About twenty members of Holmes Brigade came to the State Capitol in Jefferson City, MO at the request of the State to participate in a ceremony honoring Germans in Missouri and in particular their contribution to the US Civil War. What really got us excited was the announcement that the State Archives had recently located the National Flag that was carried by Franz Sigel’s 3rd Missouri Infantry during the battle of Wilson’s Creek.
Sorry to admit that the 3rd Missouri dropped their colors during the retreat, they were recovered by Sterling Price’s men, but after the war, the colors were returned to the State Capitol. For the last 140 years, all Missouri Civil War battle flags have been rolled up and keep in cabinets. Only recently has the State attempted to restore or preserve these flags. Because the Civil War battle flags are in such bad shape, one state employee told us it takes nearly 20 grand to preserve one flag. The 3rd Missouri flag was mislabeled and only recently discovered.
Since 1991 and at least once a year, members of Holmes Brigade have portrayed Sigel’s 3rd Missouri Infantry at such places as Wilson’s Creek, Carthage, and Rolla, all in Missouri. Research has led us to learn that the 3rd Missouri wore a gray overshirt, a gray hat, carried a Model 1842 .69 caliber Springfield Rifle and wore white buff leather accoutrements. No one has seen any photographic evidence of this exact uniform; we only have the written word to go by.
It was the gray uniform that was the source of confusion and panic by Sigel’s men at Wilson’s Creek. They saw gray clad men coming towards them and thinking they were the 1st Iowa, they held their fire. Sorry to say it was the 3rd Louisiana come to call and they weren’t confused. But you all know that story. Within a few months, every Federal soldier was attired the same, in Union blue.
Back to the event, about a hundred people were on the front lawn of the State Capitol when we arrived, which was at 10AM. We formed in two ranks for some picture taking, and then we did a little drill.
Also in attendance were about ten or twelve young children, between the ages of 8 and 14 I reckon, who were dressed in German polka outfits. They looked like the Trapp Family singers from Sound of Music without Julie Andrews. We found out that these kids would be doing some singing- probably German folk songs.
After our drill and some more picture taking, some with the Trapp Family singers, all guests were invited to come into the Capitol Rotunda and find a seat to hear speechifying. Before us soldiers could go into the building we had to have duct tape put over the heel plates of our shoes so we wouldn’t scratch up the polished floor. There was no place to leave our muskets and traps so we were obliged to carry them with us the entire time. If you’ve ever been inside a State Capitol building and been in the Rotunda part, it is truly breathtaking.
The Rotunda is open all the way up to the 5th floor with fancy scrollwork and paintings. Words are not good enough to tell you how majestic the Rotunda looks. Here is a picture I took, but the eye can see better than this poor image can convey.
In the main floor of the Rotunda were folding chairs for the public. They faced a small stage where four men sat with a podium. Us soldiers, representing the 3rd Missouri, stood on either side of the stage on the curved stairwell going up to the 2nd floor.
A few words were said by three of the men, but the fourth man, from somewhere in Germany, spoke for almost fifteen minutes to a half-hour. He spoke all about the Germans coming to Missouri, settling along the Missouri River, being patriotic and Pro-Union, and how many joined to cause to fight for the Union. All four speakers had some kind words to say about us reenactors doing the 3rd Missouri. Every visitor and State Museum employee had kind words to say about our impression.
After the tongue wagging was complete, it was off down the east wing of the State Museum to the new exhibit on German Missourians. There was a ribbon cutting by someone, then people began strolling in to look at pictures, portraits, artifacts, and the previously mentioned 3rd Missouri flag. The flag was behind glass and there was a glare from overhead fluorescent lighting, plus a sign said that there would be NO FLASH PHOTOGRAPHY!
We lolly-gagged around for a few minutes, talked to a few people who inquired about our hobby, and had a chance to renew the acquaintance of Holmes Brigade alumni, Bill Fannin. Bill had been in the hobby of Civil War Reenacting for a number of years when I joined up in 1980.
He served a few years as First Sergeant and another few years as a 1st Lieutenant. To a lot of guys who joined in hobby in the 80’s, Bill was a mentor who taught us a lot of stuff on the Civil War-drill, dress, and behavior. In civilian life, Bill had worked at the State Capitol Museum in the archives handling artifacts. After open-heart surgery in 1990, Bill dropped out of the hobby. This was the first time I had seen him in 18 years. Despite the fact he is a little grayer and is in his mid 60’s, Bill looked good and was overjoyed to see us reenactors, including old timers from the 80’s, John Maki, Chuck Thompson, and myself.
All too soon the reunion ended because the call came to the reenactors for a free lunch. We took the elevator to the basement to Meeting Room #3. In here was a table filled with cold cuts, bread, chips, soda pop, and condiments. The reenactors had wolfed down one big sandwich apiece, eaten half the cold cuts, most of the bread, and all the soda pop, when in walked the Trapp Family singers. You see, there was supposed to be German cuisine being offered to all the dignitaries and visitors. We thought that included all these kids. Imagine how we felt. I felt bad that we’d eaten all the food, but hey, we didn’t know. Like I said, we thought the sandwiches were for us and everyone else would be eating schlong and kraut. So when the kids came in they had these real long faces, but instead of crying they made themselves a meat sandwich. John Maki and I got up from the dining table and headed back upstairs. Just as we left, here come even more people to the cold cut table looking for scraps. John and I practically ran to the elevator.
After lunch the boys wandered around the museum or lolly-gagged on folding chairs in the rotunda until a museum worker corralled us for a visit to the archive rooms. Here would be a chance to look at Civil War flags in various stages of restoration.
We went down a flight of back stairs, the service entrance, across the State Museum indoor parking lot, and through a heavy door. Overhead were air ducts and plumbing. Underneath these pipes were heavy metal storage lockers that contained a few battle flags on pull out trays.
The museum guy said sometimes the pipes leak and in the summer causes humidity which is hurtful to the condition of these fragile flags, but he reminded us the storage here is temporary.
Each flag is sandwiched between a clear sheet called vellum and/or protected by netting that holds the threads together. The area were the flag was attached to the staff is mostly intact. The end of the flag, which was allowed to flap in the breeze, is mostly gone. To restore and preserve each flag costs about 20 grand apiece, with mounting costing another 5 grand.
We were led into three separate rooms to view restoration in progress. In a temperature controlled room, an archivist, in cotton gloves, was working on a battle flag laid out flat on a tabletop.
She was doing something with reinforcing the back of the banner. Around the room are even more Civil War battle flags, still rolled up, as they were 140 years ago, waiting on their chance to be restored and preserved.
This concluded the tour and our stay at the State Capitol in Jefferson City, MO. It was close to 3PM. We’d got to do our thing as Franz Sigels’ 3rd Missouri Infantry and were allowed a private tour of Missouri’s Civil War battle flags in the restoration process. One final note: the restoration rooms at the Missouri State Museum are open to everyone. Just make an appointment and look at Civil War relics and flags anytime you want.