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Flag Rescue Project Preserving History

Published: 2007-03-11
Author: Danielle M. McGriff
Article ID: 2007_03_11_1448

Light falls once again on witnesses of past battles that have lain hidden in the dark for many years.

1st Lt. Wayde Minami, a Maryland National Guard historian, described the moment he discovered the flag as being "like an 'Antiques Road Show' moment." He found the 1861 silk issue Army of Northern Virginia battle flag in July 2005, in a footlocker at the Pikesville Military Reservation.

The size of the flag indicates that it may be a cavalry regimental color. The only other surviving example of such a flag is in collection of the Chicago Historical Society, according to Minami.

Minami said that the 1861 battle flag is a part of the irreplaceable heritage of the United States military. The Maryland National Guard and the Maryland Military Historical Society have been working diligently to restore and conserve such objects for future military personnel to reflect upon.

"It was in remarkable condition, considering its age, and with the help of the Historical Society, we should be able to prevent future deterioration," said Minami.

The conservation effort is part of the Maryland Military Historical Society's Flag Rescue Project, which is dedicated to preserving historical flags and guidons housed in the Fifth Regiment Armory in Baltimore. The Society supplies money and volunteers to help restore and conserve the flags. In the case of the 1861 Army of Northern Virginia battle flag, the Society has raised $5,000, which should cover the cost of professional conservation.

The Fifth Regiment Armory has approximately 30 historical flags in need of conservation, many of which were damaged in the 1933 Fifth Regiment Armory fire.

"In 2001, the estimated cost to preserve and restore these flags was about $430,000," said Minami. He said the cost has undoubtedly gone up since then.

"The Military Historical Society has done incredible work helping us save these flags, but there's still a long way to go, and we're getting more flags all the time," Minami said.

A number of flags were transferred from the Pikesville Military Museum in 2005. In addition, as units deactivate, they must turn in their colors and guidons. With transformation underway within the Maryland Army National Guard, more flags arrive on a regular basis.

In the case of National Guard units, the Army will normally allow the flags to remain within the state, but federal law prohibits transfer to private organizations or individuals. In Maryland, unit flags that are retained are kept at the Fifth Regiment Armory, while those that are not are shipped to Fort McNair for permanent storage, according to Minami.

As a result of Army transformation there will be a significant number of flags returning to the Fifth Regiment Armory that will need to be preserved for future generations, Minami said.

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