A restored Civil War battle flag has been placed back in the statehouse rotunda. The 15th Iowa Infantry from Polk County carried the flag into battle back in 1861 and for decades the flag was on display in a huge glass case in the state capitol.
Sheila Hanke, the chief conservator of the state’s collection of Civil War battle flags, says the flag had special meaning for the men who marched behind it. “It’s a company flag which means that it was made by the women of the community for the men so it was a very important reminder of home,” Hanke says. “It said my loved ones are thinking of me and caring for me.”
The flag was shot and torn during battle. “It had repairs — field repairs — using the coats of the servicemen and that is such a great sacrifice because they only had one piece of clothing,” she says, “and to give up your clothing for your flag really says what the flags meant to those men on the battlefield.”
The flag, along with a few dozen others, was on display in the Capitol’s rotunda for more than a hundred years before the flags were removed in 2004 for restoration. “They have a lot of distortion and environmental damage done to them and, of course, they were battle flags so there’s battle damage,” Hanke says, “so you have to take all that into account and work on individual treatment plans for each of the flags and restore them back to their beauty.”
The State Historical Museum has over 300 Civil War, Spanish-American War and World War I battle flags in its collection.