Virginians would appreciate flag more than Minnesotans

Demonstrating his unmatchable skill of substance-minimal retorts, Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura told citizens of Virginia to basically go to hell in regard to requests that Minnesota return a captured Civil War symbol, a Confederate flag. Although Ventura’s flippant responses to a reporter’s query in Washington, D.C., on Monday have little to do with the actual arguments of the Minnesota Historical Society — that currently holds the flag — they represent a common misunderstanding of a contentious issue. Of course, it would be nice for Minnesotans to possess such a historic relic; however, the flag should be returned.
Pvt. Marshall Sherman, one of the few who survived the First Minnesota Regiment’s attack on Gettysburg on July 3, 1863, seized the flag as a spoil of the Northern army’s victory. The souvenir helped make up for the incredible casualties suffered by his regiment during the three-day battle that cost about 50,000 American lives. In December of the following year, he received a Congressional Medal of Honor for the bravery he displayed in snatching the flag while shoeless and in the midst of battle. But where the flag traveled next and the state of its current condition is the subject of some dispute.
After the battle, Sherman gave the flag to the War Department, which subsequently returned it to him. The Washington Post incorrectly reported that the War Department lent Sherman the flag in 1903 for a commemorative ceremony. Sherman, however, had died in 1896. Nonetheless, the 28th Virginia Infantry’s Stars and Bars found its way to the Minnesota Historical Society, which has repeatedly refused to return it despite numerous entreaties from Virginian senators.
Tommy Denton, the editorial page editor for the Roanoke Times in Roanoke, Va. — and most media outlets reporting the dispute — have depicted the flag as tattered from bullet holes and soaked with blood. Barbara Averill, a Minnesota Historical Society spokeswoman, maintains that the flag is not riddled with bullet holes nor dried blood. She said the 28th Virginia Infantry Regiment Civil War reenactors who want the flag returned have described it as soaked with the blood of their ancestors to raise the emotional impact of their demands.
Whatever the condition of the flag, a 1905 Congressional resolution required the War Department to return all property taken from its native state, including flags. The Virginian reenactment group cite this resolution to support their claims to the flag. Although the Minnesota attorney general’s office has said the flag in question is not included in the resolution’s grasp because it was Sherman’s private property, the resolution was intended as a reconciliatory measure.
Ventura’s obstinate retorts — as well as those of the historical society — are distressing reminders of the uncompromising actions that led to the bloodiest war ever endured by the United States. In citing the flag as an important piece of Minnesota’s heritage and a symbol of the sacrifices the state made, the historical society seems to only honor its dead in light of a vanquished and humiliated foe. Although Minnesota might not be legally required to return the flag, Minnesotans should understand that it is more important to Virginia’s heritage than our own. If the Virginia Legislature ultimately agrees, the flag should be returned.