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Rally Round the Flags, Michigan Historical Museum

A wounded soldier, as he is borne to the rear on a stretcher, caught sight of my tattered banner, and begun the song "Rally Round the Flag, Boys." Every man took up the words and went in with renewed vigor. . . . [Later] some of our lines commence to fall back, and a huge rebel asks me to surrender my colors, but these I never intend to let go out of my hands til I have no life in me to carry them.

Daniel Crotty, 7 May 1864, Third Michigan Infantry, Battle of the Wilderness, Virginia

Through battle, death, defeat and victory, Michigan men like Daniel Crotty and the men of the Third Michigan Infantry rallied to their regiment's flags. Bullets shredded the banners. Blood stained their folds. Yet more than 160 of these flags survive. Presented to regiments on behalf of their communities, flags represented home as well as the fight for the Union. In battle the large brilliantly colored banners marked the position of each unit—and made the flag bearers targets of enemy fire.

After the Civil War, the battle flags came to symbolize the sacrifice of war. In 1866, when many of Michigan's flags were returned to the state, Governor Henry Crapo promised the veterans that their flags would "not be forgotten and their histories left unwritten." When the state opened its new Capitol in 1879, the flags had a place of honor. Today, citizens from Michigan and beyond contribute to their conservation and preservation. The battle flags are cared for by a unique partnership between the Michigan Historical Museum and the Michigan Capitol Committee.

Rally Round the Flags exhibited 56 battle flags at the Michigan Historical Museum from June 1996 through May 1997. Although the exhibit has closed, you may now view the flags and other scenes from the exhibit here.

Take the online tour of Rally Round the Flags:

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