Confederate Battle Flag of the 3rd Tennessee Infantry; Captured at Fort Donelson This late 1861 Confederate Hardee 1st pattern design flag with a bright blue field and white canton “3rd Tenn” stenciled in black ink was captured at Fort Donelson by Union forces of the 66th Illinois “Birge’s Western Sharpshooters”. Descended through the family of then-19 year-old Union Private Prosper Bowe of Coloma, Michigan, this flag is believed to be the only one of its kind still in private hands. Private Bowe was one of three brothers enlisting in the fall of 1861 when the federal government ordered ten companies of sharpshooters to be recruited for General Fremont. Due to the strict marksmanship criteria of the troops, the regiment was composed of men from many states. At the same time Confederate Brigadier General William Joseph Hardee was forming what would become the Army of Central Kentucky. While at Bowling Green he designed the distinctive flag design shown here. There is evidence that the wife of General Hardee as well as General Simon Bolivar Buckner’s wife actually made some of the flags. The fact that there are so few examples of the 1st pattern Hardee flag may be due to their early issuance in the war. And many like this were obviously captured.
The 3rd Tennessee Confederate Infantry was formed on May 16, 1861 at Giles County, Tennessee. Composed of ten companies of handpicked men, the regiment immediately traveled to Nashville and camped at the fairgrounds. They received their weapons at the state capitol and were taken by rail cars to Camp Cheatham. Led by Colonel John C. Brown, a strict disciplinarian, the troops’ first real engagement under this flag was at Fort Donelson, Tennessee reaching the post on February 8, 1862 with General Buckner in command. Union gunboats attacked on February 14, 1862 but were repulsed. Due to some Confederate confusion, and thanks to reinforcements to Union commander Ulysses S. Grant, the Confederates surrendered two days later. The North had its first great victory and a new hero in Grant. Nicknamed “U. S. Grant” after that battle since he had demanded “unconditional surrender” from General Buckner, Grant proceeded to take charge of the surrendered troops.
Fort Donelson was the occasion of the 3rd Tennessee meeting the 66th Illinois and of losing this flag that ended up in Private Bowe’s hands. Losing 13 men and 56 wounded, the remainder of the regiment was surrendered. The Confederate officers were taken to Camp Chase, Ohio, the enlisted men and non-commissioned officers to notorious Camp Douglas, Illinois. After 7 months of incarceration, the officers and men were loaded onto boats for the journey down the Mississippi River for parole at Vicksburg, Mississippi.
The 66th Illinois continued on throughout the war fighting in Mississippi and throughout Georgia. Private Prosper Bowe survived the war sending accounts of the conflict back home. On July 22, 1864 while in Atlanta, he wrote that the Confederates were “…bound to get to our trains but we had something to say about that.” The Sharpshooters were by then armed with Henry repeating rifles, the forerunner of the Winchester. Of that experience Bowe wrote, “I stood and fired nearly ninety rounds without stopping. My gun was so hot I could not touch it – spit on it and it siz.” Bowe mustered out on July 7, 1865 and returned to Michigan.
Info about the sale of this flag found here