New Civil War Battle Flags Exhibit Opens at NYS Capitol


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CapitolA new exhibit of Civil War battle flags, “1863: Loyal Till Death,” is on display at the State Capitol, featuring ten flags carried upon the distant battlefields in the third year of the war, including those from the war’s most decisive stage, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

This exhibition includes special flags procured and presented to regiments by local patrons and politicians, unique personalized flags, and battle-damaged colors that, like the regiments they represented, were mere fragments of their once pristine and whole existence.

“Almost half a million New Yorkers – about 21 percent of the male population of the state in 1860—served in the Union Army and Navy during the Civil War,” said Major General Patrick Murphy, the Adjutant General of New York. “These battle flags are tangible reminder 150 years later of the brave New Yorkers who fought to preserve the United States of America. I’m pleased that the Division of Military and Naval Affairs has been able to work with the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation to preserve these flags and allow New Yorkers to learn from them.”

The exhibition will run in New York State Capitol’s eastern entrance area through May 2014. The exhibit is taking place thanks to a combination of a $17,000 grant from the Coby Foundation, a New York City organization that funds projects in the textile and needle arts, and approximately $12,000 in donations from the NYS Division of Military and Naval Affairs and private citizens, including the Hill-Warner American Legion Post, Angelica, New York, and the New York State Organization, National Society Daughters of the American Revolution. Over the last three years the Daughters of the American Revolution raised $28,000 to support flag conservation.

The exhibition includes a video component, “Conservation on Camera,” that examines the regimental color carried by the 91st New York Volunteers from Albany, Clinton, Columbia, Schenectady, and Schoharie counties. When presented with the color in 1861, the regiment pledged to Mrs. Harcourt to forever honor and defend the cherished emblem. The regiment faithfully upheld their vow – especially during the deadly assaults at Port Hudson, Louisiana, in May and June 1863.

The video chronicles the flag’s conservation treatment, examines the battle damage, and determines what efforts, if any, were made in 1864 to physically reconnect the two fragments. Other components of the exhibit include a Gallery Guide, available for download (pdf), specially developed lesson plans (to be posted on in September) and free monthly guided tours of the exhibit, on the first Thursday of each month from 5:30 – 6:30 pm, from August 1, 2012 – May 1, 2013. Visitors can sign-up and find more information online.

Since 2000, the New York State Battle Flag Preservation Project, a collaboration between the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and the Division of Military and Naval Affairs, has conserved and properly stored over 500 of the state’s 2,000 flags carried into battle by New York State regiments.

The following flags are on display:

1. National Color, 27th New York Volunteers
Recruited: Allegany, Broome, Livingston, Monroe, Orleans, Wayne, and Westchester counties

Silk national color initially presented to Company I by Elizabeth Church in Belvidere, New York, in April 1861, and later adopted by the regiment as its national color. Carried in battle for two years and many times struck by enemy fire. During the Chancellorsville Campaign, April 30–May 6, 1863, a star was shot from the canton and saved by color bearer A.L. Van Ness.

2. Guidon, 11th Independent Battery, New York Volunteers
Recruited: Albany and Erie counties

A military-issue silk guidon in the U.S. national pattern with 34 gold-painted stars. The regiment personalized the flag by adding an appliquéd crossed cannons symbol with the unit’s numeric designation in the canton as well as battle honors along the stripes to honor their service through the end of 1863.

3. National Color, 91st New York Volunteers and staff
Recruited: Albany, Clinton, Columbia, Schenectady, and Schoharie counties

Silk national color presented to the regiment on Christmas Day 1861, in Albany, New York, by the colonel’s wife. During the siege of Port Hudson, Louisiana, May 21–July 9, 1863, the flag and its staff were severely damaged and one of the color bearers, Sergeant Samuel Townsend, a Confederate deserter, fell mortally wounded, reportedly at the hands of his own brother. The regiment returned the war-torn flag and its battle damaged staff to the woman from whom they initially received the flag.

4. Standard, 9th Regiment Cavalry, New York Volunteers
Recruited: Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, Wyoming, and St. Lawrence CountiesReuben E. Fenton, U.S.

Representative from New York and later Governor, presented this “Tiffany Co.” marked regimental to the 9th Cavalry in March 1863 on behalf of the ladies of Chautauqua County. Carried by the regiment until July 1864, the flag’s blue silk fabric is badly damaged, but still retains the Tiffany maker’s mark, the embroidered Coat of Arms with motto, and the unit identification.

5. Regimental Color, 119th New York Volunteers
Recruited: New York City and Hempstead

Blue, silk regimental color made by Ball, Black and Company of New York City with the Arms of the State of New York embroidered in the center and presented to the regiment in September 1862 in New York City. At the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1–3, 1863, two color bearers suffered mortal wounds and the flag fell into the hands of the 13th Georgia. After the war, veterans from the 13th Georgia returned the flag to the colonel of the 119th New York Volunteers.

6. Regimental Color, 146th New York Volunteers
Recruited: Oneida County

A typical, military-issue, blue silk regimental color with the Arms of the United States painted in the center. Personalized by the regiment to include its nickname, “Halleck Infantry,” the flag accompanied the unit to the Battle of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, July 1–3, 1863, where it helped save Little Round Top, key to the ultimate Union victory.

7. Battery Flag, 13th Independent Battery, New York Volunteers
Recruited: New York City Made by an acquaintance of Captain William Wheeler in the spring of 1862, this unique blue, silk flag includes both embroidered and painted battle honors, an embroidered American eagle in flight, and the inspirational slogan, “Loyal till death.”

8. National Color, 64th New York Volunteers
Recruited:  Cattaraugus County and Allegany, Tioga, and Tompkins counties

In December 1861 the Board of Supervisors of Cattaraugus County presented this silk national color to the 64th New York Volunteers. The regiment first used the flag at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, July 1–3, 1863. During that battle, two color bearers, Corporal Thomas Zibble and Corporal Albert Empy, received wounds while carrying this flag. At some point during its use in the war, a skilled seamstress repaired damage to the upper hoist corner by using a piece of blue silk cloth to replace the original upper staff sleeve. She then stitched the dark blue silk of the upper hoist to the replacement along the top edge.

9. Flank Marker, 1st Regt Engineers, New York Volunteers
Recruited: New York City, Brooklyn, and in the Capital, North Country, Mohawk Valley, Mid-Hudson Valley, Western, and Finger Lakes regions

This blue, silk flank marker, one of approximately 100 similarly designed flags carried only by New York State regiments, includes the regiment’s numeric designation painted on both sides.

10. National Color, 48th New York Volunteers
Recruited:  Brooklyn, New York City, Washington and Westchester counties, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Massachusetts

Silk national color with 34 appliquéd stars presented to the regiment in October 1861 at Annapolis, Maryland, by the wife of General Egbert Viele, as part of a larger, brigade-wide flag presentation ceremony. The event, in a vital border state where citizens had divided allegiances, provided Maryland Governor Thomas Hicks with the opportunity to publicly affirm his devotion to the Union. The flag accompanied the regiment on campaign, including during operations at Fort Wagner, South Carolina, July–September 1863, where two color bearers were killed in action.

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