The Confederate Battle Flag of the 31st Tennessee Volunteers, “The Western Stars”. A Confederate battle flag that was never surrendered or captured is a rare find indeed. This flag is just such a rarity. An Army of Tennessee pattern, it was probably delivered to Company A of the 31st Tennessee Infantry when the regiment wintered in Dalton, Georgia from 1863 to 1864 since this pattern is known to have been issued at the Dalton Depot. Ensign William Bellew daringly carried this flag through every battle until the ill-fated Battle of Nashville in December 1864 where he was captured by federal troops. Bellew stripped the flag from its staff before the Union forces could take it from him, concealing it inside his coat under the cover of darkness. Taken to Camp Chase, Ohio as a prisoner of war, he quickly quilted the flag into the lining of his coat. Released in June 1865, he returned home to Gibson County, Tennessee with the flag still secretly sewn inside his coat.
Bellew’s mother is responsible for the flag being transferred out of the family’s hands. When Dr. George W. Nowlin, a medical doctor who had been the hospital steward of the 31st during the war found out that Mrs. Bellew had been flying the flag in her garden to scare off marauding birds, he sent for the flag to keep it secure. The flag has descended to its present owner through the Nowlin family.
Measuring 35″ on the staff and 51″ on its fly, the flag is made of hand-sewn red wool traversed by a 5.25″ wide dark blue bunting St. Andrew’s cross edged on each side with a 2″ wide strip of white cotton. The cross bears thirteen white cotton 3.25″ diameter five-pointed stars set at 8″ intervals from the center star. Accompanying the flag is a 24″ cotton strip stenciled with the words “Co. A 31 Reg. Tenn. Vol.”.
Company A, called the ‘Western Stars’ of the 31st Tennessee regiment of the Confederate Infantry was formed out of Weakley County, Tennessee and organized with the regiment in Gibson County at Camp Trenton in September 1861. Under the command of General J. P. McCown, the regiment moved to Columbus, Kentucky and on to Fort Pillow and by April 1862 was in Corinth, Mississippi. Passing through Tupelo and Chattanooga, the regiment saw action at the Battle of Perryville where it lost 100 men. A contemporary account by a Federal soldier at the battle stated that the 31st Tennessee attacked “with death-defying steadiness, uttering wild yells until staggered by the sweeping crossfire of our artillery…” And the regiment would suffer for their bravery, the casualties only multiplying throughout the rest of the war; 250 at Chickamauga, 300 at Franklin in one day, 600 dead within fifty yards of them. Just two weeks later William Bellew would carry the same flag that he waved in these actions into the Battle of Nashville. His quick thinking on the battlefield combined with the wisdom of Dr. Nowlin and his descendants have preserved this unique treasure from the Civil War.
Info about this flag and it’s sale at auction found here