“An Interesting Flag”

The following article was written by The Rambler and appeared in February 9th, 1913 edition of the Evening Star.  The Rambler, whose real name was John Harry Shannon, wrote for the Star from 1912 until 1927, telling stories about his travels in and around Washington.  Many of his “rambles” involved trips into Maryland’s “assassination country” as I like to call it.  This article however, deals with his knowledge of one particular artifact relating to Lincoln’s assassination: the Treasury Guard flag.

Treasury Guard flag on display at the Ford's Theatre Museum

Treasury Guard flag on display at the Ford’s Theatre Museum

“An Interesting Flag

The flag which led indirectly but none the less certainly to the capture of John Wilkes Booth is now one of the main objects of interest in the Treasury building. For many years this famous flag occupied a place on the wall of the northeast corridor of the Treasury and divided honors with the money vaults as an object of popular interest. It was for many years about the first thing guides pointed out to visitors. Then the flag was loaned to Capt. O H. Oldroyd and for a long time had a prominent place in the museum of Lincoln relies. Not long ago it was reclaimed by the Treasury and hangs once more in that grim and classic building.

It was in the knotted fringe of this old flag that one of Booth’s spurs caught when he leaped from Lincoln’s box at Ford’s Theater on the night of April 14, 1863, after having mortally wounded the President and stabbed Maj. Rathbone. Had not the spur caught, Booth’s leg would in all probability not have been fractured or injured and his capture would perhaps have been very much more difficult.

When the advisability of a Home Guard for Washington was suggested the Treasury Department took an early interest if not the initiative in the movement. In In that department there was soon organized a full regiment. It was called the Treasury Guard, and Treasurer E. E. Spinner was made its colonel. Every afternoon after the department closed the regiment was drilled on the White Lot. Large crowds witnessed the drills of the Treasury Guards and the ladies of the department and the wives and daughters of the clerks naturally took a fond interest in the organization. These ladies at a meeting determined to present to the regiment a stand of colors. The regimental flag of the guard in the office of the captain of the watch of the Treasury, but it is the national flag with which this account deals.

On the night of April 12, 1865, the Treasury Guard gave a ball at Ford’s Theater. The theater was transformed into a large ballroom by the erection of a temporary flooring over the tops of the scats in the lower part of the house. The decorations were elaborate, and the flags of the guard were draped on the boxes. The guest of honor at that ball was Commodore Winslow of the Kearsarge. It was the first visit of that officer to Washington after the sinking of the Alabama.

It is narrated that after the ball John T. Ford requested the officer of the Treasury Guard to allow the flags to remain on the boxes as the President was expected to attend a performance at the theater the night of April 14. How Booth shot the President how he leaped from the box, how his spur caught, how his leg was broken or fractured by the fall, and how his injury proved an impediment in his flight are matters of common knowledge.

The day after Lincoln’s death, when the whole city was practically under martial law and Andrew Johnson had taken the oath of office as President in that room of the Treasury building long occupied as the office of the director of the mint, but which was then the office of the Secretary of the Treasury, the guard flag was brought up from the theater and taken into this room. The rent made in it by the assassin’s spur was exhibited to all those present. The Treasury Guard soon after disbanded, the flag was stored away and forgotten, and it was not brought to light again until 1872, when Capt. Cobaugh of the Treasury watch found it in the machinists’ shop in the basement of the building. The flag was loaned to the Lincoln Museum by Secretary Gage, but it was recalled not so long ago.

The pistol used by Booth in the assassination of Lincoln is in a safe in the office of the judge advocate general of the army, having been in the custody of that officer since the trial of the conspirators. This fact was brought out a few years ago by the sale in Philadelphia of a pistol with which the crime was said to have been committed. The purchaser wrote to the War Department and learned that he had been victimized.

Booth’s spur, the one which tripped him, and which was removed from his injured leg by Dr. Mudd, is in possession of Capt. Oldroyd.”

Torn Treasury Guard Flag

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5 thoughts on ““An Interesting Flag”

  1. Richard Sloan

    well, some of the info in this article is erroneous. FOrd didn’t know til the last minute of the Lincolns’ plans to attend the theatre. I am skeptical of the report in it that Oldroyd once displayed the Treasury Guards flag. I never came across any ref. to that, and none of the interviews w/ Col. Oldroyd or any photos I’ve ever seen of the rooms in the house where Lincoln died when Oldroyd was there show it on display. Maybe he was able to display it very briefly. I only learned a couple of years ago, to my great surprise, that he was loaned the assassination rocking chair briefly when he first opened his museum in D.C.– something I had not known about before. It humbled me to learn that. So maybe he was loaned the flag briefly, too?.

  2. rich smyth

    I have never read this. It is very interesting but like Richard, I too am skeptical. it was not known 2 days prior that Lincoln would be attending the theater. Henry Clay Ford testified on May 31st 1865 that he obtained the Treasury Guard Regimental flag from the Treasury dept. that day. He mentions :the gentleman who brought the flag from the Treasury Department” the afternoon of the 14th.
    Richard, the Regimental flag was sent to Oldroyd at the Petersen house for a short time, but the Treasury Guards did not want it displayed in a “private museum” and would rather have lent it to the “National Museum.” Instead it was returned to the Treasury Dept.

    • Thanks, Rich. I was hoping you’d comment about this article. The Rambler does a good job of telling stories of Washington and Maryland families. I’m guessing that he heard this story from somebody else and printed it without trying to verify any of it.

  3. rich smyth

    Given the recent finds on the Booth autopsy photo and the Rathbone’s remains, one cannot just dismiss the “ball” at the theater and the possibility that flags were left there. There must be some record of what was going on at the theater on the 12th.

    • According to the, “Restoration of Ford’s Theatre” book put out by the NPS, on the 12th of April, 1865 Laura Keene performed in the play, “The Workmen of Washington” at Ford’s Theatre. Advertisements from the Evening Star support this. Searches of D.C. newspapers for the month of April show no results for a “treasury ball” of any sort, though their was an article on the 12th noting the Treasury buildings ornate decorations for the illumination. It does not appear Commodore Winslow was in the city as no newspapers mention him, and if he was, it would not have been his first visit to the city since the sinking of the Alabama. Looks like a fun, but fictional, story to me.

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