November 16, 2011

The 77th/79th PA Flag Flap: 'A Fight Among Ourselves First'

Location: Camp Nevin, Hardin County, Kentucky
First Colors of the 77th Pennsylvania, over which Cols. Hambright and Stumbaugh contested.
(Capitol Preservation Committee)

In early November, Lancaster's newspapers and almost all the soldiers mention a brief controversy involving Col. Hambright and Col. Stumbaugh of the 77th Pennsylvania.  Basically, when Gov. Curtin presented flags to Gen. Negley's brigade in Pittsburgh, he got mixed up in what he said and did in giving numbered flags to Col. Hambright's and Col. Stumbaugh's regiments.  Both subsequently claimed to be the 77th Pennsylvania, which entitled them (at least that appears to have been their impression) to be the brigade's ranking colonel. 

In the end, Gen. Negley stepped in to placate Col. Hambright, and the controversy ended up not mattering anyway due to Gen. Buell's late November reorganization of the Army of the Ohio in which he split up units from different states to make it more difficult for governors to meddle with his army.  It still shows some of the intricacies of mobilizing volunteers in the North, how Col. Hambright made an impression on his men, and personality politics of the generals and colonels in the Army of the Ohio.  Listed below are what some soldiers of the 79th Pennsylvania recorded about the incident.

From a letter by Capt. William G. Kendrick of Company A to his wife on November 2, 1861: (WGK)
What does the people think of our being sent to Kentucky?  I suppose they think we will have a fight soon.  It looks as though we should have a fight among ourselves first.  A contemptible second rate lawyer who has little over half a Regiment (Stombach) claims our colours, which is marked 77th Regiment.  His flag is marked 79th Regiment.  His soldiers are a mere militia Rabble and he is not fit to have charge of so many big dogs, but by some Political hocus pokus has got Governor Curtin to send an order for Col. Hambright to give up our Flag.  The Col. says he will die by it First and so the regiment says also, which makes things look blue. 

From the diaries of Sgt. William T. Clark of Company B on November 4, 1861: (WTC)
This morning we drilled the Skirmish Drill for the first time & done very well. In afternoon we were drilled by Battallion by Col. Hambright & formed a hollow square. Every since this Brigade was formed there has been a disagreement between Gen. Negley & Col. Hambright in regard to his place in the Brigade. Col. Hambright thinks that he having his Commission first is entitled to the first place in the Brigade. Gen. Negley however thinks differently & says that Col. Stambaugh has the first place and he has not more then half a Regiment yet. Gen. Negley is trying to starve us into the last place.

From the diaries of Capt. John H. Druckenmiller of Company B on November 6, 1861, with a transcriptionist's note: (JHD)
Wednesday, [Nov.] 6th: Captain Miles sick today. Rec’d copy of the Examiner & the Express. Regimental Drill, but 7 companies in line, rest on picket guard. Meeting of officers of the Regiment in regard to flag & number of Regiment. Read a communication from General Negley saying he wished to present the Regiment with a stand of Colors. Meeting agreed to accept the Colors and call the Regiment (Hambright’s Lancaster County Reg’t*). *[Transcriptionist’s Note: Section in parenthesis is crossed through in the diary. Parenthesis put in by transcriptionist.]

Rumors of the controversy also apparently drifted to Lancaster and piqued the curiosity of some of the friends of the regiment, including the father of Corp. Henry Witmer Miller of Lampeter.  On November 15, Witmer wrote to his father from Camp Nevin about the incident: (HWM)
You asked me in your letter in regard to a difficulty between Col. [Frederick S.] Stambaughs and [Col. Henry A.] Hambright's Reg. in regard to the Flags[.] there was some trouble for a while. I learn upon inquiry the following: that the Governor [Andrew Curtin] in presenting made the first error in giving the Flag marked 77th to our Col. the mistake was not discovered until we arrived at our present Camping Ground, when Staumbaugh demanded the 77 flag and insisted that Hambright should take the 79th flag[.] Hambright made this reply which was rather in the Spartan Style[:] come and take it but at your hazard.

One soldier even wrote anonymously to the Daily Evening Express on November 9, 1861, in a letter that was published on November 20, 1861: (alternate link)

A soldier in the 77th Pennsylvania read this in one of the Lancaster newspapers, and decided to respond with his own letter and Col. Stumbaugh's side of the story on November 28, 1861, that was published on January 1, 1862: (alternate link)

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