Our Captured Flag, Slough Creek

Today, 161 years ago, this flag was seized before morning’s light from well-armed slavery advocates camping beside Slough Creek in Jefferson County. J. A. Harvey and his little band of Leavenworth, Douglas and Jefferson County free-state partisans did the seizing, a nasty humiliation for the southern and area proslavers.

Southern Rights flag (460x313)
This South Carolina flag was captured by antislavery militia near Oskaloosa, Kansas Territory, Sept. 11, 1856. The flag is in the Civil War exhibit of the Kansas Museum of History, Topeka, Kansas. Photograph from http://www.kansasmemory.org/item/209880

As shown, the flag bears a single star and euphemistically advocates “Southern Rights” on one side. The other side says “South Carolina.”

The freestaters had surprised and captured a sleeping force of the bearers of that flag, pro-slavery fighters composed of South Carolinians, Alabamians, Georgians  and most likely some Missourians and Kansas Territory men from the Kickapoo Rangers. It was in the bleeding part of Bleeding Kansas, Sept. 11, 1856, and the Kansas decision of whether to block or allow slavery had not been made.

James A. Harvey, “Col. Harvey” to his men, had arrived in the territory a month earlier with a Chicago contingent of settlers , aided organizationally and financially by Thaddeus Hyatt’s National Kansas Committee.  Harvey’s Chicago men wanted to settle in Kansas and they promised to help make it a free state.

The men from South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama had come on a ticket from Major Jefferson Buford of Alabama, having arrived in April 1856 to settle in Kansas and make it a state that allowed slavery.[1]

Men from both sides were engaged in trying to drive their opponents out of Kansas Territory so they could claim the prize of slavery or freedom for Kansas.

Jesse Newell, co-founder of Oskaloosa and no friend of slavery, had tipped off James A. Harvey to the campsite of the “Southern Rights” flag-bearers. Newell, who had settled in Kansas Territory that May,  rode his horse about six miles east of his home to inform Harvey of the proslavers’ position and to guide the troops there.  The southerners were camped out along Slough Creek about two miles north of what is now Oskaloosa, in Jefferson County.

After Harvey & Co. crept up and captured the sleeping southerners, the freestate troops  snatched up  weapons,  horses, supplies, wagons (and the flag), and collected free-state settlers’ belongings that had been taken by the proslavers.  Harvey, who was commanding the 1st Regiment of free-state troops,  ordered the defeated southerners to leave Kansas Territory and to

“take long steps and short cuts for the Missouri River, for we shall be on your trail in a very few hours.”[2]

Harvey’s company dragged the big red flag in the dirt to the free-state headquarters of Lawrence. Shortly afterward, the flag went on the road to rally support for making Kansas a free state and was given to the Kansas State Historical Society in 1879. The flag’s capture,  a great triumph in war,  was especially gratifying to the people of Lawrence  because the southerners and Kansas Territory slavery advocates  had flown the flag up over the town in May before destroying the town’s main hotel and two printing presses.[3]

Losing your flag to the enemy (especially if you were asleep when ambushed) is an enormous embarrassment, but that doesn’t mean the flag can’t be cherished, or hawked, as a symbol  of some sort of belief or other, right?  Our country has done a lot of pondering lately  over flags and statues and symbols, so it only makes sense that someone would sell copies of the South Carolina Southern Rights flag, even though it was a “loser” flag.

On the few sites selling the flag, the ad copy goes something like this:   (The southerners ) …took this flag into battle when they participated in an attack on the pro-Northern town of Lawrence on May 21, 1856. Their flag briefly flew over both the Herald of Freedom newspaper office and the Free State Hotel, before both buildings were destroyed by the pro-Southern forces.          End of story and a heck of an omission .

To help consumers know what they’re buying, I offer the rest of the flag’s story: The “Southern Rights” flag was captured, dragged in the dust, used to raise antislavery money and, finally, sits in a glassed-in display case in Kansas, the state the southern boys failed to turn into a slave state.

[1] Future posts will look at these participants, the little “Battle of Slough Creek,” and the events roiling through Jefferson County, Kansas Territory, in September 1856 in future posts.  But do read the blog Freedmen’s Patrol, which has done a masterful job of telling the story of Major Buford and his band of southerners  https://freedmenspatrol.wordpress.com/2016/08/05/the-buford-expedition-part-one-forty-slaves-fifty-dollars-and-some-crazy-enough/ .


[2] Quotation from the American Nonconformist newspaper, January 24, 1889, in a reminiscence by one of Harvey’s men on the campaign, H. N. Dunlap of Sedan, Kansas. From Kansas Territory scrapbooks held by the Kansas State Historical Society.

[3] The Sack of Lawrence, May 21, 1856.

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