“From time to time, we are approached by people saying they have something important to donate, and you never know if they’re for real,” said Brown. “So I was quite excited. I told him we’d love to have it. It was a historian’s dream come true.”
Robert Clayton of Maine was visiting the Civil War fort to determine if it was the best home for his rare artifact. After moving into his father’s house, he was going through a closet when he and his son discovered cardboard boxes containing old letters and flags. Clayton learned that he had inherited an original Confederate flag captured by his great grandfather, Union Major William Z. Clayton, in 1864.
For nearly 150 years, the flag remained in the Clayton family, along with a hand-written note from the Union soldier requesting that it someday be returned to Atlanta or Savannah.
“During the war, my great grandfather had lost a Bible that was returned to him,” said Clayton. “I guess this is our way of returning the favor. I felt good about sending it back.”
To celebrate the flag’s return to Fort McAllister, the park is hosting a public dedication and re-enactment at 11 a.m. on Saturday, April 21. Clayton will speak about his discovery, and cannon firings and musket drills will follow throughout the day.
“Donations of this importance are very rare, especially when people are now selling artifacts online,” said Brown. “We are fortunate that Mr. Clayton wanted to honor his ancestor’s wishes and share this piece of history with all of us.”
The flag was first presented to Confederate troops by Mary Knox of Savannah, as reported in the Savannah Daily Morning News on April 4, 1862. After careful restoration by the state of Georgia’s Preservation Lab nearly 150 years later, it was mounted inside Fort McAllister’s museum in February of this year. Park staff waited until this April to host the ceremony so that Clayton’s family could attend and to coincide with the sesquicentennial commemoration of the American Civil War. Admission to the park will be free during the April 21 event.
Located south of Savannah on the Ogeechee River, Fort McAllister showcases the best-preserved earthwork fortification of the Confederacy. The earthworks were attacked seven times by Union ironclads but did not fall until 1864 — ending Gen. William T. Sherman’s “March to the Sea.” Visitors can explore the grounds with cannons, a hot shot furnace, bombproof, barracks and mortar emplacement, as well as a museum.
Nestled among giant live oaks and salt marsh, the park is a beautiful location for camping, fishing, boating and picnicking. Three cottages sit on stilts near the marsh. The shaded campground is bordered by tidal Redbird Creek, a boat ramp, fishing dock and nature trail. A large picnic area offers river views and playgrounds, while another boat ramp provides access to the Ogeechee River. To learn more, visit GeorgiaStateParks.org or call 912-727-2339.