Last week I had the opportunity to attend a conference held at the State Historical Society of Iowa (SHSI). One session allowed me to tour the Iowa Battle Flag conservation lab. If you are interested in touring the conservation lab, see the website.
Battle flags were carried to help regiment members know where they were going and to assist commanders in identifying troops from a distance. Of course, troops would attempt to steal the enemy’s flag to cause confusion. It was a humiliation to have your unit’s colors taken. If a regiment won a battle, they could paint the name of the battle on the flag. These were called battle honors. Some units displayed streamers from the top of the flag pole with their battle honors on them (like the image above).
In 1894, the Adjutant General of Iowa called for the Civil War regimental flags to be marched to the state capitol and placed in exhibit cases there. Later, Spanish-American War and World War I flags joined them. These flags remained in display cases at the state capital until 2002, when the SHSI began to remove them for conservation purposes. The conserved flags are displayed on rotation at the capitol rotunda and the SHSI.
An index of the battle flags in this collection are found here. This site also contains information on funding for this project, the steps taken to conserve a flag, and enlistments by county.
If you’re looking for something fun, free, and local, head to SHSI museum. Exhibit topics include Center Street history, a fossilized mammoth, Iowa and WW I, art of Native Americans, and much, much more!