Among the overlooked historical jewels in our beautiful state is the Maine State Museum, located along with the Maine State Archives and Maine State Library across the parking lot from the State House in Augusta.
The museum maintains permanent and temporary exhibits. Among the permanent (i.e., “been there forever”) are “Back to Nature” (I recall this exhibit from the late 1970s), “Maine Gems,” and “12,000 Years in Maine,” which details the state’s pre-history (“pre” as in the time before Europeans).
Among the current temporary exhibits is “To the Highest Standard,” a display of regimental flags belonging to different Maine units during the Civil War. These faded, patched, and worn-out flags are sometimes printed with the names of battles into which the standards were carried.
To gaze upon these flags is to gaze 150 years into the past. If only these flags could speak, they could share with us the memories of dusty marches, wild charges into Confederate gunfire, and boisterous lads striving to overcome the sheer boredom that afflicted them in the army camps.
The Maine State Museum permanently displays the 20th Maine Infantry Regiment flag and every six months rotates three other flags through the exhibit, which will close in 2015.To learn which flags will appear when, log onto http://www.mainestatemuseum.org/resource/d/52626/20112015flagrotation.b14dd801.pdf.
From June to December 2012, the three additional flags will be those belonging to the 3rd Maine Infantry Regiment (initially bloodied at First Manassas and shot to pieces by spring 1864), a swallow-tail guidon from the 8th Maine Infantry Regiment (sent o the Deep South), and the 28th Maine Infantry Regiment.
A letter preserved by the Maine State Archives reveals how the 3rd Maine Infantry flag reached Augusta. Col. Moses Lakeman wanted to preserve the battered banner, but where would be the best place to send it?
Thanks to his foresight, we can gaze upon that flag today.
Abner W. Coburn
Gov. of Maine
Head Quarters 3 rd Maine Vols.
Near Falmouth Va. January 3 rd 1862 [sic, should be 1863]
Please accept the old and battle worn flag of our regiment. On account of being no longer fit for service, it has been replaced by a new one. Thinking it justly deserves an honored place in our State capital I take the liberty of sending it to your address. It has been in the Battles of Bull Run, skirmish at Bailey’s cross roads, siege of Yorktown, Battle of Williamsburg, Fair Oaks, Fair Oak swamps, White Oak swamps, Charles City Cross roads, Malvern Hill, 2 nd Bull Run, Groveton, Chantilly skirmish at Monocacy, and lastly at Fredricksburg. The regiment feeling a deep interest in the old Flag, and ardently desiring it preservation on account of its having been carried through the above named battles and I must pay with credit to the regiment and honor to the State. I therefore entrust it to your keeping, knowing Sir, that, in consideration of its old age and deserved merit, you will give it its proper place.
I have the honor Sir to be Very respectfully. Your obt. Sert.
Col. 3 rd Me.
Brian Swartz can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.