Was there a controversy over who should have kept the white truce flag? I was reading a speech given by Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain in which he claims he received the Confederate surrender flag, and that Lt. Col. Whitaker of Custer's staff stated that Custer should have given it to Chamberlain. www.joshua.lurker00.com/jlcspeeches.htm To read Captain Robert Sims account click "Tea towel used as a Confederate flag of truce" www.nps.gov/apco/forteachers/many-a-weary-banner-the-flags-of-appomattox.htm Sims claims Whitaker asked for the towel to preserve it, but was refused by Sims. Later Whitaker rode off with it after the Chamberlain meeting and gave it to Custer.
The truce flag was one of a number sent out. The one in question came into Custer's lines. As far as I know, Whitaker remained friendly with Custer and was offered a captaincy in the 7th Cavalry after the War. He came to Custer's defense years later when Longstreet told his version of dressing Custer down. I don't know why Whitaker would, in effect, diminish the accomplishments of his own division. Chamberlain seems to be saying thet the flag was headed to him and Whitaker went out and intecepted it. I don't think that was so. I wasn't able to access Sims' account. Does he mention Chamberlain or being waylaid by Whitaker?
There is a dispute over which regiment of Custer's division received the flag, but I don't think there is any doubt that this particular flag came into Custer's lines.
Chamberlain was an excellent officer, but he could inflate his position with the best of them.
He was not in charge of the surrender ceremonies. His division commander claimed that honor. Chamberlain commanded the parade. At a parade the commander of troops is not necessarily the commander of the unit being paraded.
rch, Thanks for the reply. I agree with you that Custer was the first approached with the truce flag. Sims account is in a PDF file which I can't copy, but will try and give you his basic statements. Sims states that he first came upon dismounted Federal Cavalry posted in a wood. He was met by Lt. Col. Whitaker who directed him to Custer. Custer asked Sims what he wanted . Sims stated he had been sent by Gen. Gordon to ask for a suspension of hostilities. Custer refused stating "We will listen to no terms but that of unconditional surrender." Sims is sent back with Whitaker to inform Gordon. At this point Whitaker asked to keep the surrender flag,which Sims refused as he did not want the enemy to preserve it "as a monument to our defeat." Gordon sends Sims elsewhere and sends Whitaker with a Major Brown to see Longstreet. It was Brown who met Chamberlain. From what I gather Chamberlain(at the time) may not have even been been aware of the earlier Custer incident. Chamberlain felt that he was closer to the enemy than any other unit and that his meeting with Maj. Brown led to the official truce,while Custer's meeting did not. Maj. Brown lost the flag at this point when Whitaker asked to use it and melted into the crowd of Federals. Thanks, Larry
Post by custersluck13 on Jun 5, 2010 23:51:12 GMT -5
Something here was stated about the "dressing down" given to Custer by Longstreet. I am aware of what Longstreet wrote in his memoir, as I own it. I wasn't aware his account is disputed! RCH, if you would be so kind, could you fill me in on this and where I can find this account? That's excellent information! Thanks! Leigh
This is what I have. It was then a flag of truce was raised. by agreement between Generals Gordon and Sheridan. It was then a Federal Cavalry officer was observed coming down the road towards our forces, in his hands he carried a white handkerchief which he constantly waved up and down. He Inquired for General Lee and was directed to General Longstreet upon the hill. Upon approaching the General he dismounted and said, "General Longstreet, in the name of General Sheridan and myself I demand the surrender of this army, I am General Custer." General Longstreet replied: "I am not in command of this army - General Lee is, he has gone back to meet General Grant in regard to surrender." "Well", said General Custer, "no matter about Lee, we demand the surrender be made to us. If you do not do so, we will renew hostilities and any blood shed you will be responsible", "Well", said General Longstreet, "if that is done I will do my part in meeting you." Then turning to his staff he said - "Order General Johnson to move his division to the front, to the right of Gordon. Col Latrob, order General Pickett forward to Gordons left, do it at once." Custer was surprised, not knowing so many troops were at hand with General Longstreet and his ardor cooled off and he said "General Longstreet, probably we had better hear from Lee and Grant, don't move your troops, I will confer with General Sheridan." He mounted his steed and withdrew and when out of hearing Longstreet said quietly that young man never played the game of bluff, for the troops ordered to take their places to the right and left of General Gordons troops, were only make believe soldiers. Memoirs of David Washington Pipes 1845-1939
The following account is from a member of Custers own command (1st West Virginia Cavalry) Theodore F Lang. ----" But see! A white flag is up. The mounted officer who bears it is coming from the direction of the court house, towards Custer's column. He reaches it at the head of the West Virginia Brigade. Colonel Capehart and the officer proceed along the column to Custer. He said to Custer: "I have the honor to bear compliments of General Longstreet to the officer in command, and to say that General Lee and Grant are in correspondence touching the surrender of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, and to request a cessation of hostilities until the result is made known." If that is so, it seems a breach of good faith that they have been trying to fight their way out in the meantime. Custer, his face beaming with animation, gripping the rim of his hat with his right hand and giving it a few spasmotic jerks, as is his habit, replies: "Tell General Longstreet that I am not in command of all the forces here, but that I am on his flank and rear with a large cavalry force, and that I will accept nothing but unconditional surrender." But, turning to Colonel E.W. Whitaker, his chief of staff, he says to him: "Go over with this officer and bear my message to General Longstreet." Becoming impatient, Custer turns over the command to Capehart (who commands the division to the end, Custer's authority having been enlarged, leads in the finale, grand review at Washington) and says to him: "I am going over to see what is going on," following his chief of staff, having communicated what had occurred to Sheridan. On taking command, Capehart throws out a skirmish line to the outer edge of the timber between him and the enemy, which becomes immediately engaged in a brisk fusillade. The advance brigade is promptly ordered to their support; and a charge is on the point of being made. The fire reaching Sheridan's ears, he is saying to some Rebel officers, considerably to the left rear of Capehart's column: "Oh, that's some of Merritt's" (Merritt commanding the cavalry nominally) "cavalry making a charge" as if he would rather fight than not; and a man or two killed of no moment anyway. But the rattle-headed Confederate colonel in front of Capehart, swearing and talking of death in the "last ditch" in preference to surrender, is finally squelched by peaceful means, with the assistance of the same officer who had appeared with the flag truce, and all is again tranquil.
Custer is having words somewhat warm with Longstreet, and more or less suspecting that there may be a scheme on foot to gain time and make another attempt to break the meshes in which Lee is enveloped, and demands from Longstreet immediate surrender or direful consequences; Longstreet parleying and fencing, unwilling to surrender to Sheridan, much less to Custer, or giving the cavalry the credit of bringing it about, only desirous of having it effected by Lee and Grant themselves." ----
Post by custersluck13 on Jun 6, 2010 13:47:52 GMT -5
Thank you very much! Fascinating read! Longstreets version in his memoirs is quite a bit different. Infact, hardly resembling each other in articulation! As always, no two people ever relate anything the same way. Hence the reason the ost suspect evidence in a criminal investigation is witness testimony! But that account of the Washington Artillery is priceless and I certainly cannot thank you enough. Btw. In Longstreets version Custer comes off as a irrational and impatient boy soldier calmed only by the mature wisdom of Longstreet! Of course, as Longstreet wrote it, I doubt he was not fond of the memories of that particular day reguardless. Leigh
First, I owe an apology to the members of the board for not following up on my last posting.
I could not find the Whitaker letter to Mrs Custer and let the matter get away from me for a solid year.
Your 5 Jun posting woke me up. I have looked through everything I have which I thought was likely to contain Whitaker's letter. I found nothing.
Jay Monaghan, in his 1959 biography "Custer" based his account on Whitaker's 6 Feb 1899 letter to Mrs Custer and articles in the Washington Post on 29 Jan and 12 Feb 1899. He also wrote that Mrs Custer had contacted Michael Sheridan about the Longstreet story. Both men disputed the story.
However from the Union sources quoted in other threads above and other sources, Custer did go into the Confederate lines. In fact, Sheridan in his memoirs wrote that he thought Custer must have gone into their lines. It's not likely then that Whitaker and Michael Sheridan could be sure what Custer, Longsteet, and Gordon had said to each other.
Whitaker's letter was also refered to by Urwin in "Custer Victorious," who footnoted the letter as being in the Custer Collection of the Monroe County Historical Society. Wert in his "Custer" also reviewed letters Whitaker wrote to Joshua Chamberlain. Copies of Whitaker's letters are in the Babcock Library , Ashford, Conn.
I think what happen may have been:
1. Sims came into the Union lines.
2. He delivered the request for a cease fire to Custer.
3. Custer sent a message to Sheridan and sent Whitaker to Longstreet with the surrender demand.
4. Sims took Whitaker to Gordon.
5. Sims was seperated from Whitaker and Whitaker was taken to Longstreet.
6. Whitaker was told that Lee was going to meet Grant and Lee intended to surrender.
7. Whitaker returned through Union infantry lines and learned that Custer had gone into the Confederate lines.
8. Custer, not having heard from Whitaker, rode into Confederate lines himself.
9. Without meeting Whitaker coming back, Custer was taken to Gordon and then on to Longstreet where he demanded the surrender and where he too was told that Lee was going to meet Grant.
10. Custer returned to his lines.
11. Sheridan, not having heard anything more from Custer, rode into the Confederate lines without meeting Custer coming back.
12. Sheridan met Gordon and was told that Lee was asking for a suspension of hostilities pending negotiations.
13. Sheidan told the Confederate general that he was aware that Lee and Grant were in contact, but the Confederates had attacked his position earlier that morning. Sheridan demanded that the Confederates surrender to Grant.
14. General Ord, of the Army of the James, joined Sheridan and Gordon, Gordon left the group, and later Longstreet rode up and gave Sheidan a copy of a message Lee had sent through Meade's lines earlier and explained that Lee was going to surrender.
Not Whitaker, Custer, nor Sheridan was aware that Lee had decided to surrender or that a meeting between Grant and Lee was in the works.
According to Freeman's "Lee's Lieutenant's" Gordon recounted that Custer said that he made the surrender demand at Sheridan's direction. This may explain why Sheridan expected Custer to be within the Confederate lines.