On May 2-4, 1863, in a clearing on the Chancellorsville battlefield known as Hazel Grove, the 37th New York Volunteer Infantry faced the heaviest fighting in its two-year history. The 37th, largely made up of Irishmen from New York City and known as the “Irish Rifles,” fought heroically as part of Brigadier General David Birney’s III Corps, but finally was forced to withdraw in disorder. The regiment suffered 235 casualties — roughly one third of its strength at the start of the battle. Nearly 100 men were captured in the confusion. Also captured was one of their regimental flags.
While most of the 37th NYVI were men from New York City, two companies came from Cattaraugus County: Company H, known as the “Chamberlain Guards,” recruited in Allegany; and Company I, known as the “Cattaraugus Guards,” from Ellicottville. It was to veterans of these companies that the flag would finally be returned some 30 years later.
In September of 1893, the Rev. William Stone Hubbell, then a minister of North Presbyterian Church in Buffalo, presented the flag to the Civil War veterans of Cattaraugus County. According to his account, he had been in a Connecticut regiment and among the first Union soldiers to enter the city of Richmond, Va. after the confederates withdrew. It was there he found the flag, hanging as a trophy of war in the confederate senate chamber over the chair of Vice President Alexander Stephens.
The flag was among the first items donated to the Cattaraugus County Museum when it was founded, and appeared on display at the original museum building in Little Valley for decades until the late 70s when it was removed due to deterioration and placed into storage. Thirty years later, the flag was in worse condition still; fragile and fragmented.
In 2020, staff at the museum were determined to restore the flag and make it available once again for public viewing. Working in coordination with the Patricia H. and Richard E. Garman Art Conservation Department at Buffalo State University, nearly three years of work has gone into conservation efforts. Two students, Katya Zinsli and Nhat Nguyen, dedicated months each to the project, and have achieved astonishing results.
The new exhibit, "Piecing Together History; Saving the 37th NY Regimental Flag," will feature the flag as well as several other Civil War artifacts relevant to Cattaraugus County history.
Come visit the County Museum!