9th Iowa Veteran Volunteer Flag
The Eye of the Beholder


A Report in serial form from Honor the Colors, The Iowa Battle Flags Project
By
David M. Lamb
Volunteer Conservator






The progress on the flag of the 4th Iowa Infantry has been slow to say the least. After about ten weeks of spending our efforts on the re-consolidation of the unit identifier ribbon we ultimately reached a point where the paint fragments were too small to be able to piece them back into the area, and we had to finally call a halt to those efforts. I am reasonably comfortable with what we have done in this regard; and, you can now clearly discern that this is the 4th Iowa’s Regimental (although most of the word “Infantry” was either too far gone, or had been “souvenired” away by person or persons unknown at some earlier date).
On the days when I was not in the lab, Project Conservator Sheila Hanke continued her efforts on this flag to re-consolidate the shatter from the central Eagle Device in the center of the flag, and that process is nearly completed as well.




Once that happens, we will then begin a final “shifting” of the field of cloth and then begin the process of cutting and placing the over and under-layment layers of Stabiltex that will ultimately encase this old gal into her new resting place until abler-hands at some future time can once again take their turn at preserving her further into the future.
In the accompanying photo, Sheila can be seen using a “Beva-bandaid” to cement portions of the stripes on the Eagle’s shield together, while laying prone on the “rib-cracker” positioned about the conservation table.



I will submit photos of these final stages in the process at a future point in time, but for the immediate moment would like to direct your attention a new “star” that is slowly on the ascendant in the lab…that being the flag of the 9th Iowa Veteran Volunteers (Infantry Regiment).
David Thompson had recently finished the exhausting cleaning process on a “contract flag” for another museum and was looking for a new project to begin. He chose the flag of the 9th Iowa to receive his next efforts that will carry us well into the Fall; along with continuing work on the flag of the 29th; finishing the final touches on the 7th Iowa Cavalry (when Sarah Carlson returns from her Summer Studies in Great Britain; and, as I said, the closing efforts on the flag of the 4th Iowa.
Last week, David began the process of documentation on the flag by taking detailed overall measurements, photographing of the flag as it appears upon initial placement onto the conservation table, and giving a written description of his initial examination of the flag. He then began the laborious process of “lift and snip” on the twelve to fifteen thousand machine and hand-stitches that are holding the (presumed) 1908 conservation cloth “sandwich” to the flag.
Due to prior commitments, David was not able to be in the lab this week, but on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week (August 3rd and 4th) Volunteer Conservator Richard Fast (who has been volunteering with the project form it’s very beginnings) and I decided to assist David in his work, by continuing the march as it were and seeing if we couldn’t get at least one side of the conservation cloth off of the flag, and also do the “sampling” (taking snippets of all cloth, threads, paints, etc. from the body of the flag itself, and preserving then by using Picolite to affix the samples to slides for future microscopic examination and analysis). In the execution of this process, we also collect any extraneous materials that we might find along the way such as dirt, seeds, grass, plant materials, blood, hairs, fibers, and so forth (*more on this later) in hopes that they might give us additional insights into the histories of these flags.
We were particularly anxious to remove the conservation covering on this particular flag because we could tell that this old gal was very special, as she bore an embroidered central Eagle Device on her blue silk field! Her REGIMENTAL IDENTIFIER appeared to be almost entirely intact, but above the eagle device was an area that had once been painted, but was now approximately 95 to 98% missing, except for what appear to be the distal tips of painted “rays of glory” emanating from whatever used to be there. From the scant fragments that we have been able to see thus far it may have been a bank of roiling clouds with something probably painted thereon (perhaps a “Battle Honor”, like “Sugar Creek”, “Pea Ridge”, “Chickasaw Bayou”, “Vicksburg”, “Jackson” “Jonesboro”, “Resaca” or another of the many actions this regiment saw? Any conjecture would be just that; conjectural, but something was once there that is no longer there, and the “Rays of Glory” would indicate that it was something that the Regiment took great pride in.
The REGIMENTAL IDENTIFIER ribbon is also interesting, in that it clearly identifies the regiment as being “Veteran Volunteers”. From this, it can reasonably be surmised that the flag was not one that was made until sometime in late 1862 or later.



We surmise this because the Regiment was first mustered in Dubuque, Iowa on September 24, 1861, and thence reported to Benton Barracks, St. Louis in October; some 1007 strong including officers and men. They remained there over the terrible measles-ridden winter of ’61-’62 until late February when they joined Vandever’s Brigade of Carr’s Division of the Army of the Southwest (just in time, I might add, to withstand a terrible mauling at the Battle of Pea Ridge where the regiment sustained the greatest percentage of casualties, 218 killed, wounded, or injured of 560 who were engaged, but held the line).
As a general rule, a Regiment could not term itself to be “Veteran Volunteers” until such time as it had served for a period of one-year. If this may be assumed, this flag would likely date from the fall of 1862 or later. It would also, in my opinion, tend to support the idea that the missing section of the flag above the Eagle device once held some sort of battle honor. On many Regimentals of this design, there is a double row of stars arced above the central device, but this flag has 13 painted (stenciled) stars that are clearly visible on the shield that covers the chest of the embroidered eagle, so I would believe it unlikely that the missing section held additional stars. Unless we should happen to find some bit of written evidence telling us what this flag once looked like, your guess is as good as anyone else’s!
What is not conjectural at all is the sheer beauty of this flag!



I can only describe this flag as “breathtaking”.
When Richard and I cut those final stitches and carefully lifted off the conservation cloth, we became the first living people on the planet to view the magnificence of this flag! What an honor! For those of us who spend a great deal of our time with one foot firmly planted in the past there are few things that could be a great deal more rewarding than this.
The accompanying photographs cannot begin to do justice to the beauty of this embroidered Eagle! She is just simply magnificent! And I wanted to share her with you as soon as possible, so please enjoy, as we did, the beauty of this old masterpiece. Think of the time, effort, energy, and probably considerable amount of money, which went into rendering every stitch on this magnificent bird. On the bound-edge of the hoist, you can see the remnant of one of the original cloth ties that would have held this flag to it’s pole. One of the accompanying photos shows this remnant.
Look at the brilliant colors, and the sheen of the light playing off ot the various colors of embroidery thread in that Eagle!
AND….take a very close look at that eye!



Those are cut-glass beads!
From my days as a “Buckskinner” many long years ago, and from having dug up thousands of these as “trade beads” at archaeological sites out West (hint: you can find them near old villages and trading posts on the mounds that the prairie dogs dig up when making their burrows, but watch out for the Rattlesnakes that hunt those same Prairie Dogs; and, who like to spend the hottest part of the days on the Great Plains in an abandoned burrow).
Experience would tell me that these white, brown, and black beads are probably of Austrian manufacture, but again, just my opinion. Further examination may tell us more.
Earlier on (1st paragraph of page 2) I talked about collecting the miscellaneous detritus that we find in and on these flags. So far, we have found pieces of fabric used as ties, small tacks, fragments of what appears to be blades of grass (remember that the “Old Boys” of the G.A.R. actually used to take these old flags to encampments like the 50th National at Gettysburg in 1913!), and what may possible be fabric from the “drop” on an old campaign or membership ribbon badge, and some small fragments of printed pages (newspaper?) tangled up in the fringe of this old lady. And, we have only just begun.
So, another adventure begins as we commence work on the flag of the 9th Iowa Veteran Volunteers. And I know more mysteries await us as we begin to unravel what we can about this grand old flag. I’ll keep you posted on the progress as she continues her journey. Until next time,

Best regards,
David

Posted by CS Stahr on Friday 06 August 2010 - 07:42:53 | LAN_THEME_20

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