After a year-long restoration, the Buck Civil War flag has finally returned to Southborough!
William E. Buck, for whom our flag was made, was born in 1841 in Westborough. He lived with his parents Edwin and Susan Rice Buck, and his younger brother Edgar, on a farm in Southborough. On December 2, 1861 William enlisted in company I, Massachusetts 20th Infantry Regiment, where he was recorded to be 5 feet 6 1/2 inches tall, with gray eyes and brown hair. No other details or images exist.
What is known is that the 20th Massachusetts was involved in many battles throughout the Civil War and sustained the fifth highest number of casualties of all the regiments in the Union Army. William Buck saw action at the Battle of Fair Oaks and the Battle of Malvern Hill, before being shot in the head on September 17th, 1862 at the Battle of Antietam. He was taken to the Broad Street military hospital in Philadelphia where he succumbed to his wounds on September 28th, 1862, and was briefly interred. The Southborough recruiting agent traveled to Philadelphia to accompany William Buck’s body back to Southborough, where he was reburied with full military honors on November 3rd at the Rural Cemetery.
William Buck was twenty-one years old when he died and had not married. He had no direct descendants.
The flag came into the possession of the Southborough Historical Society in 2007 when the town library transferred a number of historical items to the society. When one of the bags was opened, it was discovered to contain a flag in extremely poor condition. That the handmade flag with its 34 cut-out stars had the name Buck written in ink on the band, led to the conclusion that it was sewn in honor of William Buck in 1862, probably by members of his own family. Its vertical alignment and size (9’x6′) suggests it was intended to cover Buck’s casket before burial. One can only imagine the agonizing mix of pride and despair that must have accompanied the creation of this flag.
But how did it end up at the library?
Edwin Buck, the father of William Buck, was one of three sons of Charles and Lucy Warren Buck. His niece, Francena (Fanny) Buck, was born in 1850 in Southborough. She would have been twelve when her older cousin William’s body was returned to Southborough for burial and may have helped make the flag to honor him. Fanny Buck became the Southborough librarian in 1882 or 1883, serving in that position for thirty years. She died in 1928 and is also buried at the Rural Cemetery. Given the flag’s wear, it is likely that it was hung for a while outside at the Buck homestead, which was taken down in the 1890s for the building of the reservoir. Perhaps when the flag was removed, Fanny took possession of her cousin’s flag and later displayed it at the library. Then after her death, its significance was forgotten. Someone stuffed the flag into an old paper bag and it lay buried at the bottom of a closet for nearly 90 years.
Today, thanks to monies from the Community Preservation Fund, and the skilled efforts of the team at Museum Textile Services, the Buck flag can be seen for the first time in almost a century, a moving memorial to a young man of 21, who gave his life to preserve the Union.
(Thanks to our new VP, Sally Watters, for the genealogical research above.)