29 December 2005 by Published in: General musings No comments yet

Our friends Greg and Karel Lea Biggs are in town, visiting us from Tennessee. Greg is a vexillologist who specializes in Confederate flags. The Ohio Historical Society houses more than 350 Ohio battle flags as well as a handful of other miscellaneous flags, including a recently discovered captured Confederate battleflag which Greg cannot identify. When examined closely, you can still plainly see the blood stains on the white portions of the flag. Greg really wanted to see this flag, and made arrangements for us to have access to the flag collection today to see it. They have all been photographed, and many of them have been rendered as paintings. Photos of all of them are available on the OHS web site.

Only 16 of the Ohio battleflags have been through a full conservation procedure, and are the only ones that are displayed as a result. The ones that have been done are quite nice. One, in particular, really caught my attention. It’s the national colors of the 10th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry, and this flag is nothing short of spectacular. There are a handful of other flags that are similarly preserved and similarly displayed.

Sadly, the overwhelming majority of them are in bad shape. In the 1960’s, at the recommendation of the National Park Service, the flags were glued to nylon in the hope that they would not disintegrate completely, and were then furled. The furled flags are still on their staffs. They’re stored standing upright in four large wheeled bins, and have tags on them to identify them. Some of them are in such atrocious shape that there’s nothing left of them but dust. There’s nothing to unfurl, meaning that they have been lost forever. From what I could tell, there are 15-20 of these that are in such poor condition that they’re forever lost. Virtually all of them are missing large chunks, as silk does not age or wear well. These flags are not only display, are not in the main facility of the Ohio Historical Center, and are not generally available to the public. An appointment must be made, and visitors must be escorted. You’re really not supposed to touch them, but if you do, you must wear white cotton gloves to do so.

Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of the flags remain furled, as they cannot be unfurled without undergoing a special treatment. Once they’re unfurled, they have to be stored flat in special cabinets. Since Union flags can be quite large (6 feet by 6 feet square), the large flags must be stored one per shelf in these special cabinets. The curator of the flags told us today that in order to unfurl and store all of the flags flat will require 24 of these huge cabinets. Each of these cabinets costs about $15,000, but the Ohio Historical Society has no budget with which to purchase them.

My thoughts on battlefield preservation are well known. We can’t afford to lose an inch of valuable land, and I continue to support battlefield preservation as I always have. However, I’ve come to really appreciate these flags, as they won’t be with us much longer unless steps are taken to preserve them. At the very least, they need to be unfurled. They can’t be unfurled until OHS has sufficient storage facilities for it to do so. For those who are interested in this topic, please feel free to contribute to OHS’s fundraising efforts. I encourage you all to do so. The land will still be there. The flags won’t.

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