He Kept the Colors: The True Story of the General the Old Man and the Flag
Back in the beginning days of America's Civil War, the women of the small town of Marlette, Michigan, in the very heart of the Thumb wanted to show their support of President Lincoln and the Union forces in some small way. They collectively designed and sewed a huge Union flag of 34 stars, four rows of eight with an extra star at the end in between each two rows. This precious flag was then given to a gentleman they knew who lived just to the south who was leaving for the war.
Color Sergeant Thomas Henry Sheppard's story, along with that of the Battle Flag of Company E, First Michigan Cavalry, is one of the most incredible true stories to ever come out of the Civil War. The Detroit Free Press back in the 1880's called it "an episode of the Civil War which has a strong coloring of Romance", as the Press told of how the colors of the First Michigan Cavalry were protected as the red, white and blue bunting became more and more tattered and sun-faded and bullet-ridden, and still the flag "assumed a dignity and interest even beyond that which the colors have of their own right to every loyal man".
Thomas' account intersects with the lives of two of the War's most famous Generals and is written by a close relative of the third. The Color Sergeant took the colors and with his regiment carried them to the front lines where they saw hot service, and from which many did not return. In his words, the 1st Michigan "fought through the Shenandoah, on Banks' advance and retreat, in the campaigns of Pope and Burnside, and did yeoman service at the Battle of Gettysburg. They were under fire twice at Winchester, at Middletown, Strasburg, Harrisonburg, Occoquan and Thoroughfare Gap."
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