Regimental Colors of the 72nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry
The picture above is of the 72nd Ohio Regimental Colors prior to its recent preservation by the Sandusky County Historical Society. On May 9th, I had the privilege of attending the unveiling of the now beautifully restored 72nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry regimental colors at the Sandusky County Historical Society in Fremont, Ohio. Sandusky County, Ohio has always been mindful of its history. And now, thanks go to the historical society and its members and the many donors who made the restoration possible!
Years ago, the historical society loaned the 72nd OVI colors to the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center for an exhibit that focused on Sandusky County in the Civil War. Using newspaper articles and diaries and letters at the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center, its unique history was uncovered. Perhaps the short article below is worth republishing to better appreciate it and the sacrifices of the men of the 72nd during the Civil War .
Preserve the Colors or Die
"Remember when the banner is unfurled, that the cords of affection in your regiment reach back to us; and that every heart in Sandusky County will thrill with the fortunes of the 72nd Ohio. If it be its fate to fall, every household in Sandusky County will shed a tear over its loss."
With those final, dramatic words, Fremont, Ohio, Mayor Homer Everett presented the regimental banner, emblazoned with a "soaring eagle" to General Ralph Buckland who was leaving with some 900 Sandusky County, Ohio soldiers for the Civil War battlefields.
Civil War soldiers had a nearly-sacred regard for the American flag and their regimental banners. Many sacrificed their lives in battle to protect their colors. When Confederate forces captured the 72nd Ohio's banner during its first battle at Shiloh, the soldiers of the 72nd were humiliated and Sandusky Countians were shocked. After apologies and explanations by General Buckland, the women of Sandusky County set to work to make a new banner for the regiment. Buckland promised it never again would be lost.
It never was.
Even during the desperate retreat from the Battle of Brice's Cross Roads, when Rebels captured two-thirds of the remaining men of the 72nd Ohio, the flag was saved. Color Bearer Archibald Purcell ripped the flag from its staff, wrapped it around his chest, and concealed it beneath his shirt as he fled from the Confederate cavalry. Later, Purcell said, "I thought if I were killed, the Rebels would never find the banner hidden beneath my shirt and it would have been buried with me."
Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard kept the original banner his troops had captured at the Battle of Shiloh. He later gave it to his chief of staff General Thomas Jordan, who bequeathed it to his daughter. Years later, Miss Jordan donated the banner to a fundraising auction in New York. Ohio Governor Asa Bushnell learned of the flag's existence and asked a friend to bid on the banner for him.
In October 1896, Governor Bushnell presented the banner to Medal of Honor winner Captain Charles McCleary and 72nd Ohio veterans, who had gathered at Clyde, Ohio, for their annual reunion. After 34 years in the South, the "soaring eagle" of the 72nd came home to Sandusky County.