|Emmett Rifles flag (left, Georgia State Parks)|
Maj. William Zoron Clayton joined the Federal army while living in Minnesota, served in numerous campaigns – including Shiloh, Vicksburg, Atlanta and the March to Sea – lost his first wife during the war and moved to his native Maine afterward. He operated several businesses and died at age 94 in Bangor on the eve of the 1929 stock market crash.
The reason I first wrote about Clayton was the decision by his great-grandson, Robert Clayton, of Isleboro, Maine, to return a flag that his ancestor took home as a war trophy.
Bob Clayton mailed the flag to coastal Georgia -- 147 years after Fort McAllister’s capture.
W.Z. Clayton at some point had expressed hope that the Emmett Rifles flag “be return(ed) to Savannah or Atlanta sometime.”
The flag was unveiled to much fanfare in April 2012 at Fort McAllister State Historic Park, where the Emmett Rifles, a Savannah militia unit, served during the war
I recently called Bob Clayton, 74, to reminisce and to learn more about his ancestor’s siblings who also served during the war.
While W.Z. joined the 1st Minnesota Light Artillery, three brothers served with the 1st Maine Cavalry. Rufus ended up in Minnesota, where he died in 1900. Collamore died in Minnesota, apparently in 1936. Edmund did not survive the conflict. Wounded at Brandy Station, he was captured two years later and shipped to Andersonville prison in Georgia, where he died of disease in 1864.
|Lt. Col. McAllister items|
Bob Clayton said his father recalled conversations with an elderly W.Z. Clayton.
“He told me how his grandfather was chasing a Confederate on horseback and the Confederate galloped off the road and came back on it. Because he did that my great-grandfather was able to capture him.”
The veteran spoke about landmines that were placed around Fort McAllister.
“He remembered seeing a train with a bunch of Confederate prisoners heading somewhere and he really felt sorry for them.”
According to a 1900 Grand Army of the Republic account of the Atlanta campaign, Clayton was the chief of artillery for the 4th Division of the 17th Corps. He and a signal officer were the first to enter Fort McAllister after its surrender on Dec. 17, 1864, and the Rebel commander surrendered the flag that Clayton kept.
Bob Clayton has a few relics from the war, including a guidon of the 1st Minnesota and a Bible that belonged to W.Z. The Bible was captured during battle and returned to him decades after the war. Bob has a map of his great-grandfather’s travels during the Civil War, letters and insignia.
Jason Carter, park manager at Fort McAllister, says the Emmett Rifles flag “is kind of a highlight of the tour.” Staff members tell visitors about how the banner disappeared for 150 years and was returned by Clayton, who stopped by the park one day while on vacation and mentioned having it.
|Exhibits in the museum (Georgia State Parks)|
The flag is directly across from an exhibit that opened in December 2017.
A saber, spurs, uniform vest and other items belonged to a Confederate officer who served at the fort early in the conflict and is from the family that owned the surrounding property.
The items, including a photograph of Lt. Col. Joseph Longworth McAllister, were donated by descendant Carolyn C. Swiggart, an attorney in Greenwich, Conn.
McAllister, 43, died June 11, 1864, at the Battle of Trevilian Station, a Confederate victory in central Virginia. The lieutenant colonel with the 7th Georgia Cavalry fought to the last, throwing an emptied gun at Federal troops just before he was cut down by bullets.