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General Douglas MacArthur once said, “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.”  Unfortunately the same is true for some of Illinois most historic battle flags.  Worn by age and in desperate need of repair, Illinois battle flags have been moved from the Hall of Flags in the Howlett Building (Centennial Building) in Springfield to a state-of-the art facility located at Springfield’s Camp Lincoln.

Flags from the Civil War, Mexican War, Spanish American War and World War I went through a relocation process, which began on September 22 and was completed by late October.

Each of the 454 flags, which had not been moved from display since a 1982 cleaning of the cases, has being carefully removed and transported by trained personnel to a flag storage facility at Camp Lincoln.

Volunteer workers wearing protective clothing and cotton gloves removed each flag from a display case, then placed each on Tyvek acid free paper to ensure maximum protection.  Each flag, staff and chord was then checked for its corresponding regimental number, cataloged, covered in bubble wrap and Mylar, rolled up and then placed into large cardboard tubes for its journey to Camp Lincoln.

Upon their arrival at Camp Lincoln each flag was digitally photographed and placed in a climate controlled storage facility where they will remain until funds are made available for restoration.  All of the flags are in desperate need of repair and each restoration may cost as much as $25,000.  Plans are to repair the flags as funds become available and public awareness campaigns have begun.  If you are interested in helping with this effort, or perhaps adopting the flag of a regiment from your area of the state,  please visit: The Illinois National Guard and Militia Historical Society web site for more information.

Once the first flag has been restored, plans are to place it in a picture-frame type storage case and bring it back to the Hall of Flags north display case for public viewing.  This case is out of sunlight.  The south side of the Hall of Flags will be used for a display of the State Military Museum showcasing Illinois military history.

This is not the first move for the battle flags.  During the later part of the 19th century, the flags were collected by the Illinois Adjutant General and stored in the old State Arsenal Building, located on Fifth Street in Springfield.  In 1878, nearly 20,000 people came to Springfield to celebrate the placing of Illinois’s battle flags in the present day capitol building’s first floor.1  Then in 1884, General William Tecumseh Sherman attended a ceremony moving the flags to a new memorial hall on the third floor of the Statehouse.2  The flags remained in the Statehouse until the early 1920s when they were moved to the recently completed Centennial Building, where they remained until this fall.

1 Illinois State Journal, May 24, 1878
2 Illinois State Register, March 27, 1884

The photos below illustrate the process of removing the flags from the Howlett (Centennial) Building, as the volunteers remove the flags, check the identification, lay them out, roll them up in acid free materials and store them in cardboard tubes.  Each unit had it's own regimental and national flag.  Due to a limited supply of National flags early in the Civil War, many regiments marched proudly off to battle under flags made by the ladies of their community, accounting for the numerous styles of Old Glory seen in Memorial Hall.