The Mandeville Flag: A Search For the Story Of A Fallen Union Soldier
By Rachel Johnston and Connor Monson
“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us, that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion”
-Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address. November 19th, 1863.
The Mandeville Flag. This 34-Star Flag is believed to be a recruiting flag that was used by Clinton J. Mandeville and given to his family after his passing in the Civil War. CCHM Digital Archives.
Artifacts can convey the stories of the past without words, that is the unique power of a historical object. While documents like letters or paper records have a figurative power to help people understand the world of the past, objects experienced their historical moment firsthand. Few objects in the CCHM have the power to inspire awe the way that the Mandeville flag does. In part due to its sheer size, as one of the largest objects in our collection, but also due to the family history connected to it. Regardless of its original purpose, the flag had come to symbolize the death of a Union soldier in 1863, and carried the weight of that loss. Over 160 years on, with Illinois having never been the site of a Civil War battle it would be easy to think that Champaign County escaped the war unscathed. However that assumption belies the staggering human cost of the conflict. The story of the Mandeville flag is a collision of public memory of the Civil War, family loss, and a search for a personal connection to the past despite the absence of clear answers.
In 1994 an artifact was donated to the Champaign County History Museum by board member Louis M. Green, a descendant of the original owners. Very little was known about the object and over the years it developed a somewhat unique reputation. Family tradition stated that the artifact was used to cover the casket of a Union soldier who had died during the Civil War. Conservation work on the object had been carried out by professional textile experts, photographs taken, and some preliminary research done. However, it was only in the spring of 2023 that research on what is known locally as “The Mandeville Flag” began in earnest. Using Mandeville family letters, records from the National Archives, and expertise from flag historians around the United States, discoveries were made that shed new light on Champaign Counties’ role in the Civil War and how the nation dealt with the massive scale of human loss. While questions still remain, for the first time in over a century and a half, the story of this historic artifact has started to take shape.
Clinton Johnson Mandeville was a corporal in the Union Army during the American Civil War. He served in the 2nd Illinois Cavalry, I company. Clinton J. enlisted on August 6th, 1861 in Champaign, IL under Cpt. Vieregg for a period of three years. He mustered in Camp Butler six days after his initial enlistment with the rest of the 2nd Illinois Cavalry (1). Clinton J’s enlistment papers state that he had brown hair, and a fair complexion (2). At the time the unit was first being pulled together Behrens notes that the 2nd Illinois “aspired futilely to uniforms consisting of a blue Turkish fez with red feather, light blue coat, gray pantaloons, and boots with silver spurs” (3). Though he adds that this model of uniform was abandoned in the face of supply shortages. Stephen Z. Starr writes in his book on Illinois Cavalry “...more typical was the 2nd Illinois, which had a total of only four weeks of drill, two on foot and two on horseback, before commencing active service near Paducah” (4).
Clinton J. Mandeville is included in a group of soldiers who signed a letter of support for their captain in the face of unrest within their unit over the aforementioned supply shortages (5). According to the same article, before its official designation as company I the unit was known as the “Champaign Cavalry” due to the overwhelming number of Champaign County residents within its ranks. Company I Cavalry trooper John D. Brown wrote, perhaps hyperbolically, in the Central Illinois Gazette on January 8th, 1862 that “I do not think there is a regiment in the United States Service which has labored under so many disadvantages as the Second Illinois Cavalry. Thrown among our enemy with only a few old carbines to defend ourselves with” (6).
According to the 1860 U.S. Federal Census records, Clinton J. was employed as a clerk. in St. Joseph, IL prior to his service (2). The family was of German descent and known for strong abolitionist sentiments (7). According to census records the family moved to Champaign County from New York (2). In her memoirs, Myrtle Mandeville wrote that Clinton J.’s father Elijah’s “anti-slavery convictions cost him excommunication from his beloved Presbyterian Church in the early ‘50’s, and so when he came west to Champaign, IL a few years later, he (and his family) joined the congregational church” (8). In point of fact his views were even more outspoken than his granddaughter’s later account suggests, Elijah took out a full page editorial on July 22nd, 1845 in a local newspaper called the Ovid Bee to describe his grievances with the Presbyterian Church over the issue of slavery, it was a strong public condemnation. Elijah wrote, “I believe it is a mark of a corrupt church, to establish laws and usages which subvert the ‘holy equality of souls before god, and enthrone a priestly cast’” (9). The family were abolitionists in both social and religious sentiment. Historian Jerry Korn writes “Federal troopers from the frontier towns and farms of the West were natural horsemen, accustomed since boyhood to the saddle” (10)
Misidentified? This Photograph was purported to be of John D. Mandeville but new evidence suggests that it could be his brother Clinton. The original owner of the Mandeville Flag. See Postscript for additional information.
At the beginning of the war Illinois, like many other states, was unprepared. However, this lack of preparedness did not stop the fervor of volunteers running to enlist in the early days of the war. By the end of the war, Illinois had 259,092 volunteers in total (3, 11). By the end of the war, Champaign County had mustered 2,276 soldiers to ultimately serve (3). The soldiers of Champaign County were exposed to the same perilous conditions that all soldiers in the Civil War had to endure. These men filled various infantry and cavalry units that would endure the battles at Chickamauga (3), Vicksburg, and Bolivar (1) among others.
The 2nd, like many Cavalry units, was mostly assigned to guarding supply lines and scouting. Escort and guard duty could be a grueling task for cavalry units. Robert H. Behrens writes in his book “From Salt Fork to Chickamauga” that: “The 2nd Illinois…saw years of hard fighting, mostly in skirmishes. These were savage little encounters, often involving only a few hundred men, where no quarter was given and none asked” (P 233). Those skirmishes, as Behrens mentions, made up the bulk of the fighting the 2nd Illinois Cavalry saw excluding their role in larger campaigns such as the siege of Vicksburg. Some of which have been later described as “guerilla warfare” (1). While Clinton spent the majority of his time in the Union army as a corporal, pension records show he was promoted to the rank of Sergeant.
Clinton’s most important role in the war would come in his final campaign. General Grant, in a push to break the economic backbone of the Confederacy launched a rapid assault on the heartland of Mississippi. Starting in April of 1863, Grant amassed a series of victories against the Confederate forces under the command of General Pemberton at battles such as Raymond, Port Gibson, and most importantly Champion Hill. His forces also burned parts of the Mississippi Capitol of Jackson. Badly beaten, Pemberton’s army retreated into the soon to be besieged city of Vicksburg (12).
Map of the Vicksburg Campaign of 1863. Reprinted with the permission of the American Battlefield Trust. The original source can be found here: https://www.battlefields.org/learn/maps/vicksburg-campaign-1863
According to Behrens, most of the 2nd Illinois was assigned the task of guarding the rear of Grant’s siege lines at the Big Black River to the east of Vicksburg along with other cavalry units. (3). With a battered but still dangerous Confederate army nearby they were essential in the sense that they kept the siege from being prolonged by outside interference. Hickens notes “at times (during the siege) dysentery made its appearance in various regiments” (13). The Union army continued to besiege the city of Vicksburg until July 4th 1863 when the Confederate garrison of the city surrendered, the victory was followed only five days later by the fall of Port Hudson. The latter city was the last Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River. The twin victories played a crucial role in the eventual Union victory in the Civil War by opening the Mississippi to transit by union naval and merchant ships for the first time since the beginning of the conflict. According to the National Park Service, Lincoln is noted to have said following the victory “The Father of Waters again goes unvexed to the sea” (14). Clinton and his unit had played an important role in reopening of that great waterway. Historian James McPherson goes so far as to write “The capture of Vicksburg was the most important northern strategic victory of the war” (12).
There was still a great deal of work left for cavalry units in Ulysses S. Grant’s army following the surrender of the city. In his memoirs Grant notes that “The troops that were left with me around Vicksburg were very busily and unpleasantly employed in making expeditions against guerilla bands and small detachments of (Confederate) cavalry which infested the interior” (15). Grant also explained that he had sent units south to join General Banks in preparation for a move against Confederate positions west of the Mississippi (15), which was the primary reason for the 2nd Illinois ending up in Carrollton in August of 1863. Carrollton is a suburb of New Orleans, and was under Union occupation following the capture of the city in May of 1862. Clinton’s brother Sam noted in his September 21st, 1863 letter that Clinton had taken part in the siege of the Confederate stronghold, writing “The last letter he wrote me, he had just gotten through the siege of Vixburgh safely. He had been down to Jackson, La. on a long and weary march, and then returned to Vixburgh. We thought he was taken out of danger, that the fighting was about over and felt as if he would live to get home” (16).
Clinton J. died in Carrollton, Louisiana on the 28th of August 1863 of dysentery in a regimental hospital (17). His death tragically came slightly less than two months after the surrender of Vicksburg and Port Hudson. Due to the lack of sanitation and knowledge of modern medicine, disease and infections were prevalent in the everyday lives of soldiers. Diseases and other medical conditions such as Malaria, Dysentery, and Typhoid Fever were all rampant in Civil War camps and hospitals (18). 34,834 Illinois servicemen died during the Civil War with 21,065 dying of disease (3, 13). These astonishing numbers document the inhospitable conditions that soldiers lived in while preparing for battles. Champaign County did not escape the Civil War as many were irrevocably affected by the conflict.
In the beginning of the war, the care for wounded and sick soldiers was dangerously unorganized. It wasn’t until 1862 when Jonathan Letterman and Alexander Hammond (the Surgeon General for the Union) organized the creation of hospitals and transportation methods from battles to those hospitals (19, 20). However, the newly created hospitals and transportation methods did not assist with the unsanitary environments and spread of disease. Many of the hospitals where the wounded and sick were taken to were temporary field hospitals or local homes never intended to be used for the treatment of soldiers. Burial practices were also unorganized as many soldiers on both sides would be buried in mass, unmarked graves.
As the war raged on, families wanted to see their loved ones returned home. Various burial techniques and practices were used to ensure that a soldier made their way home before the effects of death showed. Although embalming practices existed prior to the war, the rising death toll led to an increase in embalming for preservation of bodies and family grieving. In This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War, Drew Gilpin-Faust writes, “Americans did not want to endure the unprecedented separation from deceased kin that the war had introduced. Families sought to see their loved ones in as lifelike a state as possible” (21). However, the growing need for embalming resulted in a lucrative business that took advantage of grieving families and soldiers entering battle knowing they may not return (20, 21).
The Civil War produced massive losses of Americans on both sides. Some of those Americans would never be identified and families would never be notified of how or where their loved ones had perished. Efforts such as Clara Barton’s Missing Soldier’s Office helped in locating some of the missing and bringing closure to the families, but there were still many who were never found (22). Throughout the war, there was no standard of notifying families of the death of a soldier. As a result, that notification could come in the form of a letter from a commanding officer or peers, or in a mass announcement via newspaper (23). In This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War, Drew Gilpen-Faust wrote:
it became customary for the slain soldier’s closest companions at the time of his death to write a letter to his next of kin, not just offering sympathy and discussing the disposition of clothes and back pay but providing the kind of information a relative would have looked for in a conventional peacetime deathbed scene…Some soldiers tried to establish formal arrangements to ensure the transmission of such information, to make sure that not just the fact but a description of their death would be communicated to their families. (21)
The lack of standardized notification and record keeping during the Civil War posed challenges for families of soldiers during the war, immediately after the war, and today. According to family records, the Mandeville family was notified of Clinton J’s death by a letter from Samuel D. Mandeville who was the older brother of Clinton J. and John D. In this letter Samuel D. describes how he was notified when Clinton J.’s “mess mate” (16) told his own family of Clinton J.’s passing and later when John D. confirmed this. In his letter to his family, Samuel D. describes how it took nearly a month for him to be notified of his brother’s death due to the slow and scarce notifications and mail.
After his passing he was brought home to the family via a combination of riverboat travel and by train. Clinton’s casket almost did not make it home as, according to Samuel Mandeville’s letter “The boat that they started on ran against a snag at Donaldsonville, 80 miles this side of New Orleans and sunk. They said that the coffin was not under water, but could not get it off until the boat was unloaded by the insurance co.” (16). Along the way Clinton’s casket was attended by two members of his company. The fact that the sinking did not fully submerge the casket indicates a partial or shallow sinking that allowed for salvage.
After the sinking it was reloaded on a new ship and then offloaded and carried by rail the rest of the way into Champaign County from the south. According to Mandeville family tradition and the letter from Sam Mandeville, the casket was picked up at the Champaign railroad station, which may have been the Illinois Central Railroad Depot, otherwise known as the Doane House, after its long and difficult trip. Clinton J.’s brother John was the family member who went to claim the body and take it for burial. Louis Green relates that John Mandeville was angered by the sight of a group of men playing cards on the casket when he arrived and he told them to leave. The memory of the disrespectful action rankled John D. for many years and was carried down to his daughter Myrtle. When Clinton J. finally returned home to Champaign County, he was accompanied by various personal effects to be given to his family. One of these personal items may have been the 34-star flag.
J. E. Sebring Makers Mark. This mark on the left border of the flag denotes the known Civil War Flag Maker J. E. Sebring and the location where it was made. CCHM Digital Archives.
The flag itself was produced by E. Sebring in New York City. The Mandeville flag measures 9.5 feet long by 4 feet tall. It is a combination of machine and hand stitching. This Flag making company was located in lower Manhattan at 27 Courtland N.Y. Sebring was commissioned to produce flags for the war effort. According to Jeff Bridgman these were usually for “medical centers and camps, but also for recruiting flags” (24).
While the exact chain of provenance from creation to the moment the flag reached the family has been lost to time there is a probable answer. Civil War flag historian John Schmale worked with CCHM researchers by phone to make the initial identification of the flag as a recruiting flag due to its unusual dimensions. Schmale then presented a theory of the flag’s route to the family, which in his view was a surplus flag sold to the Mandeville family via their dry goods business that was created for recruitment drives and was later used for memorialization purposes. Upon further examination a very degraded inspector's mark was found to be on the object. Which makes it very unlikely that the flag was acquired through a private sale prior to the end of the Civil War as it would have been government property. According to Schmale It does mean that there is a possibility that the flag was acquired following the conflict by the Mandeville Family (25). While it is no longer the leading theory, it remains a strong answer for the flag’s possible provenance. However, context clues such as the missing star, the date of the flag’s creation, the inspector’s mark, and the family tradition associated with the flag cast some doubt or complications on this answer.
In an effort to find further evidence that might lead to a positive identification of the object CCHM researchers contacted Vexillologists and military antiquities dealers such as Jeff Bridgman. According to Bridgman the flag has what is known as a “notched pattern” which was common to 34 star flags which left an available space to add an additional star should another state be added (26). The breakthrough discovery came from members of the North American Vexillological Association (otherwise known as NAVA) and a researcher named Jim Ferrigan. Ferrigan used A Directory of American Military Goods, Dealers & Makers 1785-1915 by Bruce Bazelon and William McGuinn (27); The Regulations of the U.S. Army for 1861, ARTICLE L. FLAGS, COLORS, STANDARDS, GUIDONS. GARRISON FLAG (28); and This Republic of Suffering by Drew Gilpin-Faust (21) to definitively identify the Mandeville flag as a J.E. Sebring produced recruiting flag. The defining facts Ferrigan pointed out were the flag contracts J.E. Sebring was under between 1862 and 1865 with three separate contracts being used for recruiting flags in 1862, 1863, and 1864. More specifically Ferrigan noted “This is likely from the 26 August 1862 Contract” (29). If Ferrigan’s theory holds true, then the regiment the flag was meant for can be identified as the 2nd Illinois Volunteer Cavalry, Clinton’s unit. In The Regulations of the U.S. Army for 1861 in paragraph 1464 of Article L., Ferrigan pointed out that the unique size of the Mandeville Flag (9.4’ by 4’) was characteristic of recruiting flags which were specified to be “nine feet nine inches by four feet four inches” (29). Furthermore, according to Ferrigan, the presence of the U.S. inspector’s mark on the border of the flag verifies that the flag was government property. As Ferrigan notes. “They were merchants so it could have been acquired through private purchase, however, then it wouldn’t bear the U.S. inspector’s stamp, unless it was acquired as surplus government property after the war” (29). While the absolute truth of the origin of the Mandeville flag may never be known, there are several plausible answers.
In Ferrigan’s view the most plausible answer for how the flag ended up in the possession of the Mandeville family is that Clinton was assigned to recruiting duty during his service and retained it as a personal possession which was a common practice during the Civil War. Upon his death his personal effects were either given to his surviving family members by the messmates from his regiment who escorted his body north (16), or it had been left with family members on a previous occasion where he had been home to recruit for the regiment (29). The flag was then retained as a memento of his passing. Ferrigan’s view, combined with the aforementioned evidence, presents a likely theory for the life of the Mandeville Flag. This explanation would solve the mystery of why the flag was so closely associated with Clinton Mandeville if the practice of using burial flags was not in common use until the turn of the 20th century. Patrick Allie, the Director of the Rock Island Military Museum concurs with Feerigan’s conclusion that the flag was likely Clinton Mandeville’s recruiting duty flag, stating that as they took losses Illinois State regiments often sent soldiers back to recruit men to fill gaps in the ranks (30).
Inspector’s Mark. This inspector’s mark verified that the Mandeville Flag was not sold privately and was a government issued flag. CCHM Digital Archives.
The provenance of the object, including the date of manufacture, inspector’s mark, and the strong Mandeville family history going back to the 19th century of associating the flag with their fallen relative all coalesce around this new theory. Rather than a burial flag, the item in the CCHM collection was likely a personal keepsake and a reminder of the cause to which Clinton gave his life. The same cause that his brother John was still actively fighting for. Clinton J. Mandeville was buried in Mount Hope Cemetery in the Mandeville family plot.
John D. Mandeville was the younger brother of Clinton J. and served as a private during the Civil War (31). Records state that John D. served as a member of the 67th and later the 133rd Illinois Infantries (32, 31). After ensuring his brother Clinton J. returned home, John D. continued to serve the Union. After his service he returned home and became a practicing physician with a busy practice (32). John lived in Champaign county for the remainder of his life until his passing in 1924 (32). He was survived by his wife and daughters and was buried in Mount Hope Cemetery in Champaign along with Clinton J. and the rest of the Mandeville family (32). The flag and other family items were donated by museum volunteer Louis M. Green in 1994, who is a direct descendant of John D. Mandeville and it has undergone conservation and stabilization work to maintain the artifact. The family memories of the loss still linger after 160 years.
The unsanitary environment of camp life during the Civil War resulted in many deaths by disease. Had these servicemen stayed home, they may have lived full lives and never endured the same risk of illness and battle. Yet, they stepped forward in a time of national need, in many cases at immense personal cost. Clinton J., like so many others, enlisted and made the ultimate sacrifice for his country.
Whether a soldier fell in battle, went missing in action, or passed away due to camp diseases their stories belie the idea of a clean and glorious conflict. The life of an enlisted man was difficult. For the families of those who lost their lives during the Civil War the offering on the altar of the Union was no less meaningful regardless of the cause of death. No matter what the true origin of the Mandeville flag is, it is a physical reminder of a young man’s final journey home to Champaign County.
If you would like to donate an item relating to Champaign County’s Civil War history, please reach out to us via our website. https://www.champaigncountyhistory.org/artifacts. Rachel Johnston is currently an MLIS student at the University of Illinois. Connor Monson is the former museum manager of the Champaign County history Museum. Special Thanks to the American Battlefield Trust for generously giving access to one of their battle maps. We would also like to thank Louis M. Green, John Schmale, Ronald Coddington, Bob Zeller, Tom Parson, James Ferrigan, Greg Biggs, and Bill McLean for their contributions to this article. Additional thanks to Dr. Sarah Pawlicki and Dr.Andrew Hartman for assistance in editing the finished article and providing feedback. Without their work this would not have been possible.
Postscript: While investigating the history of the flag, Louis Green allowed the museum to scan an album of family photos. In that album there was a photo labeled “John D. Mandeville”, this addition was done by a relative in the 20th century. Upon further examination inconsistencies with this identification began to stand out. The figure in the portrait is wearing a cavalry saber and has a corporal's chevrons. As John Mandeville never reached any rank higher than private and served as an infantryman the identity of the soldier became highly suspect. Upon reaching out to Ronald S. Coddington, an accomplished Civil War historian and editor of Military Images Quarterly, identified other items that pointed to the figure being a cavalryman including his jacket, and his cavalry NCO’s belt. (33) When reached for further guidance, Bob Zeller of the Center For Civil War Photography and Coddington both stated that these items were not props and soldiers did not pose in uniforms that did not befit their rank. When the photograph is placed alongside other Mandeville family members there is a clear resemblance, but key physical differences from photographs later taken of John (34). National Park Ranger Tom Parson with the Corinth Civil War Interpretive Center, an expert on the 2nd Illinois Cavalry identified the photo as being of a Western Theater Cavalryman (35). These clues when taken together lead museum staff to believe that the photo shown in the article is of Clinton L. Mandeville and not his brother. There is still some dissent towards this new viewpoint. Champaign County military historian Bill McLean argues that the photo is still likely John D. Mandeville and using photographic props, he cites perceived inconsistencies between the photo and other photos of the 2nd Illinois Cavalry (36). However, as previously noted the 2nd Illinois struggled with supplying adequate equipment and uniforms throughout the conflict. While it is unlikely that definitive evidence will ever arise to prove this claim, it is possible that Clinton J. once again has a face to put to a name.
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