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FBI, Army Agents Recover Civil War "Colored Troops" Flag

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 26, 1999 – A Civil War African American regimental battle flag missing since the mid-1970s is back in Army hands following an FBI and Army undercover operation in Philadelphia.

During African American History Month ceremonies Feb. 17 at FBI headquarters here, bureau director Louis J. Freeh presented the artifact to Lt. Gen. John A. Dubia, director of the Army Staff, and Brig. Gen. John Brown, commander of the Army Center for Military History.

The red, white and blue flag has 35 stars and belonged to the all-black 12th Regiment Corps d'Afrique. It disappeared from a load of property shipped from Fort McNair here to Fort Jackson, S.C., between 1975 and 1976. The regiment mustered into the Union infantry at Port Hudson, La., between July 11 and 27, 1863. The Union in March 1864 redesignated it and most other black combat units as elements of the "U.S. Colored Troops."

Special agents of the FBI Philadelphia Division and the Army Criminal Investigation Command conducted an undercover operation in early January. They arrested a Kansas man who allegedly tried to sell them the stolen banner for $28,000 and expenses.

"This flag represents bravery, sacrifice, forgotten valor and forgotten memories," Freeh said. "There are many ways to steal history, in this case, an invaluable artifact." Other ways to steal history, he said, are to not teach it and not write about it in a manner that's noteworthy and memorable.

He said he never learned in school that more than 178,000 black Americans served as soldiers in the Union Army. "That doesn't include the thousands of men, women and children that helped the war effort," Freeh said. "I didn't learn that 68,000 African Americans were killed, wounded or declared missing in action -- 27,000 deaths on the battlefield. I didn't learn about the 449 battles they fought or the 18,000 that served the U.S. Navy during that period."

Nothing is more sacred to fighting men than a flag, because it's the only thing they can see on the battlefield that reminds them of home, Army historian Brown said.

"The flag captures the essence of everything they're fighting for," he said. "The flag being returned to the Army today represents men who rose to fight against slavery of themselves and their families. In the course of contributing to the Union Army, they did in fact secure their freedom and the freedom of all their descendants . That was the first in many steps in trying to affirm the American dream that we fact are equal."

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageLt. Gen. John A. Dubia, director of the Army Staff, thanks FBI director Louis J. Freeh for returning to the Army the stolen battle flag of the Civil War 12th Regiment Corps d'Afrique. FBI and Army investigators recovered the flag in a January undercover operation in Philadelphia. Rudi Williams  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageCivil War re-enactor Joseph Lee of Philadelphia thanks FBI director Louis J. Freeh for the bureau's recovery and return of the Civil War battle flag of the 12th Regiment Corps d'Afrique, a stolen piece of African American history. Lee plays a sergeant major with his hometown's 3rd Regiment of Colored Infantry. Rudi Williams  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageCivil War re-enactor Joseph Lee of Philadelphia says the stolen 12th Regiment Corps d'Afrique battle flag recently recovered by the FBI could help teach his children, grandchildren and all African American children about their ancestry. Lee attended a Feb. 17 ceremony in Washington in which the FBI returned the artifact to Army officials. Rudi Williams   
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