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I STILL have not seen a Mexican War Flag!

09/20/2010
Flag of the "Petersburg City Guards"

Flag of the "Petersburg City Guards" Before Conservation Treatment (Virginia Historical Society, 1903.3)

I have worked at the Virginia Historical Society for a little more than three years, and what I love most about my job are the hidden treasures I come across as I learn more about this amazing museum collection. I am the museum registrar responsible for loans and traveling exhibits and am also responsible for textile conservation projects. Before coming to the VHS, I was the flag curator at The Museum of the Confederacy and have a lot of experience with historic textiles. I have seen a lot of Civil War flags in my career, but I have never seen a flag that was carried during the Mexican War (1846–48) . . . in person. Imagine my surprise when I came across a database record of a painted silk flag donated in 1903 and identified by the donor as a “Mexican War Flag” carried by her late husband. The flag was repaired in 1926 by adding fabric inserts under the splits in the painting and folded so only the repaired canton (the upper left corner of the flag) and a small amount of the silk field was exposed. None of the current staff members had ever seen the flag, and because the flag was too fragile, it had never been displayed.

The VHS contracted with a textile conservator to survey some fragile silk Civil War flags, and because of its fragile condition, we added this Mexican War flag to the list. Plus, remember, I have never seen a Mexican War flag. . . . When we unfolded this flag, the first thing I saw was a Virginia state seal on the blue canton, and immediately I knew the flag was NOT from the Mexican War, but from the Civil War! Although Virginia had a coat of arms as early as July 1776, it did not have a state flag until 1861, when the Civil War began. This flag was further unfolded to reveal the red and white bars of a Confederate first national pattern.

Close-up, Flag of the "Petersburg City Guard"

Close-up, Flag of the "Petersburg City Guard" Canton, After Conservation Treatment (Virginia Historical Society, 1903.3)

The widow of Lt. Fletcher H. Archer donated the flag in 1903, and because Archer led a company of Virginia volunteers during both the Mexican War and the Civil War, it is understandable that the information may have been confused. After the Civil War Archer served as the mayor of Petersburg in 1882. He died in 1902.

This flag, formerly thought to be from the Mexican War, is the silk flag of the “Petersburg City Guard,” which was a militia unit organized in 1857 in the City of Petersburg, Virginia. At the outbreak of the Civil War, the “Petersburg City Guard” became Company A of the 12th Virginia Infantry. The silk Confederate First National pattern flag, which would have been made in mid-1861, has an oil-painted Virginia state seal on one side and thirteen stars on the other.

The “Petersburg City Guard” flag, which was chosen to be conserved for exhibition along with three other flags in the museum collection, was conserved through a generous donation by the Cecil R. and Edna S. Hopkins Family Foundation. The flag required cleaning and treatment of the silk fabrics by a textile conservator and cleaning and treatment of the oil-painted seal by a painting conservator. The conservation treatment took more than 176 hours to complete.

Flag of the "Petersburg City Guard"

Flag of the "Petersburg City Guard" After Conservation Treatment (Virginia Historical Society, 1903.3)

This flag has not been seen by the general public since 1903! In February, you will get to see this beautiful silk flag in the VHS exhibition An American Turning Point: The Civil War in Virginia.

Rebecca Rose is the Registrar at the Virginia Historical Society.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. 09/21/2010 11:09 am

    Ms. Rose,

    I am the Virginia Army National Guard’s public affairs officer. Your article came up on one of my news feeds. i believe we can help you.

    Below is an excerpt from an article with the link to the article. I believe this fits your request. Out Historian, John Listman will be happy to show this to you. It is in rough shape but it survives.

    Please feel free to contact me at matthew.nowak@us.army.mil

    I can put you in touch with Mr. Listman.

    “The Mexican War Flag is only one of about 12 volunteer flags from that war in existence today,” said Listman. “It was used by the First Virginia Volunteer Regiment during its tour of duty in northern Mexico from 1846-1848. While the regiment was raised for foreign service, most of its members, who were all volunteers, were drawn from existing Virginia militia units. Today its lineage is carried by the 276th Engineer Battalion.”

    http://vko.va.ngb.army.mil/VirginiaGuard/news/jan10/PickettOpenHouse.html

    • Rebecca Rose permalink
      09/27/2010 10:22 am

      Thanks for that information. I’ll have to work that into my schedule soon.

  2. 09/24/2010 4:52 pm

    I love the defense of Petersburg story of Fletcher Archer, and his Civil Defense force of Old Men and Young Boys, as they hold off two charges of General August V. Kautz – before finally being surrounded and many captured. Their actions June 9th, 1864 at Rives Salient provided time for Grahams Horse Artillery and a contingent of Prisoners and Patients from the Prison and Hospitals in Petersburg to bring enough forces to bear to stop the Federal Assaults on Petersburg – Thereby Saving the City from Capture. June 9th Defense of Petersburg is still celebrated by the Citizens to this day, remembering that even Old Men, Prisoners, Hospital Patients, and Young Boys – When Called to Duty, will Serve with Honor.

    A Fitting Exhibit from an Outstanding Warrior

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