- Historic Sites
Sergt. Bates March
Carrying the Stars & Stripes unfurled, from Vicksburg to Washington, and Gretna Green to London
October 1965 | Volume 16, Issue 6
On the north portico of the White House, President Johnson took Bates’ hand. In the East Room Professor Heald and his musicians rendered “The Star-Spangled Banner” in fine style; Johnson uttered a few words of welcome; and Mrs. Martha Patterson, the President’s daughter and hostess, presented the Sergeant with a magnificent bouquet.
Re-forming on the White House lawn, the procession moved to the Metropolitan Hotel, where Bates would live during his six-day visit. There was a brief ceremony, with the Sergeant standing on the balcony and Representative Charles A. Eldredge of Wisconsin delivering the main speech.
“My friends,” the congressman said, “I cannot forget the fact that it is just seven years this day since the flag of the Republic was lowered in humility and sorrow from the battlements of Sumter. The flag that Major Anderson was then forced to take down now floats proudly over every foot of our land. … And this young man, who, without money and alone, and on foot, has carried it for more than fourteen hundred miles will now plant it in glory and triumph upon the dome of the National Capitol.”
Great applause followed, after which the members of the procession, with the Sergeant leading, trudged eastward in the rain. The Superintendent of Public Buildings had granted permission for Bates to unfurl his flag from the dome of the Capitol, but on the east steps of that structure an incident occurred into which the Sergeant and his friends read a dark but no doubt correct significance.
The Radicals were in control of Congress, and these gentlemen, anxious to forestall any reconciliation with the defeated South, took a dim view of Bates and his peregrinations. The Sergeant and his followers were met at the Rotunda door by Chief J. Corson of the Capitol Police. Ostentatiously barring the way, Corson professed to have no knowledge of the arrangements for Bates to “fling his calico to the breeze.” His orders, he said, were “not to allow any demonstration in the building.” If Bates wished to carry his flag to the dome he must get permission from Sergeant at Arms Ordway of the House.
One of the marchers hurried into the building to return twenty minutes later happily waving a permit signed by Ordway. Meanwhile Chief Corson had bethought himself of another rule. Before the permit could be honored it must be countersigned by Sergeant at Arms Brown of the Senate. Again a member of Bates’ group invaded the building. It was some time before he returned with the sad information that Brown was nowhere to be found.
Angry but undaunted, Bates turned away. With his friends at his heels he marched back down the avenue and across the swampy lower end of the Mall to where the Washington Monument, one-third completed, nestled in an unsightly raddle of piles of building stone and contractors’ shanties.
Once more there was a ceremony. The speaker this time was the Honorable E. O. Perrin of New York, recently named Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Utah Territory. Pointing out that only one southern newspaper had cast aspersions on Bates’ march, Judge Perrin told the Sergeant that “here in the capital of the nation, by men full of professions and boastings of loyalty, you have met your first, your only rebuff. … Had the so-called rebels torn from [the flag] twenty-seven bright stars, a Radical Congress would have welcomed the dismantled ensign with shouts of joy, as being evidence of an unrepentant people. But it was a standing rebuke to them to find it pass safely and triumphantly throughout your entire journey, without an insult, and requiring no reconstruction at their hands.”
At the conclusion of the Judge’s speech, Bates clambered to the top of the unfinished monument. Into the rain and wind swept the folds of Old Glory, while those below lifted their voices in tremendous cheers.
So ended the first of Sergeant Bates’ star-spangled marches. His trip to England, four years later, was the result of another wager, arranged in Saybrook, Illinois, where the Sergeant and his family had taken up residence. During the Civil War, pro-Southern sentiment had reached sizable proportions in the British Isles. For this, economic difficulties were mainly responsible. The North’s blockade of Confederate seaports cut England oil from Southern cotton, creating serious unemployment in those sections of Britain dependent on her textile factories. In August of 1872 an international arbitration tribunal ordered England to pay fifteen million dollars for damages done to American merchant shipping by Confederate cruisers, like the Alabama , built and equipped in British ports. In the wake of these developments the belief was general in the United States that anti-American feeling was rife in England.