Two hallowed Delaware treasures came into the Society’s collections in 1884: the regimental and federal flags of the 1st Delaware Volunteer Infantry. Tattered and battleworn, they reflected their service with the regiment at the key battles of Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg. They were presented by the Association of the Survivors of the Regiment, who had cared for the flags after they were retired in early 1864. The photograph, taken in January 1864, shows the color guard with the flags.
The Society held a public program in May 1884 in honor of the gift of the flags. Capt. William P. Saville presented his history of the regiment which “though occupying more than two hours in its delivery was listened to with sustained pleasure and interest.” The Society published Saville’s paper in 1885 and it remains a standard source.
Flags played a vital role in war. On the battlefield, soldiers looked for their unit’s flag in order to find their position. Being a member of the color guard was an honored but highly vulnerable position for a soldier, for the enemy always tried to capture its opponent’s flags. After the war, flags were a treasured reminder of a regiment’s honor and bravery.
Even though the flags are two of the state’s most important objects, held in trust for the public by the Delaware Historical Society, they currently cannot be exhibited because of their condition. The photograph shows battle damage, and the flags have deteriorated further in the years since. They need conservation work and proper mounting. The Society is currently raising funds for this project, and we would welcome hearing from people interested in supporting it.