Civil War Cavalry Flag Found in Massachusetts Basement

Lt. Solon A. PerkinsA flag that belonged to a Massachusetts cavalry regiment has been found in the basement of the Lowell (MA) Memorial Auditorium. The flag, a V-shaped cavalry guidon, is inside a wood and glass case. The inscription on the case indicates that 1st Lieutenant Solon A. Perkins was killed beneath the flag in fighting at Clinton, Louisiana, on June 3rd, 1863.

Perkins commanded Company C of the 2nd Battalion, Massachusetts Cavalry which was officially assigned to the 3rd Massachusetts Cavalry Regiment of the 19th Corps shortly after his death (Perkins is referred to as being a member of either the 2nd or the 3rd depending on the source). During the Port Hudson Campaign on June 3rd, Perkins was part of a expedition under the command of Brigadier General Benjamin Grierson that was sent to engage Confederate cavalry near Clinton. Regimental historian James K. Ewer described the action and the death of Perkins:

Among the gallant soldiers who gave their lives for their country during the siege of Port Hudson, Captain Solon A. Perkins deserves more than a passing notice. Early in the war, Perkins volunteered his services, and went to New Orleans with Butler, as a Lieutenant in one of the unattached companies of cavalry. He made a good record before the company became identified with the regiment, serving with distinction in many of the minor engagements in Louisiana. During the siege of Port Hudson, the cavalry was placed under the command of Grierson, and to them was given the duty of guarding roads, scouting through the enemy’s country around Port Hudson, and protecting the Union lines from incursions of the enemy.

It had been learned that 1,500 cavalrymen, under the Confederate leader, Logan, were hovering between our lines and Clinton.  Sometimes, they annoyed Banks by dashing into our picket line and capturing whatever they could lay their hands upon. Banks, wishing to find out how many men Logan actually had, sent Grierson to ascertain.

On the morning of the 3d of June, 1863, Grierson moved toward Clinton. He took with him the Sixth and Seventh Illinois Cavalry, one squadron of the First Louisiana Cavalry, two companies of the Fourth Wisconsin (mounted), and one section of Nim’s Battery. Perkins accompanied Grierson to Clinton in command of one company of the Third Cavalry. When within three miles of Jackson, Grierson ordered Godfrey to take 200 men and ride through town, while Grierson was to move toward Clinton. Godfrey obeyed orders. Dashing through Jackson, capturing and paroling quite a number of Confederates, later he rejoined Grierson.

When near Clinton, Grierson heard that Logan had gone toward Port Hudson. Soon, however, he encountered the enemy near the Amite River. A brisk fight ensued, in which Logan’s advance was driven back on the main body, which was strongly posted near Pretty Creek. The battle raged three hours, when Grierson, having learned something of the strength of the enemy, retired toward Port Hudson.

During the fight, Grierson lost eight men killed, 28 wounded, and 15 missing. In the midst of the battle, a bullet struck Perkins, and he fell, to rise no more.

James K. Ewer, The Third Massachusetts Cavalry in the War For the Union

The Greater Lowell Veterans Council will raise money for the conservation of the flag, which isn’t in great shape, but thankfully, has been found and will be saved from further deterioration.  It’s not when or why the flag ended up in the basement, but apparently it had been down there, out of sight and out of mind, for many years.  No doubt there are other historical artifacts from the war hidden away in attacks or basements waiting to be rediscovered.

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3 Responses

  1. Sam Katz says:

    I am thankful for the preservation efforts on this important and beautiful relic. I live with Solon Perkin’s predecessor, Capt. Henry Durivage — that is, the five-foot by four-foot portrait of Henry Durivage painted by Francis Bicknell Carpenter, most likely posthumously and most likely commissioned by Henry’s parents after his death. I also live with a CDV of Henry, acquired from a different antique dealer in a different City, but, quite mysteriously, during the same week that I purchased Henry’s portrait in 2009. As for the painting, I lost him not once, but twice, at auction before I was able to acquire him the third time around.

    Henry was the original Commanding Officer of the Third Massachusetts Unattached Cavalry, succeeded by Solon Perkins after Henry drowned in the Mississippi River upon falling overboard the frigate North America around 1:00 a.m. on April 23, 1862. He was feeling ill and went on deck with his brother Alexander, a Lieutenant in the employ of General Butler. The brothers returned to the ship’s indoor quarters, but then Henry went outside again to get some air by himself. That’s when his colleagues heard him fall overboard. No one knows whether he had a heart attack or was possibly hit by gunfire, as an era engraving by Currier & Ives shows heavy shelling from the shore. Henry’s troop was serving on a flotilla of 54 ships on their way to take the City of New Orleans.

    Henry’s father was the 19th century sportswriter, translator, poet, playwright, and painter Francis Alexander Durivage. While the senior Durivage was quite the renaissance man, and the family was socially well positioned, he took a job as a civil servant after he and his wife moved to New York City upon Henry’s death. Originally hailing from Boston, then Lowell, Massachusetts, the senior Durivage’s Uncle (and Henry’s great Uncle — his grandmother’s brother) was the famous statesman Edward Everett. While Henry’s brother Alexander was also killed during the Civil War, his sister married a New York City merchant and their West 45th Street, Manhattan home was mentioned in the New York Times in its Friday, February 4, 1881 obituary of the senior Durivage. The site of the home is now the Marriott Marquis Hotel and Theatre, across the street from The Booth Theatre.

    This flag and two sashes — one worn by Perkins and the other worn by Henry — were sent to Perkin’s mother by General Benjamin Butler after the War. While Henry’s parents were dead by 1881, I don’t know why Butler did not track down Henry’s sister and present his sash to her instead. It is presumed both sashes were burned in the March 1915 Lowell Memorial Hall fire, but there really is no way of knowing that for sure. It is possible the sashes were also gifted by Mrs. Perkins to someone before the fire, as she did this flag, and if they should resurface anywhere, I would greatly appreciate knowing about it. Additionally, if anyone has any other reliable information about my beloved Captain Durivage, please email me at samkatz@nycdetectives.org I’d be most appreciative. — Ms. Sam Katz, New York City, New York.

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