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SAVE THE FLAGS

One of the greatest successes of Save The Flags, our project to preserve, research and display 240 battle flags carried by Michigan soldiers in the Civil War, the Spanish American War and World War I, has been its “adoption” program. For a donation of $1,000 individuals, organizations, schools, families and communities can help with the preservation, research and display of the flags by “adopting” flags in the collection. To date, almost 150 flags — mostly from the Civil War — have been adopted, providing the project with much-needed funds.

ADOPTION PROGRAM
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Adoptions also help preserve history by commemorating particular regiments and individuals. Adoptions are often made in the name of the original regiment which carried that flag into battle, or a flag may be adopted in the name of a veteran by his descendants.

Those adopting flags are honored in a special ceremony. They are given a photograph of the flag they have adopted and a legislative tribute signed by the governor and members of the legislature. Their names are also added to a “Roll of Honor” plaque displayed in the flag exhibit area at the Michigan Historical Center.

The money raised benefits the entire collection. Humidity, light, handling, and dirt must be controlled and limited. The flags are stored on custom-designed (and very expensive) racks made of acid-free materials including stainless steel and anodized aluminum. This storage system, which stops the ongoing deterioration of the flags, was partially funded by Save The Flags.

In another phase of the project, individual flags so fragmentary and fragile that they cannot be safely viewed or studied are being sent one at a time — as funds allow — to America’s top battle flag conservators at the Henry Ford in Dearborn, Michigan and Textile Preservation Associates. There, conservators carefully enclose the brittle silken fragments between layers of a sheer acid-free material which allows the flag to be safely viewed and studied. This meticulous work is done entirely by hand, sewing around — not through — the actual flag to anchor each tiny scrap. The results are spectacular, but the process is very expensive. Depending on the size and condition of the flag, such treatment can cost thousands of dollars per flag and sometimes much more!

Fortunately, many of Michigan’s flags do not require this treatment. Even so, the money needed to fully stabilize all the flags in the collection will ultimately amount to several hundred thousand dollars. A more specific cost is not possible because every flag is different, and the cost depends on the size and condition of each flag. Our approach is to take one flag at a time!

One of the most important benefits of the project has been the opportunity for people all over Michigan (and indeed from all over the country) to participate in saving these fragile links to the past—and to learn from them. No other artifact of the Civil War evokes more awe than the very battle flags Michigan men carried and fought under. We often point out that we are not just saving artifacts, no matter how interesting and beautiful, but history itself.

CONTACT INFORMATION
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Matt Van Acker
Save The Flags, Co-Chair
517/373-5157 mvanacker@legislature.mi.gov



CONSERVATION VS. RESTORATION
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Quite often the terms conservation and restoration are used interchangeably, while in reality the concepts embody two very different philosophies. Save The Flags, the project to preserve, CONSERVE, research and display the Michigan Capitol Battle Flag collection is a project rooted in conservation — not restoration.

The goal of any true restoration project is to bring the object, whether it is a building, vehicle, paper or fabric artifact to its original state. When a car is restored, the work may include a guarantee that only original parts will be used. The original engine would be rebuilt with original parts, the rusted holes in the fenders would be repaired, if possible the original finish would be left intact or the vehicle would be painted to perfectly match the factory paint job. The goal would be to have the vehicle look just as it did when it rolled off the assembly line.

The goal of Save The Flags is to conserve the flags as they are — in their current state. We wish to arrest their further deterioration but we do not attempt to restore the flags to their original appearance. Our work includes stabilizing the flags within two layers of acid free fabric, encapsulating the flags and their torn bits and pieces, thereby preventing additional losses and detachment. We do not and never would attempt to sew up holes or launder flags in an attempt to make them whole again. The vast majority of the flags in the collection, especially the Civil War flags, were actively carried and used on the battle field. Many of the flags bear the physical signs of that use. They were the rallying point for men in combat. They were shot through with bullets, stained with gun powder and dirt, and, in some instances, the very blood of the wounded or killed color bearers who bore them into battle.

To attempt to restore a flag to the original appearance would in essence be an attempt to erase the history of that flag. To mend holes that were rendered in the heat of battle would contribute to the degradation of that flag. An attempt to wash the blood stains from the flag would be tantamount to dishonoring the man who gave his life defending the flag. Our approach in conserving this incredible collection has always been to do nothing to a flag that cannot be reversed someday. The over-riding rule we subscribe to in conservation, preservation, education and display is quite simple—does the act bring honor to the memory of the proud Michigan soldiers who fought so bravely beneath them?

The First Michigan Cavalry Battle Flag, shown here before humidity flattening, sewing and stabilizing.
The First Michigan Cavalry Battle Flag, shown here before humidity flattening, sewing and stabilizing."
Photo Courtesy of Save the Flags


Humidity flattening processes, being applied to the First Michigan Cavalry Battle Flag
Humidity flattening processes, being applied to the First Michigan Cavalry Battle Flag
Photo Courtesy of Save the Flags


Stitching the flag.
Stitching the flag.
Photo Courtesy of Save the Flags


Stabalizing the flag.
Stabalizing the flag.
Photo Courtesy of Save the Flags


Conservation complete.
Conservation complete.
On 28 September 1861 Colonel Thornton Brodhead received this flag on behalf of the First Michigan Cavalry Regiment. On 30 August 1862, at Second Bull Run, Brodhead was shot. Knowing he was dying, he wrote, his wife: "I hope from heaven I may see the glorious old flag wave again over the individual Union I have loved so well. Farewell wife and Babes and Friends. We shall meet again."
Photo Courtesy of Save the Flags