. By October, 1864 any soldier that had re-enlisted or had joined at a later date, was absorbed into the 32nd Massachusetts.
December 22, 1865 a Return of the Battle flags ceremony was held. The Eighteenth
turned in its State and National flag to the Adjutant General at this time. The
State color was in good condition, and so it is believed it was not used much
during the war. It was turned in on a US marker staff instead of the the one
issued by the Commonwealth. On the other hand, the National color that was
issued in 1862 was in tatters and the staff was splintered just at the level
that the color bearer would have gripped it.
Veterans of the 18th would find out at the turn of the century what happened to their missing state flag. During or after the battle, it is not quite clear, the flag was captured by the 27th Virginia, which it sent home as a war trophy. Some how it made its way to the Confederate Literary Society in Richmond, Virginia. Guild made a trip to the society and found that the flag was on loan to it. After 5 years, the ladies of the society finally agreed to the return of the flag to Massachusetts, in part saying, "in acknowledgement of our appreciation of the late act of Congress in returning the Confederate flags held by the government."
The flag was presented on April 14, 1905 to Governor Douglas of Massachusetts and placed on display with other colors of the regiment in the Hall of Flags.
the late 1980's, the flags were taken out of public display and placed in
vaults. Although the public can no longer view them, images are available for
purchase through the Commonwealth.
When my grandfather died in 1997, my parents came into possession of several boxes of items that he had collected over his lifetime. While searching through these items I came across an envelope marked "Civil War Artifacts." Inside this small yellow envelope where three index cards, two of which had pieces of fabric attached to it, the third had a piece of wood. Each card had writing on it describing what each piece was. The fabric pieces were pieces of the flag, the wood from the color staff. On each card was also a short history of the flag in action.
I had plans to take pictures of these remnants and then place them on the web, but the pictures I took did not come out to good. I will try again soon.