In 1863, a small flag was taken from Edenton and was sent to Naples, New York (near Lake Canandaigua and Rochester). One hundred and fifty-six years later, it has finally found its way home.
“This small flag I took – with the permission of a young lady – from a house in Edenton N.C. Dec 1863 Corp Ira Nelson Deyo 85th N.Y. Volunteer C.B.”
So states the provenance note attached to a handmade Confederate flag now on display in the Penelope Barker House.
It is a 9-inch by 6-inch replica of the Confederate national flag (not the battle flag), with two horizontal red bars and a white bar in between. A blue square is in the upper left corner that should have included a circle of either seven or 11 stars, but in this case “She forgot to put the stars on I guess,” Corporal Deyo explained in a letter to his parents. It is fringed on three sides.
Michael J. Nighan of Rochester, New York, generously donated the small flag that had been in his family since the Civil War. “Between early 1863 and April 1864,” he wrote, “my great-grandfather, Ira Nelson Deyo (85th. New York Volunteer Infantry) was serving with the Union forces occupying Plymouth, NC.
“During that period, as was not uncommon, he went on foraging expeditions, one of which took him to Edenton. While there he took, in his own words, a small Confederate flag, ‘with the permission of a young lady — from a house in Edenton.’ He mailed it home to his mother just before he was captured and sent to Andersonville.”
Corporal Deyo was only 19 when he visited Edenton on a “foraging” expedition, having enlisted in the Union Army two years before at the tender age of 17. Promoted to corporal within a year of enlisting, he fought in the siege of Yorktown and the battles of Williamsburg, Seven Pines, and Malvern Hill — all in 1862.
He served in the garrison at Plymouth in 1863, during which time he came to Edenton. It is not known just who the “young lady” was, or which “house in Edenton” he visited. In October of that year, the young soldier sent the flag and this letter home to his parents in Naples, New York:
“Plymouth Oct 19th.
As Cumings is going up your way in about ½ [hour?] I will write you a few lines.
Everything is going on well in this place lots of citizens coming in every day. Col Clarke came in yesterday said there was lot of things on the way for Naples boys. Enclosed you will find a Confed flag made by the hands of a Secesh lady in Edenton. She forgot to put the stars on, I guess, but it is genuine. We are all getting healthy here. I have not been sick lately.
Well Good bye I’m in a hurry.
Ira N. Deyo”
(This October letter corrects the provenance note, which had dated the flag’s “capture” as having taken place in December.)
Six months after he sent this letter and the flag up North, in April 1864, Deyo and 2,500 soldiers of the Plymouth garrison surrendered to Confederate forces under the command of Brigadier General Robert Hoke. Deyo and his comrades became known as the “Plymouth Pilgrims.”
They were named such because the Union soldiers, after their surrender, were marched single file to stack their rifles and due to their slow and somber walk, one of the Confederate officers commented that the prisoners looked like “a bunch of Pilgrims on their way to church” and that their “offering” was their rifles.
Deyo became a prisoner of war and was confined at Andersonville, Florence, and Salisbury. While being transferred from Andersonville to Florence, Deyo and his friend, Elam B. Wetmore, jumped from their prisoner train near Kingstree, SC. Wetmore was shot and killed during the escape attempt. Deyo was quickly recaptured. He was finally paroled in March 1865, and was discharged from the Army later that June.
Four years later, he married Frances Semans. They subsequently had five children.
In 1875, Deyo returned to Kingstree. He located the grave of Wetmore and had the body removed to the National Cemetery at Florence at his own expense.
He died in 1917 and is buried in Naples.
Three generations passed, and that small flag stayed in the state of New York for a hundred more years.
And then finally, the great-grandson of Corporal Deyo, Michael Nighan, sent it back to its place of origin in Edenton.
While there is much that is known of the young soldier and his family in New York, there isn’t much known about the mysterious young lady who sewed the flag. There are no details about her identity or her whereabouts or the occasion upon which she and the young Deyo met.
Whatever led her to give her miniature hand-sewn Confederate flag to a Union soldier? Entire novels are written from much less inspiration.
But this much is known for certain: behind every flag are real human beings and real human stories. This small flag traveled from a home in Edenton, North Carolina, to a home in Naples, New York, and now it has circled back to the Penelope Barker House, the “living room” of Edenton.
It was touched by two families, one in the South and one in the North. It was sent home by a mere teenager who saw things in war that no one is ever old enough to see. He was captured in a battle in which regiments from North Carolina fought on both sides: 10 infantry regiments for the Confederacy, two for the Union.
That small flag indeed stands for a war – like all wars – that should never have been fought.
But it stands, too, for a war that is over, and for the distinct possibility that things can be mended.
Because mending, and peace, is what that long 1,200 mile journey, for over a 150 years, is all about.
That small flag has come back home.