A dozen folks dressed in Civil War-era costumes gathered in the Iowa Statehouse yesterday, eagerly awaiting their first, up-close look at an historic flag. The group clustered around an installation of Civil War battle flags as five people clad in plastic suits and masks took the flags out of a display case. The flags were placed in the capitol by Civil War veterans, but yesterday they were removed, laid out on special paper, rolled and then transferred to a lab for restoration. It was the first time folks who recreate Civil War battles of the Third Iowa Artillery Battery saw “their” battle flag. Carol Richard, of Hazelgreen, Wisconsin, says a lot of Wisconsin boys joined the unit, which was based in Dubuque. Richard believes the flag was made in 1862 by two women from Milwaukee. Richard made what she thought was a replica of the flag, but once the original was unfurled, she was spellbound. Richard said he didn’t look familiar at all. Jons Olsson of Waterloo portrays an Iowan who was a Brigadier General in the Union Army, and he and his crew were the first people in about 100 years to see the flags outside their case.Roger Shannon of Woodward says a battle flag was an important guide on the field of battle, and the flags were often made by the families of the soldiers. Shannon says the flags were “sacred.” He says one of the flags for an Iowa cavalry union has these words embroidered on it: “Before this flag is trailed in the dust in defeat, our children will be orphaned and our wives will be widowed.” Iowa’s Civil War veterans placed the flags in the display cases in the center of the Iowa capitol building until, they said, the flags turned to dust. Shannon says no Civil War soldier probably imagined the kind of technology that would help preserve the flags.Shannon’s great grandfather was a Civil War soldier, and Shannon says when he dies, he’s willing to answer to his great grandfather as to why it was better to preserve the flags for future generations. Once the battle flags are restored, they’ll be returned to specially-designed display cases in the capitol.
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