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Division announces plans for West Virginia Independence Hall exhibit of Civil War battle flags

The West Virginia Division of Culture and History today announced plans for the largest exhibit of West Virginia Civil War battle flags anywhere. The new exhibit at historic West Virginia Independence Hall in Wheeling will feature the state’s rare collection of original flags, none of which have been on public display for more than two decades.

According to Division Commissioner Nancy P. Herholdt, who made the announcement in conjunction with the agency’s annual Blue and Gray Dinner at Independence Hall, the Division is partnering with the non-profit West Virginia Independence Hall Foundation Inc. to conserve and exhibit a selection of the 140-year-old flags, which for many years were among the most popular items on display in the West Virginia State Museum in Charleston. Because of their fragile condition, however, they have been protected in dark storage for the last 20 years.

“We’re very pleased and excited to announce this project,” said Herholdt. “As the birthplace of West Virginia and a National Historic Landmark, Independence Hall is the perfect venue to showcase our collection of Civil War flags. It is time to bring these flags out of storage and to tell the stories of the soldiers.”

Independence Hall was selected for the exhibit both because of its connection to the Civil War in West Virginia and because there is space at the facility to display a number of the flags, many of which are more than 6 feet long. The facility is part of the West Virginia State Museum network operated by the Division.

Flags in the collection represent regiments of soldiers from what is now primarily central and northern West Virginia. Herholdt said research has shown many of the banners probably were carried in some of the war’s most important battles and campaigns, including Vicksburg, Second Bull Run and Appomattox. A few flags even have what appears to be battle damage, including bullet holes in the fabric and shattered staffs. Others flew over military headquarters or were used for ceremonial purposes for years after the war.

The new exhibit will feature the flags displayed in specially designed pressure-mounted frames, complete with a state-of-the-art, motion-activated lighting system to help protect the fabric. Expanding upon the existing statehood exhibits at Independence Hall, the flag display also will include historic photos and documents about individual soldiers and regiments, as well as interactive displays that will allow visitors to learn more about the Civil War and its soldiers.

The Division recently contracted with one of the country’s leading textile conservation firms, Textile Preservation Associates Inc. of Keedysville, Md., to do the first-ever comprehensive assessment of the state’s Civil War flag collection, and recommend a plan for conserving and exhibiting the flags. The assessment was completed in February, but it has not yet been determined which of the 50 Civil War flags will be selected for conservation or when the exhibit will open.

The conservation project, which is estimated at $190,000, will be funded in part through the Division and a grant from the National Park Service’s Save America’s Treasures program. The Foundation has initiated a campaign to assist with the costs of conserving and exhibiting the flags.

David B. McKinley, president of the West Virginia Independence Hall Foundation said, “The Foundation is delighted to assist with this important project of statewide and national significance. Not only is this an opportunity to help preserve these endangered relics of our state’s history, but the public will be able to view the newly conserved flags for the first time right here at West Virginia Independence Hall.”

He added that the rarity of the battle flags should help increase tourism in the Wheeling area by attracting Civil War enthusiasts, genealogists, students and other travelers to Independence Hall.

One Civil War flag in the state’s collection, the regimental flag of the 1st West Virginia Veteran Infantry, was conserved last year. The flag was displayed during today’s announcement and will remain on exhibit at Independence Hall through the celebration of West Virginia Day on June 20.

For more information about the flag project, call Stan Bumgardner at (304) 558-0220, ext. 121.

West Virginia Independence Hall, originally built as a federal custom house in 1859, served as the home of the pro-Union state conventions of Virginia during the spring and summer of 1861 and as the capitol of loyal Virginia from June 1861 to June 1863. It also was the site of the first constitutional convention for West Virginia. Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1988, the museum is owned and operated by the West Virginia Division of Culture and History, with the cooperation and assistance of the West Virginia Independence Hall Foundation. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with the exception of major holidays, and is located on the corner of 16th and Market Streets in Wheeling. The facility is closed on Sundays in January and February.

The West Virginia Division of Culture and History, an agency of the West Virginia Department of Education and the Arts, brings together the state’s past, present and future through programs and services in the areas of archives and history, the arts, historic preservation and museums. Visit the Division’s website at www.wvculture.org for more information about its programs. The Division is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer.

The West Virginia Independence Hall Foundation led the effort, beginning in the 1960s, to restore the building to its Civil War appearance. The group continues to provide support by sponsoring a number of programs at Independence Hall, including the annual West Virginia Day celebration.

 

State Regimental Flag of the 7th (West) Virginia Volunteer Infantry

State Regimental Flag of the 7th (West) Virginia Volunteer Infantry

The 7th (West) Virginia Volunteer Infantry was organized at Portland, Cameron, Grafton, Wheeling, Morgantown and Greenland between July 16 and December 3, 1861. The men in the unit were from Monongalia, Marion, Marshall, Tyler, Ohio and Preston counties in present-day West Virginia, as well as Monroe County, Ohio, and Greene County, Pa. The unit became known as the “Bloody Seventh” because it fought in more battles and suffered more losses than any other West Virginia regiment during the Civil War. The unit was mustered out on July 1, 1865, at Louisville, Ky.

Significant Battles: Winchester, March 23, 1862; Port Republic, June 9, 1862; South Mountain, September 14, 1862; Antietam, September 17, 1862; Fredericksburg, December 13, 1862; Chancellorsville, May 1-3, 1863; Gettysburg, July 1-3, 1863; The Wilderness, May 5-7, 1864; Spotsylvania, May 8-12, 1864; “Bloody Angle,” May 12, 1864; Hatcher’s Run, February 5-7, 1865; and Petersburg, April 2, 1865.

Flag from the collection of the West Virginia State Museum, West Virginia Division of Culture and History


National Flag of the 4th (West) Virginia Infantry

National Flag of the 4th (West) Virginia Infantry

The 4th (West) Virginia Volunteer Infantry was mustered in August 22, 1861, at Mason City. The men in the unit were from Randolph, Kanawha and Berkeley counties in present-day West Virginia, and the state of Ohio. This unit played a major role in the Vicksburg campaign. On December 21, 1864, the 4th was consolidated with the 1st West Virginia Infantry to form the 2nd West Virginia Veteran Infantry, which was mustered out July 16, 1865, in Braxton County.

Significant Battles: Bulltown, October, 3, 1862; Vicksburg, May 18-July 4, 1863; and Lynchburg, June 17-18, 1864.

Flag from the collection of the West Virginia State Museum, West Virginia Division of Culture and History


State Regimental Flag of the 1st West Virginia Veteran Infantry

State Regimental Flag of the 1st West Virginia Veteran Infantry (conserved)

The 1st West Virginia Veteran Infantry was formed from the 5th and 9th West Virginia Infantry regiments on November 9, 1864, under the leadership of Wellsburg native Colonel Isaac H. Duval. Most of the soldiers were from Cabell, Fayette, Jackson, Mason, Roane, and Wayne counties in present-day West Virginia. The regiment guarded the railroad at Beverly and served in Cumberland, Maryland. It was mustered out of service July 21, 1865.

This flag was authorized by the state on January 27, 1865, and manufactured by Horstmann Brothers and Company of Philadelphia. This style of flag, featuring the state seal, was carried by each of West Virginia’s Union infantry regiments. The flag lists major battles in which the 5th and 9th regiments participated.

Significant Battles: Cedar Mountain, Aug. 9, 1862; Second Bull Run, August 29-30, 1862; Cloyd’s Mountain, May 9, 1864; Lynchburg, June 17-18, 1864; and Opequon, September 19, 1864.

Flag from the collection of the West Virginia State Museum, West Virginia Division of Culture and History


Regimental Banner of the 1st (West) Virginia Cavalry

Regimental Banner of the 1st (West) Virginia Cavalry

The 1st (West) Virginia Volunteer Cavalry was mustered in November 25, 1861, in Wheeling. Most of the men in the unit were from Marion, Monongalia and Preston counties in present-day West Virginia, with a few from southern Pennsylvania. They were mustered out July 8, 1865, in Washington, D.C.

Significant Battles: Winchester, March 23, 1862; Second Bull Run, August 30, 1862; Gettysburg, July 1-3, 1863; Droop Mountain, November 6, 1863; and Lynchburg, June 17-18, 1864.

Flag from the collection of the West Virginia State Museum, West Virginia Division of Culture and History