DES MOINES, Iowa — The State Historical Museum of Iowa in Des Moines has seen thousands of people pass through its “Iowa and the Civil War” exhibit, but those visitors don’t see the 34 Confederate battle flags tucked away in the museum’s underground vault.

News of the flags comes at a time when Americans are debating the symbolism of the flag and whether to remove public statues of Confederate figures.

Michael Morain, communications manager for the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, said the flags are not on display because they are not central to the history of Iowans shown in the exhibit.

Iowa was a Union state, and more than 76,000 Iowans fought for the Union Army.

The long-term Civil War exhibit focuses on Iowans and their experiences before and during the war, and how that affected Iowa life after the war, Morain told The Des Moines Register .

That means some of the Confederate items, including the battle flags, are a lower priority for display, he said.

“One of the things that goes back to the time since Iowans were fighting in military conflicts was to capture your opponents’ flags,” said Leo Landis, a curator for the State Historical Museum of Iowa. “If you were a standard bearer for your unit, you were greatly at risk, and so we have a number of flags from Southern units.”

Some of the Confederate flags were captured by Iowa troops in Columbus, Georgia, near the end of Civil War, Landis said.

Confederate flags also were seized by Iowans at clashes in states such as Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi and South Carolina.

Other Confederate-related items, such as a spy’s pistol, a bugle, cannon supplies, spurs and a sword, are on display in the exhibit.

The dozens of Confederate battle flags typically are only displayed when vault tours are conducted. The same is true for more than 400 other items, including Confederate currency, weapons, belt buckles, badges and insignia, and uniform buttons.


Information from: The Des Moines Register, http://www.desmoinesregister.com

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