Saving History Saturday: Civil War Recruitment Flag

The Ellicottville Historical Society has had a mystery and material preservation task on their hands. And it involves a flag from the Civil War era!

The preservation saga began in October 2018 with the question: “Would you like your flag back?” Startled, the historical society leadership inquired and discovered that the local American Legion had an old flag hanging in their rooms that belonged to the society.

“Nobody knew of such a flag. Some members recalled being in the legion numerous times, but none recalled this flag,” a historical member explained. “When I was a kid, we’d go to the legion for fish fries and we’d sit in the same room with the flag without noticing it. I guess it’s one of those things. it’s been there your whole life, but you have never looked at it.”

When they went to see the flag, they found it in a large, handmade wood frame, protected by glass. “The glass was yellowed with age, cigarette smoke and grease…. To make matters worse, the flag was held down with staples and thumbtacks. Over the years the flag had begun to pull away from these bindings and tear.”

The flag’s story lay in the newspaper clipping and photographs near the display. The thirteen star flag, measuring 8′ 8″ by 39″, had been donated in the 1960’s by a local resident. Popular lore claimed the flag predated 1800, but maybe that’s not quite true. For eighteen months, Carolyn Bauer of the historical society researched the history of the rescued flag and ways to preserve it.

Working with the Textile Conservation Workshop, the historical society members shipped their flag to the conservators. The Workshop examined the banner and discovered some interesting clues.

“The flag has a long and narrow configuration, which is unusual. The canton extends into the fourth white strip, which is also fairly unusual,” Bauer explained. “They thought the flag might possibly be a naval flag but, with the irregularities, they suggested a flag expert be contacted.”

Enter Jeff Bridgeman, a historic flag expert. After looking at photographs and the preservation report, Bridgeman feels certain it’s a Civil War flag originally used for recruitment. It might have marked a recruitment location or been used and rally-type events to evoke memories of patriots in the previous century.

The restored flag came home in February and will be temporarily displayed in town hall for the Ellicottville’s bicentennial celebration.

For the complete article, details about the preservation cost and grant funding, and the historical society members who took the lead, please visit:

2 Responses to Saving History Saturday: Civil War Recruitment Flag

  1. The Bird brothers, James and Alexander, of the 154th NY Infantry were from Ellicottville. They both quickly picked up rank and James managed to save the regiments state colors on the first day at Gettysburg. My great x3 grandfather served under James at 20th Corps headquarters throughout Sherman’s campaigns of 1864 and 1865.

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