Dakota Datebook: Custer’s Battle Flag

Dakota Datebook: Custer’s Battle Flag
March 31, 2008


In June of 2007, General George Armstrong Custer’s personal battle flag was auctioned for nearly $900,000. The silk flag was handmade by his wife Elizabeth or ‘Libbie’ Custer in the final year of the Civil War. Measuring 68 inches by 36 inches, the swallow-tailed cavalry flag was easily recognizable by the crossed sabers centered over red and blue bars. Her initials were embroidered on one of the swallowtail points. Libby later recalled in her Civil War memoirs that the purpose of the “simple design [was so] that the leader might be seen and followed in the smoke and grime of the furious charge of the cavalry.”

The flag was presented to General Custer on the battlefield near Petersburg, VA on this day, March 31, 1865. Lieutenant Peter Boehm, who hand-delivered the flag, recalled the incident in a letter sent to Mrs. Custer 45 years later. Boehm wrote, “…You ask me if I remember taking the flag you made to the General from Washington to Virginia. I shall never forget it, as your flag was the incentive which gave me the strength to carry out the mission …”

General Custer had no sooner replaced the old flag with the new one than he received orders to push forward.

Boehm continued, “The general rode ahead of the command with a few men, including myself, and we reached Dinwiddie Court House about four o’clock in the afternoon. We found our lines being driven back, and the men in considerable confusion. I took your guidon from the color bearer, and together with the General…rode along the line and finally succeeded in rallying the men, in reforming the lines and checking Pickett’s advance, which enabled the General to place his Division into position that evening. It was during this engagement that your name must have been shot out of the guidon, as we were under extreme fire.”

Custer’s charge over the breastworks of Confederate General George Pickett won the battle, contributing to General Lee’s surrender a few days later.

Custer kept the flag with him through each new assignment, from the surrender at Appomattox Court House to the prairie of Dakota Territory. Yet the silk symbol of the valor and patriotism he shared with his beloved wife would remain secure displayed in his study at Fort Abraham Lincoln on that fateful spring day in 1876 when Custer and his men made their final journey.

Written by Christina Sunwall

Heritage Auction Galleries- http://historical.ha.com/common/view_item.php?Sale_No=663&Lot_No=72068
Reynolds, Arlene, ed. The Civil War Memories of Elizabeth Bacon Custer: Reconstructed from her diaries and notes by Arlene Reynolds (Austin: University of Texas Press; 1994)


Source: Dakota Datebook, Prairie Public. http://www.prairiepublic.org/radio/

Subject Matter

Social Studies