Saving the Colors

The Ohio Historical Society has an ongoing project to conserve Civil War battle flags carried by Ohio regiments. On October 22, 2013 curators Cliff Eckle and Cameron Wood retrieved the conserved flags of the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry and the 121st Ohio Volunteer Infantry from Textile Preservation Associates (TPA) in Ranson, West Virginia. These two flags are among more than 20 Civil War flags that have been conserved. Funds to conserve the 23rd Ohio were generously donated by the Army of the Ohio, the Army Historical Foundation, Jeane H. Candido and an anonymous donor. Conservation of the 121st Ohio flag was made possible by a gift from the Scott’s Miracle-Gro Company.

Regimental colors of the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry when it was delivered to the conservator.

Regimental colors of the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry when it was delivered to the conservator.


The 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry is often called the regiment of presidents. Rutherford B. Hayes (President 1877-1880) commanded the regiment and William McKinley (President 1897-1901) served in the regiment originally as an enlisted man and later as an officer.
Reverse side of the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry flag after glue and nylon backing was removed.

Reverse side of the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry flag after glue and nylon backing was removed.


The painstaking conservation process took the conservators at TPA a year to complete. In their lab, they placed the flags flat in a large de-ionized water bath to removed the glue and nylon backing that was applied in a previous preservation effort in the 1960s. The conservators must monitor this process closely. If they leave the flags in the water too long some of the images and characters that are painted on the flags could wash away.

The flags are removed from the water with a very fine mesh. They are allowed to dry naturally atop a large rack to allow the air to reach both the top and the bottom. This allows the drying process to be more uniform and therefore less stressful to the flag.

Conservators then enclose the flag within two layers of a thin, polyester fabric known as stabiltex. All the sewing must be done by hand. They sew carefully around every edge. In this way the flag has more support and minimizes having to sew through the flag itself. The stabiltex is a sheer fabric and almost disappears, allowing an unimpeded view of both sides of the flag.

Regimental colors of the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry after the conservators encapsulated the flag in stabiltex.

Regimental colors of the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry after the conservators encapsulated the flag in stabiltex.


So they can be displayed, conservators mount and frame the encapsulated flags. When in storage, the encapsulated flags can be removed from the frames and stored flat. Curators and researchers will be able to examine both sides of the flags without causing the flags further damage.
Completely conserved regimental colors of the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry in its new frame and ready to display.

Completely conserved regimental colors of the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry in its new frame and ready to display.


For more information about the Save the Flags Campaign, contact Cliff Eckle, Curator of History at 614-298-2053 or ceckle@ohiohistory.org. To make a donation to the flag conservation project, contact Paulene Wilson at 614-297-2322 at pwilson@ ohiohistory.org.

To see digitized photographs of the Ohio Battle Flag Collection online, click here to see the online exhibit Fight for the Colors. A selection of the conserved Civil War flags are also part of the exhibit Follow the Flag that is currently free with admission at the Ohio History Center.

Cliff Eckle, Curator of History

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