The Power of Passion: How a Lack of Momentum is Dooming New Hampshire Battle Flags

By Savannah Rose ’17

In my last post, I looked at preservation of Civil War artifacts at the local level, but not even at the state level do these items receive the attention they need. I spent my winter break back home in New Hampshire and decided to take a visit to our capitol building to visit the Hall of Flags. I have seen and read about the Hall before, but I hadn’t visited it in a few years. I arrived at the capitol building after a few hours of driving, opened the large doors to the governmental building, and immediately arrived in the Hall of Flags, all ranging from the Civil War to Vietnam.

The Hall of Flags contains 107 battle flags ranging from the Civil War to the Vietnam War. Photo courtesy of author.
The Hall of Flags contains 107 battle flags ranging from the Civil War to the Vietnam War. Photograph by the author.

The State House has possession of battle flags from regiments deriving from the state of New Hampshire from more than 150 years ago. The first flags came to the State House in 1866, months after the last shots of the Civil War were fired. The flags resided in the Concord City Hall, entering their current home in the state capitol building in 1900, and have not been touched since. Straight from the battlefield, the flags create a magnificent exhibit of loyal colors, showing the pride the state had for its citizens who fought in more than five different wars. The flags are tattered, faded, and worn out, not solely due to bullet holes and bloodstains, but by the way they are presented to visitors.

All 107 of the flags are preserved the same way, hanging on their flagpoles, which stand in large cases lining the walls of the hall. These cases are not airtight, allowing dust and air to enter them and cause fast deterioration of the flags. In addition, the hanging nature of the flags is causing them to tear and fall apart, leaving large gashes in the once vibrant colors of New Hampshire veterans. For decades, the Hall of Flags has come under attack as being harmful to the preservation of the flags, and many attempts have been made to stabilize and rehang the flags properly.

The Civil War battle flags are deteriorating due to improper care and preservation. Photo courtesy of author.
The Civil War battle flags are deteriorating due to improper care and preservation. Photograph by the author.

In 1989, an attempt was made to take fifteen of the flags in the worst condition and lay them flat for better preservation. The price tag of $60,000 halted the operation, and further fundraising attempts garnered too little to do any good. People have stepped forward to try to change the fate of the flags, many joining the New Hampshire Battle Flags Preservation Committee, whose goal is to preserve flags for future generations. Currently, efforts are being made to preserve the flags within the Hall of Flags, laying them flat and displaying them in a fashion that would ensure their survival for many generations, something the state is interested in doing, but lacks the funds to do.

Unlike local historical societies, as discussed in my last post, the state of New Hampshire should have more funds to take better care of their flags. 150 years later, the state has been unsuccessful in preserving the flags and continues to hang their state’s history on poles. The Hall of Flags exemplifies the control that money and funds have over the preservation of history, and that not even at the state level can sufficient funding be found to preserve precious historical artifacts. In addition to lack of funding, the Hall of Flags preservation effort has lost momentum several times, which shows that passion does play a crucial role in historical preservation.

The hanging flags rip and tear as they continue to fade out of historical record. Photo courtesy of author.
The hanging flags rip and tear as they continue to fade out of historical record. Photograph by the author.

Without a passion for the artifacts and the history they represent, the issues of poor preservation will fly under the radar. Fundraisers do not occur if no one is passionate about saving the flags from destruction. The project is continuously pushed off to different groups in the hope that one will be able to help the flags. One would imagine that some group would have been able to aid the flags, but a high monetary price tag deters motivation, making goals seem unreachable. With a dampened spirit caused by the extreme cost of historical preservation, passion tends to decline, thus making it difficult for a momentum to gain speed to make a change. Lack of passion halts fundraising attempts as well as seeking out other possibilities for change, leading to an unchanged state of the artifacts. The Hall of Flags has seen numerous waves of motivation to change their preserved state, but none have been able to stop the flags from deteriorating in front of visitors.

5 thoughts on “The Power of Passion: How a Lack of Momentum is Dooming New Hampshire Battle Flags”

  1. As a Southorner and SCV member its a shame the good folks of New Hampshire can’t restore these battle flags. The men who fought and died carrying these flags deserve much more respect than this.

  2. Thank you so much for your interest and your article. A similar article appeared in a recent edition of Civil War News. If enough people raise the battle cry, perhaps a
    philanthropic organization will undertake the restoration project.

  3. Who is that handsome young man in the reflection of your photos? Why he must be avidly into history. It’s always good to have someone to share history with, our past is a gift, and sharing it with everyone is our civic duty.

  4. Here in Maine our State Museum staff removed and preserved our State,s Civil War flags. The flags were originally on exhibit in the State Capital building, much like NH’s flags. The flags were removed and replaced with replicas and the original flags are preserved in the State Museum. Maybe NH can consult with its neighbor to the east on how to go about preservation.

  5. Soon after choosing NH for my residence in 1986, I visited the state house. While pleased to find history important to NH upon entering, I was puzzled by how tattered the flags were from obvious decay. Fast forward to 2018 and still no preservation done. Rot happens and cannot be stopped; at best it can be slowed. Once gone, it is gone. The real problem is the march of time produces yet more artifacts of courage and principle; every generation needs veneration. The solution:
    Lovingly encase the old flags permanently in solid, transparent media and mount on carousel (how large rugs are displayed in shops).

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