Civil War Flags Collection

The Union and Confederate battle flags in the Capitol’s collection are like a time capsule that tells an important story of a national conflict. Each represents the beliefs and spirit of a group of men who took pride in their flags, despite being at war with each other. These flags weren’t trophies but symbols that were carefully protected and often carried into combat.

The Civil War Flags Collection is home to 811 unit and American flags, or “national colors.” The first seven New York regiments received flags from the state government after the war began and they were moved to the Capitol in 1863.

Journey Through Time: Civil War Flags Collection

For more than 140 years these cherished items sat on display in cases in the Capitol. They were constantly exposed to dirt from the urban environment around the Capitol and light, which deteriorated fibers. They were also tightly rolled and furled on their staffs, causing stress to the fabric and staves.

Some of the flags were soiled, many with bloodstain from a wounded flag-bearer and 107 bullet holes from a battle to recapture Fort Fisher in Wilmington, North Carolina. Others were damaged by exposure to moisture, heat or cold and from fading due to light.

In the late 1990s the Office of Legislative Management hired textile conservator Fonda Thomsen to survey the collection. She reconstructed provenance files on each flag and recorded activities and conservation work done since the flag’s acquisition. Each flag file now includes a reconstructed photograph of the flag, copies of primary and secondary sources as well as a form completed by the conservator when she surveyed the collection in August 1990.

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