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Petersburg Medals of Honor: Captured, But Their Colors Were Saved




Sergeant. Co. C, 4th Vermont Infantry.
Born in Ireland in 1835.

While some 600 men of the Fourth [Vermont] and Sixteenth [sic, Eleventh] Vermont Infantry were destroying the Weldon Railroad, Va., June 23, 1864, they found themselves surrounded by General Mahone’s Division of 3,000 Confederates; but though they were so greatly outnumbered, they nevertheless made a brave resistance. The enemy’s fire was doing terrible execution; more than half of the Union soldiers had been killed or wounded.

The commanding officer of the Vermonters, seeing they could not extricate themselves, and that capture was inevitable, stepped up to Sergeant James Drury, of the Fourth Vermont Infantry, who had the colors, and remarked that the regiment would lose its standard.

Drury replied: “They will have to kill this Irishman before they get it.”

The officer pointed to a road which seemed to offer some chance as an avenue of escape.

“Go that way and perhaps you may succeed in escaping the rebels,” the officer observed. Drury lost no time in following the advice. Wrapping the flag around the staff, he said to his command: ” Boys, I’m going to save this flag or die in the attempt.”

Privates Brown and Wilson called out: “We’ll be with you, Sergeant.”

And then the three started across the open fields. They had not progressed far, however, when the rebels shouted to them: “Halt, you damned Yankees!” but the Yankees did not halt. A shower of bullets was sent after them. Poor Brown fell. To their regret they had to leave the brave fellow behind. Sergeant Drury and his remaining companion, Private Wilson, ran as fast as they could and safely reached the timber. By this time darkness had set in and the fugitives were able to conceal themselves in the woods till daybreak, when they found the Federal pickets, and thus saved the flag from falling into the enemy’s hands.


Read about even more Medal of Honor winners at the Siege of Petersburg:


  1. Beyer, Walter F. and Keydel, Oscar F. Deeds of Valor: How America’s Heroes Won the Medal of Honor…, Volume 1 (The Perrien – Keydel  Company: 1901), pp. 368-369
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