Skip to comments.Flags displayed at museum give a look at area's history, pride
Posted on 05/13/2003 6:34:39 AM PDT by stainlessbanner
One of the highlights of the Cape Fear Museum's exhibit, "What So Proudly We Hailed," is the Second National Confederate Flag, mostly white with a rebel battle flag in reversed colors stitched into the canton, or field.
The flag was made by Wilmington women and given to Col. William Lamb, commander of Fort Fisher, after his men rebuffed a Union attack on the fort around Christmas 1864.
It was waving over Fort Fisher on Jan. 15, 1865, when the Yankees made their final, decisive assault on the fort, combining a "shock and awe" naval bombardment – the largest ever at the time – with an advance from the north by 4,000 soldiers.
Fort Fisher was bravely defended by a force of around 1,500 men, while Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg sat idly by with 6,000 troops at Sugarloaf, that big sand dune in Carolina Beach State Park.
The flag was captured by Union naval shore troops and ended up in a sea chest owned by the Lathrop family in Stockport, N.Y.
Charles Chadbourn, a Wilmington man serving as executive secretary to the Episcopal Diocese of Albany, persuaded the family to return the flag to Wilmington in 1934.
Among other flags on display are the First National Confederate Flag from Fort Caswell, which was found in the home of one of my ancestors, Col. John Lucas Cantwell. In January 1861, a group of hotheads from Wilmington crossed the Cape Fear River and took over lightly-defended Union forts Johnston and Caswell, near present-day Southport. But Gov. John Ellis judged it wasn't time to start the Civil War yet, so he made them give the forts back.
It was Col. Cantwell's job to go tell the boys to return the forts. After the war started in April at Fort Sumter, S.C., the colonel led a mission to retake them.
Chris Fonvielle Jr., a historian at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, helped me piece all this together.
I walked through the exhibit with Ruth Haas, the museum's director, and its curator, Barbara Rowe.
Another flag the museum displayed earlier was a 34-star U.S. flag. On Feb. 1, 1861, it was draped over the speaker's table at a meeting to decide whether locals should support secession. William King Covell of Rhode Island owned it.
Later, locals declared Mr. Covell an "enemy alien," so he grabbed his flag and high-tailed it back to Newport. His grandson donated the flag to Wilmington a century later.
The museum also has the prototype of the 9-11 Remembrance Flag created by Wilmington's Gwen Loiacono. And it has Nazi flags brought back to Wilmington as souvenirs by World War II servicemen.
But the exhibit is as much about preserving historic flags as it is about displaying them.
Patricia Ewer, a textile conservator from Asheville, has been working on the museum's flags. She's done several already.
The idea is to preserve flags, not to restore them.
"Restoration assumed you knew what the artist originally intended," she said. "That has created problems" such as reweaving in the wrong materials or using wrong colors.
Ms. Rowe said damage to a flag helps tell its history. You wouldn't repair a bullet hole in a battle flag, for example.
The museum hopes to find people or groups willing to fund preservation efforts. The big 34-star Union flag or the Second National Confederate Flag would cost $5,320 each to stabilize. Other flags are lower in cost and, of course, people can donate smaller amounts.
A flag is a pretty special piece of cloth. People rally around them, fight for them and die for them. A few are odious to some people, like a Nazi flag or a rebel flag. But all are important artifacts that can tell us much about ourselves.
Call the museum at 341-4350 for more information.
And if you want to see the flag exhibit, you'd better do it soon. It runs through Memorial Day, and then it comes down.
Visit the online "Common Sense" forum via www.starnewsonline.com/cantwell. Contact Si Cantwell at 343-2364 or email@example.com
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