Restored Civil War flag to 'fly' on museum wall

Textile conservationist Jane Hammond spent 400 hours restoring the 34-star flag once carried by the 21st Ohio Infantry. It will soon be displayed at the Hancock Historical Museum.
Textile conservationist Jane Hammond spent 400 hours restoring the 34-star flag once carried by the 21st Ohio Infantry. It will soon be displayed at the Hancock Historical Museum.

FINDLAY - Working with a paper-thin needle and silk thread finer than a strand of hair, Jane Hammond stitched together the fragments of a Civil War flag carried by soldiers from the 21st Ohio Infantry.

"In many ways this fabric is closer to glass than it is to silk because it is crystallized," Ms. Hammond told a group of history enthusiasts gathered yesterday at the Hancock Historical Museum.

The 34-star flag was unveiled following a nearly year-long preservation effort by Ms. Hammond and other members of the Cleveland-based Intermuseum Conservation Association. A textile conservator, Ms. Hammond figures she put in at least 400 hours sewing the deteriorating pieces of the flag between two layers of nearly invisible silk gauze.

"It's just incredibly time-consuming stitching," Ms. Hammond said. "It's very fragile. It really isn't mending in the traditional sense."

The 144-year-old flag, which must still be attached to special backing fabric on order from Switzerland, then framed, definitely shows its age. But the $25,000 preservation project was not intended to make it look new, said Paulette Weiser, curator at the Findlay museum.

"I think some people are expecting that, but that's not what this is all about," Ms. Weiser said. "It's conservation, not restoration."

The faded stars and stripes did not seem to disappoint those in attendance, including about a half-dozen descendants of men who served with the 21st Ohio Infantry, a Findlay-based regiment with companies throughout northwest Ohio.

Sue Howell and her daughter, Erin Ebert, were dressed in period clothing as they snapped photographs of the flag. Mrs. Howell's great-grandfather Henry Hershey was a member of the 21st.

"If we don't have our history and our heritage, we have no future," Mrs. Howell said, explaining her enthusiasm.

The flag was made in Perrysburg in 1861 for the Fort Meigs Rifles, Company C.

In faded letters, it bears the well-known motto of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry in the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812, "Don't give up the ship.""That was a major victory in that war, so it was an important regional slogan," said Larry Strayer, a Civil War researcher and former curator of the Camp Dennison Museum near Cincinnati. "Even though that was Navy, I think it was generic enough that they chose that for the flag."

Mr. Strayer said the flag was important because there are not many flags surviving from first- call regiments, which initially fulfilled a three-month tour of duty, and because of its tie with Commodore Perry's motto.

"It's a great gem," he said, adding that the flag "is in remarkably great condition compared to a lot of the colors [flags] that are in Columbus."

Funds to preserve the flag came in part from the Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War, which sold enough cookbooks to donate $500 toward the flag's conservation.

In all, the historical museum raised about $5,000 through T-shirt sales, raffles, collection jars, and donations from groups and individuals, including Vice President Dick Cheney, Ms. Weiser said. While declining to say how much Mr. Cheney contributed, she said he heard about the project from a man who is researching the members of the 21st Ohio Infantry and relayed information about the vice president's ancestor, Samuel Cheney, to him.

"[Mr. Cheney] asked him what he could do to thank him, and he suggested he donate to our project," Ms. Weiser said.

The flag is the first of two Civil War flags donated to the local history museum in 1973. The second is to undergo the same preservation process next year, and an anonymous donor has given the museum a large enough contribution to pay for the work on both flags, Ms. Weiser said.

Once it is mounted and framed, the flag will be displayed on the south wall of the museum's exhibition center.

Preserving the flags is important to Civil War buffs like Mr. Strayer.

"Not only was it the point of pride for the regiment to carry the colors, but it had a very functional role either in parade form or on the battlefield," he said.

When black powder clouded the battlefield, the flag was raised above the smoke. "It would be a guiding point or a rallying point," Mr. Strayer said.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at: or 419-353-5972.