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Crashing Into Gordon’s Line at Appomattox

West Funk, pictured as first lieutenant and acting aide-de-camp on the staff of Brig. Gen. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. Funk aided Chamberlain after he was struck and severely wounded in front of Petersburg, Va., on June 18, 1864. Carte de visite by Frederick Gutekunst of Philadelphia, Pa. Rick Carlile Collection.
West Funk, pictured as first lieutenant and acting aide-de-camp on the staff of Brig. Gen. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. Funk aided Chamberlain after he was struck and severely wounded in front of Petersburg, Va., on June 18, 1864. Carte de visite by Frederick Gutekunst of Philadelphia, Pa. Rick Carlile Collection.

The flag of the 46th Virginia Infantry figured prominently on three occasions during the life of the regiment.

Yankee fire shattered the staff in two and 18 bullet holes were counted in the colors as a result of the June 17, 1864, assault on Petersburg. In the fighting near White Oak Road on March 31, 1865, the color bearer recalled, “In the engagement when we went over the top the flag was shot to ribbons and the staff broken off three times by bullets.” Just days later, on April 9, 1865, the tattered remnants were captured at Appomattox.

The individual credited with the capture of the flag, West Funk of the 121st Pennsylvania Infantry, was no stranger to battle. Born in Massachusetts and raised in the Keystone State, Funk served a one-year enlistment as a private in the 19th Pennsylvania before he joined the 121st as sergeant major in the summer of 1862. He soon became an officer. As a second lieutenant at Gettysburg, he was wounded during the Confederate onslaught on the first day of the engagement. As a first lieutenant, he served a stint as an acting aide de camp on the staff of Brig. Gen. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. As captain, he led his company during the brutal, unrelenting combat of the Overland Campaign. As major, he commanded the regiment during the Feb. 6, 1865, Battle of Hatcher’s Run, where he suffered his second wound of the war.

Two months later, Funk returned to action during the hectic final days of the Appomattox Campaign. According to the regimental history, the 121st resumed the march at 7 a.m. on April 9, noting, “The men in high spirits and apparently conscious of the fact that the Confederates were on their last legs, although fighting with desperation against fate.”

Among the determined Confederates stood the 129 men and officers of the 46th Virginia, now attached to the Corps of Maj. Gen. John B. Gordon. The historian of the 46th recounted what happened when the blue infantry moved on their position: “The situation became hopeless. As the Federals crashed into Gordon’s line the Forty-Sixth lost its flag to Major West Funk.”

The exact time of the capture of the flag occurred 8:15 a.m., according to one report.

Maj. Gen. John B. Gordon. National Archives.
Maj. Gen. John B. Gordon. National Archives.

Hours later, the war ended for the 46th and the rest of the Army of Northern Virginia, as Gen. Robert E. Lee formally surrendered his forces to Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant.

Funk was recognized with a brevet rank of lieutenant colonel for his war service. On Oct. 15, 1872, he received the nation’s highest military honor for the capture of the flag. Family, friends and fellow comrades in the Grand Army of the Republic honored his service until he passed away at about age 56 in 1897. He died unmarried.

Less than a decade later, on March 27, 1905, the federal government returned 62 flags captured by Union forces during the late war to the governor of Virginia. The inventory of banners included the colors of the 46th.

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