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“Fateful April 6”

In February 1905, the U.S. Congress passed a joint resolution to return 74 captured Confederate flags stored in the War Department in Washington, D.C. According to a news report, the act “marks the last step in the elimination of tangible evidences of the bitterness of that great civil struggle.”

One of the banners belonged to the 11th Florida Infantry. It had been taken at the Battle of Sailor’s Creek, fought 40 years earlier at the end of the Appomattox Campaign. On April 6, 1865, the Florida Brigade, consisting of the 11th and two other regiments, fell prey to Maj. Gen. George A. Custer’s cavalry. One historian referred to the battle as “the fateful April 6.”

Aaron S. Lanfare of the 1st Connecticut Cavalry as he looked in March 1864, about a year before he captured the Florida flag. Carte de visite by Moulthrop of New Haven, Conn. Rick Carlile Collection.
Aaron S. Lanfare of the 1st Connecticut Cavalry as he looked in March 1864, about a year before he captured the Florida flag. Carte de visite by Moulthrop of New Haven, Conn. Rick Carlile Collection.

The trooper who captured the colors, 1st Lt. Aaron Steven Lanfare, served in the 1st Connecticut Cavalry. A merchant sailor before the war, he started his military service in late 1861 as a corporal and, by late 1864, had advanced in rank to first lieutenant.

Lanfare’s service ended with a bang beginning on April 1 at the Battle of Five Forks. According to Maj. Gen. Custer, “the First Connecticut achieved the honor of being the first to leap the enemy’s breastworks, seize his cannon, and turn them on the retreating foe.” In fact, two rebel guns had been captured—one of them by Lanfare. Five days later, Lanfare and his fellow Connecticut boys led an advance against Gen. Robert E. Lee’s wagon train, charging Confederate guards and capturing a number of the enemy. The Connecticut troopers then separated into two battalions. Lanfare and the men in the right battalion rode hard into woods near the rear of the train and captured more men, plus five artillery pieces and two enemy flags. Lanfare brought back one flag, though how he came to take possession is not exactly known. He received the Medal of Honor on May 3, 1865.

The flag traveled to Washington, where it remained until returned to the State of Florida. Lanfare returned to the sailors’ life, and prospered as a spice merchant and trader. In late 1875, during a voyage to Barbados, Capt. Lanfare and the crew of the barque Mayflower were lost at sea, possibly victims of a hurricane. Lanfare was 51 years old.

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