AUTHOR: Joseph R. Suggs
[Written for The State, vol. 36, May 1, 1969 by Joseph R. Suggs]
The battle flag of the Randolph Hornets—Company M, 22nd North Carolina Militia, CSA—has come home again to Randolph County from whence it departed over one hundred years ago. In 1968, the faded old battle flag was presented to the Randolph Historical Society by Dr. and Mrs. Marion B. Roberts of Hillsborough, NC and placed on permanent display in Asheboro. The flag is believed to have been made locally by the families of the men in the company that bore it. Originally, the colors were most likely red, white, and blue. Many delicate stitches, the evidence of nimble handiwork, are plainly visible. The thirteen gold stars designating the original Confederate States are mounted on a background of blue. On one side, outlined in India ink, are the words “Randolph Hornets.” The reverse side bears the appliqued motto “Onward to Victory.”
It is known locally that the flag left Randolph County when the company was mustered into service in 1861. This company of Confederate soldiers was composed of men who lived principally in the Eastern section of Randolph County, mainly in the Liberty and Staley communities. The Randolph Hornets were in the 22nd regiment, and the company was commanded by Captain John M. Odel, Captain Laban Odell, Captain W.B. Kivett, and Captain Columbus F. Siler over the duration of the war. A copy of the complete company roster is available from the Society. The company fought in every battle except First Bull Run and sustained its greatest losses at Chancellorsville, Virginia. After Jackson’s death, Lee reorganized his army into three corps. At Gettysburg the Randolph Hornets were a part of Iverson’s brigade, Rhodes Division, and Ewell’s Corps. These men were ordered to make a large sweep and assault the Union line behind a stone wall. Heavy losses were again suffered.
A few Hornets were present at the final surrender at Appomattox, VA, but no one knows at what time in the company’s eventful career the flag passed from its possession. When next we hear of it nearly a century later, it was located in Connecticut. It is believed that the flag was captured but the story of its owners and travels after being taken from Randall Hornets is a mystery. [the editor added a note: See Barbara Newsom Grigg’s “The Randolph Hornet’s Battle Flag: A Question Finally Answered” for information on the capture of the flag.]
Doctor and Mrs. Roberts learned of the flag in 1961, and after a long and determined effort, were able to gain possession of it so that it could be returned to North Carolina. The minutes of the Randolph County Historical Society meeting at which the flag was dedicated records this condensed account of Doctor Robert’s statement: “While visiting with some Civil War buffs in Doyleston, Pennsylvania, I heard a member the group from New Jersey mention that someone in Connecticut had a flag made for the Randolph Hornets, but he had no idea who it might be. I was determined to get this flag, therefore I got in touch with a friend in Nashville, Tennessee. He knew a buff in Pennsylvania who knew a gentleman in New Jersey who knew where the flag was. I still do not know who had the flag nor how it got to Connecticut. I have an idea was captured.”
Although there were other Randolph Counties in the Confederacy, North Carolina’s Randolph was the only one with the “Hornet” company. Doctor Roberts says “he argued with [himself] for over a year—whether to keep the flag or return it to Randolph county.” He decided to donate it to the Randolph County Historical Society with a provision that its care be perpetuated and that it be displayed in a suitable case. “I am sure we made the right decision,” he said. Following the appropriate ceremonies, the flag was placed on permanent display in the Randolph Room of the Asheboro Public Library along with the Society’s other historic mementos. A special display case, manufactured by the Oro Manufacturing Company of Monroe, North Carolina, revolves so that both sides of the flag may be conveniently examined. Our Society, the oldest historical society on record in this state, invites all persons interested in local history to see this unique historical acquisition whenever they are in Asheboro.
Barbara Newsom Grigg’s “The Randolph Hornet’s Battle Flag: A Question Finally Answered”
The mystery of when and where the battle flag of a company of Confederate soldiers who called themselves the Randolph Hornets was lost has finally been answered. I, Barbara Newsom Grigg, found an old newspaper article in the Weekly Times, printed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania [and] dated December 20, 1879, which tells the story of the loss of the Randolph Hornets battle flag. The article is very long, telling much about the blockading of the Potomac river but the part about the flag is copied [here] in its entirety:
Annals of the War
Chapters of Unwritten History Blockading the Potomac
A Project in which the Confederates were not Wholly Successful
Talking Across the River
The Story of a Union Soldier Stationed on the Northern Bank
By Oliver C. Cooper of the First Massachusetts Infantry, Hooker’s Division
About the 1st November 1861, Hooker’s brigade compromising the First and Eleventh Massachusetts, the Second New Hampshire, and the 29th Pennsylvania was ordered down the Potomac to help look after the rebel force which had ‘gathered at the river’ and established formidable batteries with the view of cutting off Federal water communication with Washington…
On Tuesday March 09, 1862, the unusual movements about the rebel batteries attracted the attention of our people. During the forenoon, one of the gunboats—the Anacosta, I think—cautiously approached the upper battery, dropping shells into the works as she moved down. Getting within close range and finding no signs of occupation, a detachment of men landed from the gunboats, scrambled up the steep embankment, and soon the multitudes of our soldiers who, from the opposite river banks had been anxious anxiously watching these proceedings, saw the stars and stripes wave out to the breeze above the hostile guns, and then such a cheer went up as had never before rolled over the waters of the Potomac. At the same time a loud explosion occurred at the Shipping Point battery clouds of smoke and earth ascending high in the air. It was now evident that the enemy was evacuating and that the blockade of the Potomac was at an end. All was excitement on our side. Three barges loaded with men from the Massachusetts 1st started for the Virginia shore and landed at the Shipping Point battery simultaneously with portions of the crews of the gunboats which had steamed down to the scene throwing their shells as they proceeded, and soon the starry flag of the Union also floated here.
Occupying the Enemy’s Camp
Our troops penetrated to the rebel camps and saw abundant indication of very hasty departure. Plenty of fresh beef was found in the quarter, and but recently killed. On a desk in the store was found the letter, partly finished, directed to parties in Richmond. It seemed as if the late occupants had been seized with a sudden panic and had precipitately fled, glad even to get away with life. In the deserted camps were found abundance of cooking utensils with other indications that the ‘Johnnies’ had not by any means been in a starving condition. On the following day five hundred men crossed the river and, while some of them cautiously excavated the exploded magazines in quest of shot and shell, other companies went on a reconnaissance. The camps were again visited and many relics obtained, almost every man going away loaded. Among the captures was a fine litter of bloodhound pups, which were presented by the captain to Colonel Austin of Hooker’s staff. Many regimental papers, reports, etc., as well as private letters, addressed to officers and soldiers were picked up in the camps. The writer of this has a letter addressed to ‘Lieutenant W.T. Irvine, Brooks Station, VA’ from his wife, on the back of which is a memorandum of officers and men doubtless selected for guard or other detail. Two handsome banners were obtained in one of the camps—one of silk having belong to an Arkansas company and the other, of satin, bearing on one side the inscription ‘The Randolph Hornets’ and on the other, ‘Onward to Victory.’ A building was found containing fifteen or twenty ready-made pine coffins and the numerous graveyards filled with fresh graves, which were met with, showed that sickness and death had been busy in the Confederate camps during the winter.