Virginia Regimental Flag Captured by the 53rd Pennsylvania Infantry. This Virginia Civil War flag was captured by Union Captain William W. Van Ormer of the 53rd Pennsylvania Volunteers. This flag has been passed down through his descendants and is being offered for auction for the first time. The war-date portion of the flag is hand-painted on a white central disc that is made by noted flag maker H. P. Keane, probably from Richmond. Keane was commissioned by the state of Virginia to produce military flags for infantry and cavalry regiments and according to noted flag expert and author Howard Michael Madaus, this flag dates from 1861-1862.
The central device is painted on an ellipse (both sides), is approximately 39″ x 37″ (oval), and depicts the Virginia state seal, a standing female warrior with a sword in her right hand and her right foot resting on a prone figure representing the tyrant who has broken chains in his hand and his crown on the ground. Above the figure on a red ribbon is “Virginia”‘ in 1.5″ white block letters while beneath the state motto on a blue ribbon, “Sic Semper Tyrannis”, (Latin for “Thus always to Tyrants”) in the same block lettering. The disc is of wool fabric and has been sewn into the later vibrant blue wool fly for display. This flag is similar to 28th Virginia Infantry Regiment battle flag illustrated in Time-Life’s Echoes of Glory – Arms and Equipment of the Confederacy (p.250). The approximate dimensions of the flag (including fringe) is 56″ x 41.5″ and the overall framed size is approximately 61″ x 45.5″.
Captain Van Ormer enlisted in the 53rd Pennsylvania Infantry in September 1861 and served in the First Division, Second Corps, Army of the Potomac. The unit would see much action in the war. First assigned to the defenses of Washington, they moved to the battlefields of Manassas, Yorktown, Seven Pines, Antietam and Bull Run. Captain Van Ormer was shot in the left hand at Spottsylvania on May 12, 1864. But it was at Gettysburg when the troops would see their most trying times. Only 45 of the men would survive that monumental battle uninjured.
Regimental records and the Van Ormer family histories indicate that the young captain was with the regiment all the way to the surrender at Appomattox. Exactly one week before Lee surrendered, the 53rd would have one glorious day of overwhelming Confederate troops- and taking one of their flags. On April 2, 1865 at Sutherland’s Station Union Major General Andrew A. Humphrey’s Second Corps included the 53rd Pennsylvania facing off against Virginians under Confederate General Henry Heth. The 53rd swept down the breastworks at a “double-quick” pace capturing over 600 Confederates and one battle flag of the 9th Virginia Infantry. It is not known if this Virginia flag is for sure that of the 9th, but we do know that Van Ormer brought home this war trophy from an overrun Virginia unit in from Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. These regimental accounts give us that story.