The Cobaugh Family
United States Army
the night of Abraham Lincoln's assassination, April 14, 1865, the two boxes
that he and his party occupied at Ford's Theatre were decorated with flags.
American flags were reportedly in short supply in the capital, and it is
well established that the Theatre borrowed flags for the purpose of decorating
the Presidential box. The number of flags used, their specific identity,
and their sources have long been a topic of considerable controversy.
According to Lincoln assassination experts and Civil War historians, the most likely scenario is that five flags were used to decorate the Presidential boxes: four national flags (identified by their red and white stripes) and the blue Treasury Guard regimental flag. The regimental flag is generally believed to have hung from a staff fixed to the pillar between the boxes; two American flags were draped as bunting from the balustrade fronting each box, while the remaining two American flags hung at the outer sides of each box. A recreation of the full decoration of the box was set up on April 17, 1865, and recorded in photographs taken by the firm of Mathew Brady; one of Brady's photographs forms the basis for the present-day reproduction of the scene at Ford's Theater National Historic Site.
Assassination experts generally agree that it was the Treasury Guard regimental flag (now displayed at Ford's Theatre) that tripped John Wilkes Booth. However, Schoelwer notes that an exciting new element has recently been added to the flag story as a result of a newspaper citation recently discovered by assassination historian Michael W. Kauffman. According to Schoelwer, the story in the National Intelligencer for June 13, 1865 (page 3), identifies the Treasury Guard national flag (now at CHS) as "being in the grasp of the President when he was shot." Eyewitness accounts from the Theatre corroborate this story, with several stating that the flags obscured the view, and one witness specifically testifying that he saw Lincoln holding the drapery out of his way just before the shooting.
What Happened to the Flags?
On April 15, 1865, the Treasury Guard colors had been returned to the Treasury Department, where they were displayed with great pride and a label pointing out the tear in the regimental flag, caused by Booth's spur. At some point, according to National Park Service records, the regimental flag passed into the possession of Emory S. Turner, former Major in the Treasury Guard regiment. In 1932, it was donated to the National Park Service by Turner's daughter.
When the Treasury Guard regimental flag entered Turner's keeping, it effectively disappeared from public view. Popular attention shifted to the other Treasury Guard flag - the red, white, and blue national flag. According to period newspaper accounts, the Treasury Guard national flag was placed on display in the Treasury Department beginning in 1872, after being rescued "from the machinist's shop in the basement of the building, where it had lain since 1865, uncared for." The individual consistently credited with this rescue was Henry A. Cobaugh, who held the position of Captain of the Watch at the U.S. Treasury Department from 1871 until possibly as late as 1912.
Having "rescued" the Treasury Guard national flag from the basement of the Treasury in 1872, Cobaugh hung this flag in his office, located at the head of the stairs at the main entrance to the Treasury Department, on 15th Street. There it remained until the early 1880s, becoming "a center of attraction for visitors." Eventually, the crowds coming to see the flag became a nuisance, wearing out carpets and interfering with Cobaugh's work. Cobaugh received permission to have the Treasury Department's cabinetry shop make a case for the flag, which was then locked in the case and displayed on a wall of the northeast corridor of the Treasury Building.
Around 1900, the fate of this flag became the subject of heated controversy. Much to the consternation of surviving members of the Treasury Guard, Treasury Secretary Lyman J. Gage gave permission for the Treasury Guard national flag to be transferred to an unidentified private museum, in Washington, D.C., "devoted to Lincoln relics." (The companion regimental flag was simultaneously dismissed as having "played no part in history.") Despite assurances from the Secretary that the situation was temporary, surviving members of the Treasury Guard objected: "Although the flag was, and still is, the property of the surviving members of the Treasury Guard, some few of whom are still in the department, they were not consulted [by Secretary Gage]." Notably, the article continued, "some of the old members of the guard say they would prefer to have the flag in the National Museum, but they all believe it can be better cared for outside of the Treasury. There it was becoming badly moth-eaten, and no one about the building was familiar with the scientific methods of preserving such things."
Exactly how this controversy ended remains unclear. What is clear is that, by 1907, the Treasury Guard national flag had been returned to Cobaugh's custody at the Treasury Department. In January 1907, Cobaugh sent the flag out of Washington to Edgar S. Yergason, a Civil War veteran and collector in Hartford, Connecticut. From 1907 until 1920, the Treasury Guard national flag was a highlight of Yergason's extensive Civil War collection. After Edgar Yergason's death in 1920, the flag was inherited by his son, Dr. Robert M. Yergason, who donated it to The Connecticut Historical Society in 1922.
"I'm excited to know that The Connecticut Historical Society has finally resolved the mystery of the long-lost Treasury Guard flag," Kauffman said. "This flag is a treasured relic of America's most dramatic episode."
For many years, the Treasury Guard national
flag has been thought lost, a casualty of time and physical decay. "This
bit of misinformation has now been conclusively dispelled," added Schoelwer.
Preserved and proudly displayed at The Connecticut Historical Society,
the Treasury Guard national flag is truly a national treasure-a silent
witness to one of the pivotal events in American history-the assassination
of President Abraham Lincoln.
His wife, Sarah C. Cobaugh, born at Winchester,
Virginia, February 3, 1853 and who died at Washington, D.C. on July 3,
1908, is buried with him.
COBAUGH, SARAH C W/O HENRY A
COBAUGH, WM D