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Published: Wednesday, 8/20/2003

Confederate flag to go home

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

BRITTON, Mich. - It looks similar to a Union flag: a blue square filled with white stars and stripes of red and white.

But the flag, discovered only recently in the Michigan Historical Museum after more than 50 years, is a rare banner under which sons of the Confederacy once rallied.

Thanks to research of a local woman and the dedication of a Civil War veteran's descendants, an original example of the Confederate “Stars and Bars” has been found in Michigan and soon will make its way back to Virginia.

The state of Michigan and the DeVinney family, descendants of a member of the 4th Michigan Volunteer Infantry, will present the flag Aug. 31 to officials in Fredericksburg, Va., where it was taken during the war.

“The main part of this story is that the state of Michigan and the DeVinney family members have decided to give this valuable piece of history back,” said Meri Schoof, a retired band director for Britton-Macon schools who ignited the latest search for the flag. “I'm just kind of an accident that started it.”

Ms. Schoof said she would sit at her computer desk for hours, researching names and places and dates. It's the sort of work she had become used to after taking on the challenge of tracing her family tree and gathering information about the Civil War.

Those passions merged when she tracked down a man online who she thought was a long-lost relative. John DeVinney of Tennessee did not turn out to be her relative. But she learned he was the descendant of Henry Seage, a Civil War veteran known to have possessed a flag.

The flag, which had been donated to the state of Michigan by Mr. DeVinney's father, Milton, has seven stars and three stripes. It was a Confederate flag used at the very beginning of the war before the South changed the look to prevent confusion with Union flags.

Milton DeVinney said yesterday he thought for years the flag had been lost along with the rest of his family's artifacts in a fire that destroyed the state building where they were kept.

Matt VanAcker, acting director of the State Capital Tour Guide and Information Service, said the flag is a particularly exciting find because of the significance of flags to their home states.

He said all the captured Confederate flags Michigan officials were aware of had been returned to their home states in 1941 as a sign of unity.

“The battle flags were terribly symbolic, not only to the Confederacy but to the Union troops as well. Men literally laid down their lives to defend them,” Mr. VanAcker said. “They not only represented the communities that these men were fighting to protect, but they were important on the battlefield as well.”

On Labor Day, Milton DeVinney will be among those descendants who will present the flag to the mayor of Fredericksburg. Re-enactors of both the 4th Michigan Volunteer Infantry Regiment and the 47th Virginia Infantry will serve as honor guard.

That's when the flag, a civilian flag that likely was never flown in battle, officially will be home.

“It needs to be displayed. We don't need it here in Michigan,” said Mr. DeVinney, 76. “It's going to a national park, so it's going to a battleground. There's a lot of history there. We lost lots of Americans there at that battle, and I think it's only fitting that it be there.”



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