The Civil War Flags Collection at the National Museum of American History

The Museum has a collection of more than 800 Civil War Flags Collection. Some are reproductions or post-war flags, but most came from the era of the American Civil War. They are a reminder of the sacrifices made by men of all ages and backgrounds. They also show the many ways in which the Civil War divided America – politically, regionally and even racially.

The flags are stored in specially designed cabinets that keep them away from light, which can degrade fabrics. They are also kept at a controlled temperature and humidity, which helps preserve them.

Honoring the Past: Civil War Flags Collection Revealed

During the war, the flags weren’t just artifacts in a museum; they were tools of war, 19th-century communication systems that tipped off other soldiers of their location on the battlefield. Each regiment had a color company or color guard, whose member was assigned to carry the flag into battle and protect it. These men were selected based on their courage and steadiness under fire, not the color of their skin.

Some of the Museum’s Civil War flags have been conserved (restoration attempts to bring a work back to its original appearance), while others have not been touched. This decision was made out of respect for the history and provenance of each individual flag. Conserved flags may still show frays, bullet holes, and other signs of their past. In the end, the goal of conservation is to preserve what remains and interpret it for future generations.

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