“The Confederate Flag Torn Down” – An incident in Port Carbon in 1905

How did Coal Region veterans of the Civil War feel about the destroyed Confederacy and its symbols?

We’ve written about these veterans of the US Army and their animosity toward symbols of the “Lost Cause” in the past. We’ve also written about how shameful it is to see symbols of the “Rebellion” waving over homes in the Coal Region today. 

50th PA officers
Members of the 50th Pennsylvania – these are soldiers who mostly came from Schuylkill County. (Library of Congress)

But an incident in the Schuylkill County community of Port Carbon in May 1905 gives a keen example of just how offensive the confederate battle flag was to local Union veterans who survived the Civil War and their descendants,

This dramatic event occurred on Decoration Day (Memorial Day) in 1905. On Pike Street in Port Carbon, the sister-in-law of a local physician flew the “stars and bars” from the third floor of the family’s home just before the town’s parade to honor local soldiers who died during the Civil War.

The Pottsville Republican details what happened next:

Pottsville Republican, May 31, 1905

THE CONFEDERATE FLAG TORN DOWN

Confederate Flag - Civil War

The patriotic sentiments of the good people of Port Carbon were stirred up yesterday by an incident which for a time created an ugly feeling when the stars and bars of the defeated Confederacy were hung above the stars and stripes at the residence of Dr. T. F. Heebner.

The flag was displayed from a third story window by Miss Nellie Matthews, a sister of Mrs. Heebner, whose home is in North Carolina, but who has been spending most of her time with her sister. She was ordered to take it down by Chief Burgess Wagner but refused to do so, and it was not until Allison Brothers Post, G.A.R. marched to the house in a body and demanded its removal on threat of having it shot down, that the flag was taken down.

At the Heebner home the national colors were displayed from the porch roof in accordance with the decorations of other residents along Pike St. But soon after they had been thrown to the breeze the neighbors were aroused when the stars and bars of the secessionists appeared over Old Glory. It was considered by all who saw it to be an insult and Chief Burgess Wagner was quickly notified.

He went to the Heebner home and demanded its removal peacefully or else submit to its being torn down by force. The demand was refused but before any further action was taken the inspiring music of a drum corps was heard approaching from Washington St. They played a patriotic air and behind them marched the grizzled veterans of the Rebellion.

Their faces were flushed and their steps were quickened by what they considered an insult to them and to their country. Around the corner they came with their flag flying proudly at their head and arriving at the Heebner home they halted.

A formal demand was made to have the flag taken down at once under penalty of having it shot from its fastenings. The spirit of the ‘60s had been again aroused in the hearts of the old veterans and they meant business. This was recognized in their stern features and the objectional piece of bunting was removed.

The post then returned to their rooms where the line of parade was formed…

The Republican reporter who documented the story reached out to the local doctor for comment. He was horrified by the incident when told – he wasn’t home at the time it took place. He believed that it was a joke down out of “frivolity.” His sister-in-law, a woman from North Carolina named Nellie Matthews, wrote to the local veterans she had infuriated and wrote: “I was out of town at work at Cressona, but Mrs. Heebner phoned me in alarm when she heard the sentiment. You can joke with the people sometimes but not always.”

The historical record is silent about how the members of the Allison Brothers Post of the G.A.R. took the old “it was a joke” defense.

Allison Monument 2
Monument to the four Allison brothers of Port Carbon who died during the Civil War. This monument stands atop the grave of their mother Agnes. It was dedicated in 1908 by members of the local Grand Army of the Republic post, named in memory of the Allison brothers. 

These veterans felt strongly about the issues they fought over in the Civil War and believed they fought in a righteous cause to save the Constitution and the United States of America. They were rightly indignant to see the flag of the rebellion flying in their hometown. These patriotic American citizens understood what that flag stood for: slavery and a failed attempt to overthrow the United States government. In the effort to put down that rebellion, they risked their lives so that the nation could have a new birth of freedom. And in that effort, they sacrificed their health and their limbs and lost countless friends and loved ones.

So when you see that confederate flag blowing in the wind or slapped on a bumper sticker, remember these veterans and their indignation at that symbol being emblazoned in the heart of the Keystone State. They were right – the flag has no place in Pennsylvania’s Coal Region. And if you have read this to the end, I hope you will seriously consider what that flag stood for in the Civil War, during Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and segregation, and what it stands for today.


Featured Image: Scene from an illustration of the Battle of Franklin, Tennessee in 1864 (Library of Congress) 

Read more of our stories about the Coal Region during the darkest years of American history – the Civil War. 


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6 thoughts on ““The Confederate Flag Torn Down” – An incident in Port Carbon in 1905

  1. A few years ago during a visit to Elizabethville I was angered to see a confederate flag flying at the house right next to my childhood church. Growing up there I never understood why people would fly or admire that flag, and to see people so casually flying it and vehemently defending it is maddening. Makes one wonder who won that war…

    Thanks for this article!

    From: Wynning History
    Reply-To: Wynning History
    Date: Tuesday, June 23, 2020 at 7:08 AM
    To: Foster
    Subject: [New post] “The Confederate Flag Torn Down” – An incident in Port Carbon in 1905

    Jake Wynn posted: “How did Coal Region veterans of the Civil War feel about the destroyed Confederacy and its symbols? We’ve written about these veterans of the US Army and their animosity toward symbols of the “Lost Cause” in the past. We’ve also written about how shamefu”
    Respond to this post by replying above this line

    New post on Wynning History
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    “The Confederate Flag Torn Down” – An incident in Port Carbon in 1905
    by Jake Wynn

    How did Coal Region veterans of the Civil War feel about the destroyed Confederacy and its symbols?

    We’ve written about these veterans of the US Army and their animosity toward symbols of the “Lost Cause” in the past. We’ve also written about how shameful it is to see symbols of the “Rebellion” waving over homes in the Coal Region today.
    [50th PA officers]
    Members of the 50th Pennsylvania – these are soldiers who mostly came from Schuylkill County. (Library of Congress)

    But an incident in the Schuylkill County community of Port Carbon in May 1905 gives a keen example of just how offensive the confederate battle flag was to local Union veterans who survived the Civil War and their descendants,

    This dramatic event occurred on Decoration Day (Memorial Day) in 1905. On Pike Street in Port Carbon, the sister-in-law of a local physician flew the “stars and bars” from the third floor of the family’s home just before the town’s parade to honor local soldiers who died during the Civil War.

    The Pottsville Republican details what happened next:

    Pottsville Republican, May 31, 1905

    THE CONFEDERATE FLAG TORN DOWN

    [Confederate Flag – Civil War]

    The patriotic sentiments of the good people of Port Carbon were stirred up yesterday by an incident which for a time created an ugly feeling when the stars and bars of the defeated Confederacy were hung above the stars and stripes at the residence of Dr. T. F. Heebner.

    The flag was displayed from a third story window by Miss Nellie Matthews, a sister of Mrs. Heebner, whose home is in North Carolina, but who has been spending most of her time with her sister. She was ordered to take it down by Chief Burgess Wagner but refused to do so, and it was not until Allison Brothers Post, G.A.R. marched to the house in a body and demanded its removal on threat of having it shot down, that the flag was taken down.

    At the Heebner home the national colors were displayed from the porch roof in accordance with the decorations of other residents along Pike St. But soon after they had been thrown to the breeze the neighbors were aroused when the stars and bars of the secessionists appeared over Old Glory. It was considered by all who saw it to be an insult and Chief Burgess Wagner was quickly notified.

    He went to the Heebner home and demanded its removal peacefully or else submit to its being torn down by force. The demand was refused but before any further action was taken the inspiring music of a drum corps was heard approaching from Washington St. They played a patriotic air and behind them marched the grizzled veterans of the Rebellion.

    Their faces were flushed and their steps were quickened by what they considered an insult to them and to their country. Around the corner they came with their flag flying proudly at their head and arriving at the Heebner home they halted.

    A formal demand was made to have the flag taken down at once under penalty of having it shot from its fastenings. The spirit of the ‘60s had been again aroused in the hearts of the old veterans and they meant business. This was recognized in their stern features and the objectional piece of bunting was removed.

    The post then returned to their rooms where the line of parade was formed…

    The Republican reporter who documented the story reached out to the local doctor for comment. He was horrified by the incident when told – he wasn’t home

    Like

  2. I’m so glad I took the time to read this fine article. We often forget the sentiment behind the waving of a particular flag. The stars and bars represented a very dark place in our history and even though the South was defeated it was hard for people to let go of the Symbol that represented them. It was the “home team’s” colors and just because they lost they weren’t going to change their colors. This way of thinking lasted way too long. Embrace your State flag and honor the American flag but let go of the things that bring pain and hurt to others.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The Confederate Flag only serves to celebrate people that killed American soldiers or those traitors that directed traitors to kill American soldiers, in an attempt to destroy the USA. As a spouse of an American soldier that has served the United States of America for more than 30 years, I believe that flying the confederate flag and celebrating these traitors is no different than flying the ISIS flag. I know that I will never celebrate those that tried to or actually did kill American soldiers.

    Like

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