Copperhead and the flag

The 150th anniversaries of the Battle of Gettysburg and the Gettysburg Address have passed, and their flags have been folded. But the observance of the sesquicentennial of the Civil War continues in 2014.

Horatio Seymour
Horatio Seymour

With more than a year to go before peace would arrive, 1864 dawned with more battles and more division. Gov. Horatio Seymour of New York embodied that division, but he still found ways to honor the American flag.

Seymour was a Copperhead, a northern Democrat who opposed the War Between the States before it began. But he cautiously walked a middle ground once the conflict broke out. For example, he criticized President Lincoln’s prosecution of the war but didn’t oppose it outright.

In January 1864, Seymour used the American flag to show his patriotic feelings. “The victories which have given our Government its present commanding position,” he said in an address to the New York State Legislature, “were won by men who rallied around and fought beneath the folds of a flag whose stars represent each State in our Union.”

A New York regiment's torn flag
A New York regiment’s torn flag

Continuing, he said that “if we strike out of existence a single State, we make that flag a falsehood. When we extinguish the name of any one of the original States, we dishonor the historic stripes of our national banner.”

Seymour then added, “Let the treasonable task of defacing our flag be left to those who war upon our government and who would destroy the unity of our country.”

A few months later, the governor received 55 battle-worn flags from New York regiments. “I have no eloquence which shall compare with that of these mute emblems,” he said, “whose very rags and tatters are so glorious with the memories and histories of martial achievements. I have only to add a fervent prayer that all the sacrifices that have been made beneath those folds, that the sons we have given up in the service of our country, that the blood which has been poured forth in the defense of this flag, may not have been made and shed in vain.”

20th NY Regiment McClellan Cavalry - Union Army
20th NY Regiment McClellan Cavalry
Gen. McClellan
Gen. McClellan

Ironically, as 1864 came to an end, Seymour was in charge of the presidential nominating convention of the Democratic Party. It chose Gen. George McClellan as its candidate for chief executive and endorsed a platform that called for stopping the combat and compromising with the South.


By James Breig

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