Featured prominently in the Museum of Florida History’s Civil War display is the flag of the Apalachicola Guards. This 5-foot by 10-foot flag forms the backdrop for a display of Florida items from the Civil War. Blazoned across the top of the light blue banner is the name of the unit, “Apalachicola Guards. “Below is an eagle carrying a scroll in its beak which says “In God Is Our Trust” in large letters. Underneath the eagle, and in smaller letters, is the phase “Our Rights We Will Maintain.” Stenciled on the edge of the banner is the number 495, denoting the capture number for the U. S. War Department.
This particular flag is mentioned as being seen on July 29, 1887, stored in the garret of the War Department in Washington, D. C. along with other captured Confederate flags. A proposal had just been made by the adjutant-general to return the captured flags to the Southern states, which generated a storm of controversy, with many Union veterans and citizens opposed to the return.
It was in 1905, after the Spanish-American War, before the captured flags were repatriated to the Southern states. There was an elaborate ceremony in the Capitol in Tallahassee to mark the return of the Florida flags, including the banner of the Apalachicola Guards. One of the state dignitaries participating in the ceremony was the Honorable George P. Raney, an Apalachicola native, Confederate soldier, and former Florida Supreme Court judge.
The mystery of the Apalachicola Guards flag is that in lists of Confederate units from Florida there is no reference to the Apalachicola Guards. The two known infantry companies from Apalachicola are the Franklin Rifles, which became Company B of the 1st Florida Infantry Regiment, and the Beauregard Rifles, which became Company B of the 4th Florida Infantry Regiment. There was also an artillery battery and a cavalry company from Apalachicola, but neither one was known as the Apalachicola Guards.
The riddle is solved by a letter William H. Trimmer published in the Pensacola Daily News on Thursday, April 20, 1905. Mr. Trimmer was a former member of the Franklin Rifles and an inveterate letter writer to the newspaper. In the letter he comments on the return of the flags to Florida.
His company was presented with the Apalachicola Guards flag by the ladies of Apalachicola when the soldiers were leaving to go to Pensacola in March 1861. At that time the unit was known as the Apalachicola Guards, the designation of the local militia unit since at least 1843 when the company was incorporated by the Legislative Council of the Territory of Florida. The Apalachicola Guards are mentioned again in an 1861 state law which directed the governor to arm the Apalachicola Guards to defend the Port of Apalachicola.
The men did not go directly to Pensacola, but first went by the steamboat William H. Young to the arsenal at Chattahoochee to meet with the other companies making up the 1st Florida Infantry and organize the regiment. After electing the regimental officers, the entire regiment proceeded to Columbus, Georgia, where they were feted by a local military company. Crossing the Chattahoochee River into Alabama, the Florida soldiers continued their journey by railroad through Montgomery, finally arriving in Pensacola after the firing on Fort Sumter. Somewhere along the way the Apalachicola Guards had been issued rifles and changed their name to the Franklin Rifles.
Mr. Trimmer states that the Apalachicola Guard flag was never carried by the company into battle. It was probably returned to Apalachicola in April 1862 when most of the 1st Florida Regiment was mustered out of service at the end of their 12-month enlistment. The remnant that re-enlisted and served at the Battle of Shiloh fought under a purple flag with gilt letters saying “In God We Trust,” according to Mr. Trimmer.
Local lore holds that the Apalachicola Guards flag was sewn in the Raney House. There is no documentation to show where or when the flag was captured by Union forces. It is possible that it was seized after the end of the war when Apalachicola was occupied by the 161st New York Infantry, which served in the District of Florida between June and November, 1865; and the 82nd United States Colored Infantry, which came to Apalachicola between May 31 and June 6, 1865, and served in the District of Florida until Sept. 10, 1866, when they were mustered out of service.
Bruce Graetz, senior curator at the Museum of Florida History, contributed to the research contained in this article.