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CONSERVATION REVEALS NEW DETAILS OF 17th MISSOURI COLORS
by Randy Baehr
The January-February 2002 issue of The Shrapnel featured an article about the flag of the 17th Missouri Infantry, based on information from a condition survey of the surviving flag in the collection of the Missouri State Museum at the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City. In May 2002, this flag was conserved, and new information based on the Treatment and Analysis reports prepared by the conservator suggests that some of the conclusions reached in the first article are incorrect.
In particular, the star pattern was incorrectly described in the 1998 condition survey. L. T. Shelton, curator of the collections, notes that the condition of the 17th's flag was very poor, with parts of it being stuck together as it was furled around the staff. The conservator who did the condition survey was apparently unable to unroll the flag without damaging it, and thus was not able to determine the star pattern correctly.
The 1998 condition survey reported a star pattern like those on contract flags manufactured by Hugh Wilkins of Louisville, Kentucky-six rows of stars with five in the top and bottom rows and six in the other rows. Because so much of the surviving flag is missing (about 50%), the 2002 Analysis report states that the actual number of stars in the canton is "impossible to determine," but that it contained "at least 32 stars." The diagrams in the Analysis report shows an assumed 34 stars in a "Great Star" pattern-five points made up of six stars each, a larger central star, and three additional stars, one between the bases of the bottom two points, and one each between the bases of the left two and right two points. The stars are painted on in gold pigment and are 2¾" point-to-point, except for the central star, which is 4½" point-to-point. This calls into question the maker's identification as Hugh Wilkins, since the star pattern no longer matches his distinctive pattern. The conservator also remarks that the stripes are "beautifully handsewn", suggesting that perhaps this flag was not just another contract flag but one presented from the ladies at home.
This reconstructed image is based on the Analysis Report prepared by the professional conservator. It shows how the conservator believes the complete flag would have appeared.
Whereas the standard dimensions of the national colors were 72" on the staff and 78" on the fly, the 17th's colors were 55½" on the staff and an estimated 66" on the fly (much of the fly edge is missing). Stripes were 4¼" wide and made of plain woven silk ribbon, which means that the edges on each stripe were finished edges, not cut and folded over. The stripes were attached to each other by overlapping ¼" of the top of the lower stripe over the bottom of the upper stripe (as viewed from the "front" or obverse side) and hand-sewing with "flatfell" seams, using red and white 2-ply S silk thread. ("Flatfell" here is the conservator's term. Flatfell traditionally indicates that unfinished edges are to be joined by folding and interlocking before sewing. It is clear from the dimensions of the stripes that the selvidge edges of the ribbons were merely overlapped and sewn.) There are no battle honors or regimental name printed on the stripes as was often done. The canton is 30" on the staff and 36" on the fly, with two horizontal flatfell seams at 12" and 23" from the top of the canton. No selvidge edges were apparent in the blue silk material. Only 12" of any edge of the flag remain, and it shows no evidence of having been fringed. The flag is not sleeved like standard colors, but the staff edge was folded between a 1½" piece of red wool twill tape and was attached onto the staff with brass screw knobs and brass tacks. It has red and white cords with tassels. No finial is described for the 104" staff.
Conserved original colors of the 17th Missouri Infantry, as displayed in Germany.
The original conserved colors are now on display at the Baden-Wurttemberg Museum in Germany, which funded their complete conservation and has them on loan in an exhibit honoring German-Americans from Baden-Wurttemberg who served in the 17th and other Union regiments during the Civil War.
This article was originally published in the October 2003 issue of The Shrapnel, the newsletter of the Turner Brigade. For information about The Shrapnel, contact Capt. Randy Baehr, Editor.