Thursday, July 4, 2013

Flags on the Fourth

Legend has it that ship's Captain William Driver, a Massachusetts native born in 1803, nicknamed the American flag "Old Glory" back when the flag had 24 stars on it.  When he retired from his seagoing days he moved to Tennessee and frequently hauled out the huge flag on patriotic holidays. It measured something like 10 by 17 feet -- large enough to fly from the mast of his whaling ship.  It later had 10 more stars added to it, for a total of 34, I have read.

Our version of Old Glory dates to the second decade of the 20th century. Arizona became the 48th state in 1912, and some time after that my maternal grandfather, Charles S. Minor of Anderson, S.C., acquired a 4 by 7-foot U.S. flag with 48 stars on it and, according to one family story, draped it over the casket containing the remains of his youngest son when they were returned from France after the First World War. His son, St. Clair, had been a machine gunner with the S.C. National Guard, and had died going over the top on the Hindenburg Line in the closing weeks of that war.  I found the flag, with C.S. Minor's initials marked on the border next to the blue field (the canton) that contains the white stars, not too long ago in a box that had been in my parents attic for many years.

It's been too messy lately to fly this nearly century-old flag in front of our house, so today I've got it hanging from the rail of a second-floor gallery, remembering people I never met.  C.S. Minor died years before my parents were married in 1937; I have a few things of St. Clair's as well as my grandmother's Gold Star Flag that she hung on the front door of her home in Anderson. It contains two stars for her sons serving in the war -- one blue, for cavalryman Charlie Minor, who survived, and one gold for St. Clair, the machine gunner who didn't.

I've also thought of my great-grandfather A.D. Betts this week. A hundred and fifty years ago he was serving with the 30th North Carolina Regiment at Gettysburg, and he wrote of his experiences in his wartime diary. Old A.D. was a Methodist minister, crippled in his youth after being thrown from a steer he tried to ride, but able enough to serve as chaplain of the 30th.  In times of battle, chaplains performed a number of duties, including helping the wounded.  He wrote on July 1, 1863, of his regiment moving 12 miles to Gettysburg, where his unit helped "drive the enemy two miles.  He tended to the wounded, including holding the regimental commander, Col. Francis Marion Parker, in his arms.   "Col. Parker's wound was in the face. The ball entered  just below one eye and came out below the other, cutting the nasal tubes. When I knelt by him and prayed for  him and his wife and children, he seemed about to strangle with the blood. "  Somehow Parker survived that injury and the war, and came home.

A.D. wrote that July 2 was "a fearful fight"and that July 3 was an exhausting day, moving the field hospital early. He took a bad fall from his horse. "Loss of sleep and excitement may have led to the vertigo,” he wrote. “God could take a man out of this world without his knowing anything of it.”  On the Fourth of July the corps hospital moved to a barn at a place called Fairfield,  and by the 6th of July the defeated army was moving slowly away south, dealing with wind and rain.

I never knew old A.D. but my father knew him well.  He lived with my father's family in Greensboro, and died at age 86 in 1918, when my father was 6 years old.  My father -- born this day in 1906 -- once told me the angriest he had ever seen his own father was not long before A.D. Betts died.  He had saddled up Dobbin, gentlest of my grandfather's hunting horses, and ridden off north on Elm Street in Greensboro.  My grandfather was afraid he would hurt himself, and rushed after A.D., furious at his taking such a risk.  But A.D. was doing what he had done for decades as a circuit rider and a chaplain -- saddling up when it was time to preach at some little country church or tend to some wounded or dying soul. It has been said that it was as if he could still hear a bugle blowing somewhere, and was headed out to answer the call.

So today our flag flies inside in remembrance of men who went off to war and the families who stayed behind to carry on as they could -- and those who still go when duty calls.   


  1. Jack, a wonderful essay and story. Here's to A.D. and all the families and patriots who made America stronger!==Wood

  2. Love the stories, Jack. great that you know and remember so much of your family history. Happy 4th to you, and all those who have served.

  3. Jack, I love this essay! I would like to share your blog posts with readers of Senior Correspondent, an online magazine. Several of your former McClatchy colleagues (Caulton Tudor, Paul Gilster and Tommy Goldsmith) are contributors. If you're interested, please contact me at

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    Founder and Publisher