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Online Exhibits - Keep the Flag to the Front, Part 8

Ribbon from  reunion of a Grand Army of the Republic Kansas chapter.

Save the Flags!

"The records of the flags are incomplete. There should be a written history with each of the flags of which the state has charge. The state historical society will have a hard task on its hands on learning all about the flags and preparing a record which can be read with interest by those who see the flags."
--Topeka Daily Capital, July 19, 1905

If our ancestors only knew how difficult it is to record and preserve historic flags! We are still trying to learn the histories of Kansas battle flags today. We also are battling the most difficult enemy in preserving the flags--time.

Following the Flags

On the Fourth of July in 1866, a ceremony in Topeka turned over several battle flags to the state for preservation. These flags became some of the first artifacts collected by the state--nine years before the creation of the Kansas Historical Society. We can assume these were the most important objects of the war the veterans wished to preserve.

On that day Topeka was filled with veterans from the just-ended Civil War. These veterans, like those of later wars, were extremely proud of their service. In the North, they formed the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) and held annual reunions (like this ribbon for a Sixth Kansas Cavalry reunion at Pleasanton, in 1891, left). At its peak, 409,000 veterans belonged to the GAR.

For about 40 years following the Civil War, the flags were in the care of the state adjutant general and kept in cabinets, furled and standing upright in the capitol. In 1905 they were turned over to the Kansas Historical Society. Since that time the Society has collected other flags, including banners from other conflicts such as the Spanish-American War.

By the 1960s many of the flags were crumbling. Years of being furled tightly around their staffs caused the silk flags to shatter, and pieces of them had been lost. Most could not be displayed because of their fragile condition.

Saving the Flags

In the mid-1990s the Society initiated the Save the Flags! project.

Funds were raised to stabilize a number of the flags. This work is very time-consuming and expensive, and must be done by experienced conservators at a textile lab in Maryland.

Flag undergoing treatment. Flag undergoing treatment. Flag undergoing treatment.

First, the flag is unwrapped from its pole and carefully examined. This gives conservators the first clear indication of the damage.

Next, the wrinkles and folds are humidified to smooth the flag. It is placed between two layers of a polyester mesh called Stabiltex, and sewn together.

Finally, before framing the flag, fabric may be placed underneath missing portions to give an idea of its original size and appearance.

What Can You Do?

The boys in blue and gray are gone but, because many of the flags were turned over to the Society, the memory of the soldiers is being kept alive. Your contribution to Save the Flags! helps us preserve these treasures.

 

This concludes the Kansas Museum of History's online exhibit, Keep the Flag to the Front: Battle Flags of Kansas.

  1. The Civil War, 1861-1865
  2. Rally 'Round the Flag
  3. Stories From the Front Lines
  4. The "Colored" Soldiers
  5. On the Border
  6. Chickamauga
  7. The Confederacy
  8. Save the Flags!
  9. Glossary and Explanation of Flag Types

Contact us at KansasMuseum@kshs.org