As Fort McAllister fell to the Union Army of Gen. William T. Sherman days before Christmas in 1864, one of his artillery officers seized the Confederate flag of a vanquished company of Georgia riflemen. The officer carried the silk banner home to Maine as a souvenir, and it stayed in his family for three generations in a box along with a handwritten note: “To be return to Savannah or Atlanta sometime.”
Nobody knows for sure why the late Maj. William Zoron Clayton wanted his Civil War trophy flag returned to the South. But after 148 years, his wish has been honored.
The Union officer’s great-grandson, Robert Clayton, donated the flag to be displayed at Fort McAllister State Historic Park, where a dedication is planned next month just before Confederate Memorial Day. Clayton suspects his ancestor wanted to pay back his former enemies after a Bible taken from him by Confederate troops during the war was returned to him by mail 63 years later.
“I think he had a little sympathy for the plight of the Confederates,” said Clayton, a homebuilder who lives in Islesboro, Maine. “They returned his Bible, so he wanted to return their flag. One good turn deserves another.”
With its canons pointed out over the Ogeechee River a few miles south of Savannah, Fort McAllister was where Sherman won the final battle of his devastating march to the sea that followed the burning of Atlanta. The Union general knew that taking the fort would clear the way for him to capture Savannah. On Dec. 13, 1864, he sent about 4,000 troops to overwhelm Fort McAllister’s small contingent of 230 Confederate defenders.
Read more in the March 24 edition of the News.