Civil War flags were created in a number of styles and shapes, and from a number of materials. Some were exposed to the elements for several years, while others were captured or retired in much shorter periods, or displayed only under certain circumstances.
This flag was presented to the 14th Tennessee Infantry after the Battle of Chancellorsville, so had been carried for only a couple months before Gettysburg, where it was captured and forwarded away from the battlefield (and the elements). It was made from wool bunting, which is a lightweight wool fabric that was used in American flags until the mid-twentieth century. Typically imported, and woven in a plain weave from worsted wool, it was one of the best materials for durability. The standard for decades, wool bunting was a tough fabric which resisted water and the elements much better than cotton and silk.
The focus on this flag is toward conservation, not restoration. There is general agreement these days that the best possible scenario is to hold flags in their current condition and to halt any further deterioration, as opposed to efforts to restore the flag to some sort of original semblance. And that’s what is to happen with the banner of the 14th Tennessee.
This flag has a backing stitched to it and netting attached on top, which is a result of an earlier conservation treatment from decades ago. These are now pulling at the flag and will be removed. The conservator will also be working with the lower-left corner, where there has been damage for over a century. To give you a better idea of what the conservator will be facing, on this page we’re including an artist’s depiction of the flag from the early 1900s, as well as a modern photograph provided by the folks at the Tennessee State Museum, which shows that the missing areas were filled in with pieces of cloth behind the flag. These are also pulling on the flag. The new conservation will remedy this and make the battle damage more visible.
Textile conservators charge by the hour, and the estimate on this flag is currently at $12,000, which is actually on the lesser end of the conservation estimates for these magnificent relics of our nation’s history. In the future we’re planning on an interview with a textile specialist at the State Museum, as well as a conservator who will actually be doing the work. And if you have a question about any of this let us know, and we’ll ask the experts and post an answer for all to see.