Saturday, June 6, 2009

Where are the missing Civil War flags?

Nashville, Tenn. – June 6, 2008 – As the Tennessee State Museum curators gathered information on historic battle flags for a forthcoming book titled “Volunteer Banners: The Civil War Flags of Tennessee,” a mystery unfolded. Where are the banners that were carried by the Tennessee Union troops who fought in the Civil War?

At the beginning of the war, Tennessee found itself divided when the General Assembly voted to secede. Most people in East Tennessee were opposed to the Confederacy and many joined regiments to preserve the Union. Support for the Confederacy was centered in Middle and West Tennessee.

“The museum has located many Confederate flags and has photographs of color guards who carried their banners into battle, which will be included in the book,” noted Greg Biggs, renowned Civil War historian, project director and lead author of Volunteer Banners. “Only eight Union regimental flags out of the 60 to 70 believed to have been in existence during the war have been located. As there is no known record of Union flags being destroyed by post-war Confederate sympathizers, there is the possibility that the flags were hidden.”

The State Museum, known for one of the finest Civil War and battle flag collections in the nation, has been working on this project for several years. Because Tennessee was the primary western battlefield of the Civil War, with more than 400 battles and skirmishes within its borders, the state has vast holdings of military documents, firearms and uniforms. The institution holds some 60 flags, mainly Confederate in its permanent collection.

The West Point Museum, in Highland Falls, New York, just outside the gates of the United States Military Academy, holds seven Tennessee Union Flags as part of its collection. The 12th and 13th Regiment U.S. Colored Troops of Middle Tennessee carried three of these flags. These troops fought in the Battle of Nashville and were also responsible for building the railroad that ran from Kingston Springs to Johnsonville. These seven flags and their history are an example of the stories that will be included in the book.

“We are reaching out to the public to help us find Civil War battle flags and photographs of ancestors who may have been color bearers,” Biggs said. “This also includes females who may have been involved in the production of battle flags. Portions of the book will be dedicated to the women behind the banners.”

Women, who went to work in huge numbers during the Civil War, making flags, sewing uniforms, rolling bandages and working in arsenals, were responsible for the production of the community’s regimental flag. They often selected the fabric and the design and developed the patriotic slogans which appear on many of the flags. If they did not actually sew the flag, they generally hired the company that did. The Flag Presentation Ceremony, where women presented the flag to their men, was considered to be the “social event” of season, as it was the symbol and the bond connecting the soldiers to their home communities.

If the public has any information to contribute to the Tennessee Civil War Flag Book Project, please contact by emailing or by telephoning Myers Brown or Ron Westphal at 615-741-2692. Proceeds from the sale of “Volunteer Banners, The Civil War Flags of Tennessee,” will be used to preserve the Civil War Flag Collection of the Tennessee State Museum. For more information about the museum, visit

About the Tennessee State Museum:

In 1937, the Tennessee General Assembly created a state museum to house World War I and Spanish-American War mementoes and other collections from the state, the Tennessee Historical Society and other groups. This museum was located in the lower level of the War Memorial Building until it was moved into the new James K. Polk Center in 1981. The State Museum currently occupies three floors, covering approximately 120,000 square feet with more than 60,000 square feet devoted to permanent exhibits of more than 5,000 artifacts.

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