VFW members work to preserve Michigan Civil Battle Flag

Sarah Daniels - 11/30/2023


"They knew if the confederates took that flag, they would take the heart and soul of their men.”

Eric Calley, Post Commander of VFW Post 4646, said as he reflected on the importance of the preservation of what is believed to be the only Civil War Flag on public display in Michigan.

Calley and his Muir-Lyons VFW Post have joined forces with the leadership of VFW Post 12082 in Ionia to raise funds to restore and preserve the piece of Michigan’s history that followed the 21st Infantry Regiment through eight Civil War battles.

In 1862, the "Ladies of Ionia,” mothers, wives, sisters and daughters, purchased a hand-embroidered the silk flag as a gift to the soldiers headed south to the battlefields. The 21st Infantry Regiment was made up of 2, 423 soldiers from 18 Michigan counties. The flag was carried by the Regiment at the Union's victory during Sherman's march through Kentucky, Georgia, and North Carolina. The unit lost 377 men due to battle and disease. Many more returned home with the residuals of injuries sustained during the war.

The flag was returned to its creators on July 4, 1865, and has been on display at the Ionia Courthouse for nearly 160 years. An effort was made to preserve the flag in 1960, but the technology of the time required the flag to be stitched through the material, ultimately creating further damage to the already deteriorating flag.

The 21st Infantry Regiment was given four battle flags by the State of Michigan, all of which were returned to the State after the war, and are not for public viewing. The Ionia flag was the fifth banner the troops carried, and was given back to the county because it was created and gifted to them by the women in Ionia County.

The members of VFW Posts 12082 and 4646 have committed to raising the funds needed for the flag’s restoration, and in turn, preserving the legacy of the Michigan soldiers who carried it into the chaos of the Civil War.

If the flag is not restored and preserved properly, staff members from the state program, Save the Flags, will archive the flag along with the others, where it will rest safely and preserved, but outside of public display or viewing. 

"Over the last decade, our history has been slowly taken down across America, especially the Civil War history,” Calley said. "This is a piece of our history. Restoring this flag teaches our kids the legacy of the veterans that came before them. They won’t be able to see it if it's not open to them.” 

Calley also said that Michigan was among the first states to send soldiers to fight in the Civil War, and was home to one of the first casualties on the battlefield.

"Having the flag open to the public will preserve the legacy of those 2,423 soldiers,” Calley added. "If it is taken away, out of sight, out of mind, their legacy won’t be portrayed the way it should be.”

The Michigan VFW Posts are looking to raise $50,000 for the cost of the flag’s restoration. On January 26, 2024, the VFW Posts will host the 21st Infantry Gala, where guests can have dinner, learn about Michigan’s Civil War history and participate in a silent auction as a fundraiser. The event will also feature Vietnam veteran and Medal of Honor Recipient Sammy L. Davis as the keynote speaker.

Donations can also be made online or sent to VFW Post 12082, with checks earmarked "Civil War Flag.” For more information, contact Calley at ericcalley@hotmail.com.



Top photo taken by Matthew Dae Smith with the Lansing State Journal

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