Jeff Morgan, Jeff.Morgan@iowa.gov, (515)
(DES MOINES) –
Some still carry the bloodstains
of the men who followed them into battle. Others were tattered and torn, riddled
with bullet holes from Confederate soldiers. All have incredible stories to tell.
They are seven of Iowa’s
Civil War Battle Flags, and they go on display in “Civil War Survivors:
Iowa’s Battle Flags Tell Stories from the Front,” a new exhibit open
February 18 through April 16, 2006 at the State Historical Museum, 600 E. Locust
Street in the heart of Des Moines’ Historic East Village. Hours are 9 a.m.-4:30
p.m. Monday-Saturday and noon-4:30 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free and open to
“Many people don’t
realize how important these flags were to the soldiers who followed them and carried
them into battle,” Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs Director Anita Walker
said. “During the Civil War, flags were more than simple pieces of cloth
or symbols. They were essential members of the regiments on the battlefield. In
battle, amid the noise, smoke and confusion, the flag directed the movements of
the soldiers and identified the regiment to leaders in the distance. If the flag
was lost, so were the regiment’s position, identity and honor. Losing the
flag had serious consequences that could have meant life or death for all the
members of the unit.”
The exhibit opening will
be celebrated with a gala military-style ball with special guest Iowa Governor
Tom Vilsack Friday, February 17 at 6 p.m. in the State Historical Building. The
event will feature an exclusive preview of the battle flag exhibit; a formal presentation
of the colors by the Iowa National Guard color guard; Civil War-era dances; curator
presentations; and dinner by Café Baratta’s. Tickets are $125, or
a table for eight may be reserved for $1,000. Black tie is optional, with dress
blues or mess dress for military personnel. Proceeds support continued conservation
of the battle flag collection. Please call 515-281-5111 for information or to
make reservations by February 10. Major support for this event has been provided
by Guidon Performance Solutions and Café Baratta’s.
Flags going on display
include the 1st Iowa, Company B (Hawkeye Flag); 10th Iowa Infantry; 4th Iowa Cavalry;
3rd Iowa Battery (Dubuque Battery); 1st Iowa Battery; 3rd Iowa Cavalry; and the
34th Iowa Infantry.
Each flag has silk fields,
and they vary in size, colors and condition. Each has been compression framed
underneath a UV filtering and bullet proof Luxan with aluminum grid work and a
blue board base with polyester batting and air plane grade muslin. Each framed
flag weighs 200 to 250 pounds.
“As amazing as these
Civil War battle flags are to see, what really captures the imagination are the
stories these and our other flags tell through the course of history,” Walker
For example, D. W. Reed
of the 12th Iowa Infantry wrote on December 16, 1864 from Nashville, Tennessee:
“At Nashville, the regiment charged across an open field, upon the enemy
entrenched behind a stone wall. When about half way across the field, a rebel
shell exploded exactly in the folds of the flag, tearing it to shreds. The colors,
color bearer, and color guard were so enveloped in smoke, that it appeared that
all were down: but without a moment’s halt the battered flag came out of
the smoke and Grannis, still unhurt, carried it forward with a rush, over the
wall and up the high hill, in pursuit of the fleeing enemy…”
Another example from J.M.
Tuttle of the 2nd Iowa Infantry who wrote on February 18, 1862 from Ft. Donelson,
Tennessee: “I cannot omit in this report an account of the color-guard.
Color-Sergeant Doolittle fell early in the engagement, pierced by four balls and
dangerously wounded. The colors were then taken by Corporal Page, Company B, who
soon fell dead. They were again raised by Corporal Churcher, Company I, who had
his arm broken just as he entered the entrenchment’s, when they were taken
by Corporal Twombly, Company F, who was almost instantly knocked down by a spent
ball, immediately rose, and bore them gallantly to the end of the fight. Not a
single man of the color-guard but himself was on his feet at the close of the
As part of the opening
day event, the museum will host a number of free, family-friendly activities from
11 a.m. to 3 p.m.:
· Step back to the
past when more than 40 Civil War re-enactors from across the state gather at the
museum to celebrate the exhibit opening.
· Try on uniforms
and take a look inside an authentic Haversack; crawl into a wall tent and take
home a sample of Hardtack – the food that fed the troops.
· Visit a flag conservation
display to learn the seven major steps taken to conserve flags. Museum conservators
will give demonstrations and provide hands-on learning opportunities to visitors
to work with tools and materials involved in the restoration process.
· Discover the role
of women during the war, including life on the home front, storytelling, quilting
and presentations in the Home Front Parlor.
· Join the 16th
U.S. Medical re-enactors who will be in full field duty, caring for “wounded”
soldiers and performing heroic operations – visitors may be asked to help.
· Learn to dance
the Virginia Reel and sing songs of battle with musicians and dancers.
· Bring the names
of ancestors and the county in which they lived to the museum; computerized programs
can help visitors locate and identify their links to the Civil War. The museum
will also share the next steps needed to dig deeper into family history.
· Watch drills being
presented by color guards.
In addition, the museum
will offer History Hunter tours of the museum’s permanent collection at
10:30 a.m. and the Battle Flag Preservation Lab at 1:30 p.m. The permanent collection
tour is $12 for adults/$8 for ages 7-12 and limited to 20 people per tour. Members
of the State Historical Society of Iowa receive a 10 percent discount. The Battle
Flag tour is $20 per person/$18 for SHSI members, and is limited to 10 participants
age 7 and older. Reservations can be made by calling 515-283-1757, by email Museum.Store@iowa.gov
or at the Iowa Museum Store Monday-Saturday 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Sunday noon-4:30
p.m. History Hunter tours are offered the third Saturday of each month, but weekday
group reservations can be made by calling 515-281-3809 or by email at Hillary.Liepa@iowa.gov.
Café Baratta’s is open Monday-Friday 8 a.m.-3 p.m. and Saturday 11
battle flag collection includes 260 flags borne by Iowa regiments and batteries
during the Civil War, Spanish American War and World War I. The vast majority
of the Civil War battle flags were last seen by the public in the 1890s. Since
then, sunlight, smoke and heavy gauze used to support each flag has caused damage,
some of it severe. If left unchecked, the damage eventually would have become
greater than what the flags suffered in battle. On average, it takes conservators
up to 240 hours to preserve a flag, and up to 4,000 stitches per side are individually
and carefully cut by hand to remove the gauze.
The museum plans to rotate
flags in and out of public exhibits as they are preserved and prepared for display.
The average cost to stabilize
a single flag is $4,800. The Iowa Historical Foundation, a private, non-profit
corporation, has established a restricted account to receive contributions for
the flag project. Individuals, veteran’s organizations and many Civil War
living historians have already made contributions to the project. For information
on making a contribution to the Civil War Battle Flag project, please contact
the Iowa Historical Foundation, 600 E. Locust, Des Moines, Iowa 50319 or 515-281-5111.
The State Historical Society
of Iowa is a trustee of Iowa’s historical legacy and an advocate for understanding
Iowa’s past. It identifies, records, collects, preserves, manages and provides
access to Iowa’s historical resources. Its dual mission of preservation
and education serves Iowans of all ages, conducts and stimulates research, disseminates
information, and encourages and supports historical preservation and education
efforts of others throughout the state.
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