Seattle Civil War veteran Asbury F. Haynes was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions at the Battle of Sailor’s Creek, fought on April 6, 1865. Haynes captured the battle flag of the 21st North Carolina Infantry during the fight. More than 50 Medals of Honor were awarded to Union soldiers for their actions that day, with most being for having captured enemy flags. The engagement at Sailor’s Creek took place as the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia reached the end of its ability to fight. The Confederate army was beginning to dissolve, and the battle ended with Confederate troops surrendering in large numbers. Of the 30,000 effective men under Lee’s command at the start of fighting around Sailor’s Creek, losses included over 8,000 that surrendered or were captured that day including 8 generals and many regimental battle flags. General Lee surrendered his army to General Grant at Appomattox Court House on April 9th.
Asbury F. Haynes with his Medal of Honor
The leading national Union veterans’ publication, The National Tribune recounted Asbury Haynes’ actions at Sailor’s Creek:
“Asbury F. Haynes, 17th Maine, Seattle, Wash., was with his regiment in action at Amelia Springs, Va., when the charge- was made there in April, 1865. When his company got up facing the main street, he saw the rebel colors about one hundred yards ahead. He made up his mind to get those colors. So when the order came, “By the right flank, charge!” he didn’t hear the words “right flank,” and dashed ahead down the street. Corporal Crosberry yelled: ‘Haynes, come back; you'll be killed. The regiment has gone the other way.’ “Comrade Haynes says that he got behind a high board fence and stood there meditating what to do. ‘I did not dare run back down the street the way I had come, or I would be shot, so I jumped over the fence to go to the rear of those houses I had passed to find my regiment. As I did so I heard tremendous cheering from the field whence we had come. Supposing it was my regiment coming, I turned about, ran along the side of the house, and jumped into the street running across diagonally, demanding the rebel’s flag. A colonel and two other officers stood behind the blacksmith shop and surrendered with their men, totaling four hundred and five. The color sergeant threw the colors (they belonged to the 21st North Carolina) into the street. I jumped on them, tore them off the staff, and tied the colors around my body.’
“Comrade Haynes tried to conduct the rebel prisoners to the rear, but they were afraid they would be shot down if they crossed the street, so he got back to the corner of the fence where he had jumped over and saw his regiment. It had gone around to the right and had broken the rebel line of battle and was driving them into the woods.
“‘It was fifty or sixty rods away, and when I got to them I reported to Major Mattox what I had done. He complimented me and told me to report to General Pierce, of our brigade, with the flag. I wanted to stay in line and fight, but he said: “ No, you may be killed or wounded and lose the flag.” So I reported to General Pierce. He complimented me and told me to stay at his headquarters; but his headquarters were in the saddle, and I could not keep up with him. After two or three hours, I ran across the General again and told him if he wanted me to stay with his headquarters he would have to furnish me a horse. I requested that I might return to my regiment. He said: “You can report to your company once a day, but keep with headquarters and take care of those colors.” “ ‘ Afterwards, at the request of Major Mattox, I was sent to Washington with the captured flag on the day that President Lincoln died, and had to remain in Washington six days until Lincoln’s body was shipped away. Then I presented it to Secretary Stanton, and he thanked me and gave me a furlough for thirty days back home in Maine. When I returned to my regiment I was transferred to Company H, 1st Maine Heavy Artillery, and promoted from seventh corporal to first sergeant, and Congress gave me a medal of honor.’”
Asbury F. Haynes in 1921
Confederate Veteran magazine published Hayne’s account in a 1924 issue asking members of the 21st North Carolina to give their accounts of the flag’s capture. “Where is the 21st North Carolina? Comrades, speak up,” implored the publication. None contested Haynes’ version of events, except for a recalculation of the number of men present with the 21st at the time. Colonel John C Stiles, described as the “best-posted man on ‘Official Records’” wrote that according to the report of the commander of the 17th Maine, 75 men were captured under the command of a captain and said “that was probably the entire outfit.” Stiles went on to say that even though Haynes wasn’t directly mentioned in the report that “in justice to him, the official records do show that he was given the medal for capturing a flag of the 21st North Carolina. Everybody who brought in a Rebel flag at that time got a medal, and there were a great many gotten, and they deserved it, too.”
Asbury Haynes lost his Medal of Honor on the grounds of the great Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition in Seattle, in July 1909. It is not known when or if it was recovered.
Seattle Times, July 9. 1909
Haynes served in several Maine regiments during the war, but received the Medal of Honor while a Corporal in the 17th Maine Infantry. The final regiment he served in was the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery which is what is designated in his grave marker.
Haynes lived in Seattle since 1889. He was Seattle’s representative at the ceremonial funeral of the Unknown Soldier in Washington DC in 1921. Asbury Farnham Haynes died on July 8, 1931 and is buried in Seattle’s Lake View Cemetery.