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Cool Things - Civil War Battle Flags

The Civil War was fought in a thousand places, but it is easy to forget that some of them were west of the Mississippi River. These flags were carried by Kansas troops who fought in many of those western battles.

The war in the trans-Mississippi West has often been overlooked because the area lacked battles involving large numbers of troops, such as Gettysburg, Antietam or Shiloh. Thanks in part to the fighting that took place on the Kansas-Missouri border prior to the war (see Bleeding Kansas), the bitterness between troops in the West was comparable to that in the East, and arguably worse.

Testimony to this are two flags: the regimental color of the Second Kansas Cavalry, and the national color of the First Kansas Battery. These two flags show a total of 33 battle honors (places where the units saw service). Nearly all are west of the Mississippi River.

The Kansas Historical Society had serious concerns about the condition of these flags, which had been furled on their staffs for over 100 years. Professional conservation treatment was completed during the spring of 2008, and the flags can again be viewed almost as the soldiers last saw them, when they were turned over to the state in 1866.

This work was done through the Historical Society's Save the Flags! project, and made possible by private donations as well as a federal grant from the Institute of Library and Museum Services.

Regimental Color of the Second Kansas Cavalry

Second Kansas Cavalry flag

The Second Kansas Cavalry organized in October 1861. Originally intended as an infantry regiment, it was mustered in as cavalry the following spring. Among its recruits were many who had seen service in the Second Kansas Infantry, a 90-day regiment at the battle of Wilson's Creek. Because of this, battle honors from the infantry regiment are also included on the flag.

This unit stayed west of the Mississippi. Its soldiers fought at the battle of Prairie Grove and took part in the Camden Campaign (both in Arkansas.) The latter included the battles of Jenkins Ferry and Poison Springs. Though not among the flag's battle honors, the unit also fought at Cabin Creek and Honey Springs in the Indian Territory (Oklahoma). These engagements are significant because blacks, whites, and Native Americans all fought on the same battlefield.

The flag measures 6 feet 6 inches by 6 feet. Ribbons painted on the flag identify the regiment and include the national motto, E Pluribus Unum. Particularly striking are the 22 battle honors painted on the flag, all from places in Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma.

The Second Kansas Cavalry was mustered out in August 1865.

National Color of the First Kansas Battery

First Kansas battery flag

The First Kansas Battery began organizing in July 1861, but was not fully functional until the following year. There is some confusion about the service of this regiment, as the Kansas Adjutant General's report gives little information but suggests the battery was involved in the pursuit of Confederate General John Hunt Morgan in Indiana. This goes unmentioned in other sources.

Early in the war, recruits for the battery participated in James Lane's raid on Osceola, Missouri, which resulted in the looting and burning of the town. Osceola has been credited as one of the reasons for William Quantrill's raid on Lawrence in 1863.

The Battery stayed west of the Mississippi for the first half of the war, taking part in the battle of Prairie Grove in 1862. In July 1863 they were stationed at Columbus, Kentucky, on the Mississippi River. This might explain why the Adjutant General reported their role in the Morgan's Raid campaign of Indiana and Ohio. Perhaps they were sent east as reinforcements in case the campaign became a major offensive.

The First Kansas flag is like the United States' traditional "Stars and Stripes" with two exceptions. The field of stars is embroidered with crossed cannon barrels, illustrating the unit's role as a battery. The other exception is that the stripes are painted with 11 battle honors, including Osceola, Prairie Grove, and Nashville.

The First Kansas Battery was mustered out in August 1865.

These two Civil War flags received professional conservation treatment with funding from private donations and a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, Washington, D.C.

For more on Civil War flags see the online exhibit, Keep the Flag to the Front.

Help us preserve other Civil War flags in the collection by donating to Save the Flags.

Listen to the Civil War Battle Flags podcast Play Audio Tour

Entry: Cool Things - Civil War Battle Flags

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: June 2008

Date Modified: February 2013

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.