Museum seeks Civil War flags

Friday, June 13, 2008

NASHVILLE -- As the Tennessee State Museum curators gathered information on historic battle flags for a forthcoming book titled "Volunteer Banners: The Civil War Flags of Tennessee," a mystery unfolded. Where are the banners that were carried by the Tennessee Union troops who fought in the Civil War?

At the beginning of the war, Tennessee found itself divided when the General Assembly voted to secede. Most people in East Tennessee were opposed to the Confederacy and many joined regiments to preserve the Union. Support for the Confederacy was centered in Middle and West Tennessee.

"The museum has located many Confederate flags and has photographs of color guards who carried their banners into battle, which will be included in the book," said Greg Biggs, renowned Civil War historian, project director and lead author of Volunteer Banners.

"Only eight Union regimental flags out of the 60 to 70 believed to have been in existence during the war have been located. As there is no known record of Union flags being destroyed by post-war Confederate sympathizers, there is the possibility that the flags were hidden."

The State Museum, known for one of the finest Civil War and battle flag collections in the nation, has been working on this project for several years.

Because Tennessee was the primary western battlefield of the Civil War, with more than 400 battles and skirmishes within its borders, the state has vast holdings of military documents, firearms and uniforms. The institution holds some 60 flags, mainly Confederate in its permanent collection.

The West Point Museum, in Highland Falls, N.Y., just outside the gates of the United States Military Academy, holds seven Tennessee Union Flags as part of its collection. The 12th and 13th Regiment U.S. Colored Troops of Middle Tennessee carried three of these flags.

These troops fought in the Battle of Nashville and were also responsible for building the railroad that ran from Kingston Springs to Johnsonville.

These seven flags and their history are an example of the stories that will be included in the book.