Wednesday, October 27, 2004

A $500,000 FUND-RAISING campaign is being initiated to establish a permanent exhibit of Civil War battle flags at West Virginia Independence Hall, considered the birthplace of the 35th state during that long-ago war.

The statewide fund-raising effort will be kicked off in January 2005. At that time, both an honorary national chairperson and a state chairperson for fund-raising will be named. Exhibit concept details also will be presented.

The Civil War flags are considered "sacred relics" of the state, and a creative display is expected to engage students, historians, tourists and others in stories of the Civil War and West Virginia statehood, according to a spokesperson.

Some of the regiments whose flags will be displayed in the exhibit fought at famous battles including Gettysburg, Vicksburg and the Second Battle of Bull Run.

Civil War Union regiments carried four types of flags including the U.S. flag, and it was at Gettysburg that a West Virginia regiment had the distinction of being the only regiment that fought in the battle with the correct number of stars – 35 – in the national flag.

The West Virginians, however, were able to have the only correct flag as a result of theft. On the way to the battle, the 7th West Virginia Infantry stole a star from another unit’s national flag and attached it to its own national flag.

The battle was fought July 1-3, 1863, and West Virginia had become the 35th state only about 10 days previously.

West Virginia’s first state historian Virgil A. Lewis once noted, "The most sacred relics that any state can posses are its battle flags."

A Confederate flag also is in the future exhibit, and it was captured by the 9th West Virginia Infantry regiment during the Battle of Lynchburg in 1864.

As a group, color bearers suffered the highest casualty rate and were awarded the most Medals of Honors during the Civil War.

The upcoming exhibit in Wheeling will have 13 flags of various sizes that have been hand-restored, displayed in pressure-mounted frames and highlighted with motion-activated lighting in a large gallery on the hall’s second floor. In addition, there will be an interpretive flag room with interactive, touch-screen stations, displays and graphic panels opposite the gallery.

Exhibits Concepts Inc. of Vandalia, Ohio, has been selected by the WVIHF Flag Restoration Committee to design, fabricate and install the exhibit. The firm has more than 25 years of experience in creating innovative and historic exhibits.

Jerry Spangler, vice president of special environments for Exhibits Concepts, said the firm specializes in creating visual interpretations of "stories that really tell a great part of American history."

Flag committee members want to portray the importance of battle flags during wartime and to help visitors understand the development and creation of flags from a human perspective.

"We don’t want this to be basically a history book where we’re telling people what to see and think," Spangler said. The exhibit will be designed to give visitors more understanding of what it was like to carry a flag into battle.

WVIHF has partnered with the West Virginia Division of Culture and History to preserve and display what will be the largest exhibit of West Virginia Civil War battle flags in the country.

To date, six flags have been restored at a cost of $95,000. Six additional flags are designated for preservation in the near term.

The West Virginia Independence Hall Museum, a national historic landmark, is administered by the state’s Division of Culture and History in cooperation with the WVIHF. The hall was built in 1859 as the Wheeling Custom House, headquarters for federal offices in the Western District of Virginia.

Its completion coincided with the beginning of the Civil War, and it was the site of heated political discussions and constitutional conventions that led to eventual statehood for West Virginia in 1863.

Copyright © 2004 — The Times Leader

On The Web: