An exhibit featuring a Confederate battle flag — despite being the center of a community debate for almost two years — opened quietly on Sunday with no push-back and little criticism from Lynchburg residents.
“Five Forks Battle Flag: A Community Perspective” features a battle flag used by the 11th Virginia Infantry Regiment during the Battle of Five Forks near Petersburg on April 1, 1865. The regiment was organized in Lynchburg in May 1861 with members from the counties of Campbell, Botetourt, Montgomery, Fauquier, Culpeper and Rockbridge, according to the National Parks Service Civil War database.
The flag was restored with money raised by members of the Lynchburg Home Guard Civil War Reenactors. The group raised $12,000 over a decade to preserve the flag, which is owned by the American Civil War Museum and stored in its Richmond archives.
Lynchburg Home Guard President Kevin Shroyer, who spearheaded the restoration of the flag, said he is pleased to see the flag in Lynchburg.
“We started this effort 10 years ago so it’s been a long time coming,” Shroyer said. “To see this finally come to fruition is great. This flag is part of our city’s history.”
Lynchburg Home Guard member Tom Eastman said the group hopes people viewing the exhibit will focus on the historical connection the flag has to Lynchburg instead of the perceived connection it has with white supremacist organizations.
“The flag here today it is a square flag, which is a battle flag carried by the regiment into the fight,” Eastman said. “The rectangular flag most people associate with various hate groups didn’t come about until many years after the Civil War ended.”
Eastman added the exhibit also features the Medal of Honor awarded to Union officer William Wirt Winegar, who captured the flag during the battle. The group tracked down one of Winegar’s descendants to get the medal for the exhibit.
“During the Civil War, if you captured the enemy’s flag you automatically were awarded the medal of honor,” Eastman said. “It was that big of a deal. We wanted to display that aspect of this battle as well and really bring it full circle to show many different perspectives.”
Lynchburg Museum System director Ted Delaney said Sunday’s opening followed almost two years of discussions, surveys, focus groups and meetings about the potential controversy of publicly displaying a Confederate icon.
“We know that some people have mixed feelings about seeing a Confederate flag being displayed,” Delaney said. “I can see how it would be a problem if it’s flying on a public courthouse or at a school filled with children. We wanted to address the history of the flag and place it in its historical context because this is a museum.”
Lynchburg resident Bryant Sanders, who came to the museum Sunday, said the exhibit “focused on history and not ideology.”
“I know there have been some concerns going back and forth about this for a while and I think the museum put a lot of thought into this,” Sanders said.
Lynchburg resident Bettye Chambers agreed.
“I think every word in this exhibit was carefully thought out,” Chambers said. “They were very cautious and considerate with how they presented and worded everything.”
The exhibit also includes an opportunity for visitors to comment by filling out cards about the exhibit. The cards are collected by staff and become part of the exhibit by being placed on a wall to provide visitors with the various perspectives of others in the community.
Comments on display Sunday showed mixed reactions to the exhibit’s content.
“The exhibit is informative, vivid and exciting,” one comment card read. “I loved learning about the history of this flag and what happened to it during and after the war.”
“Sterilized history,” another comment card read. “No mention of the KKK! How on earth can you exclude the Klan from this narrative.”
Delaney said the feedback provided is an important part of the exhibit.
“This provides people with a way to share their thoughts or perspectives and share them,” Delaney said. “By displaying them together, we start forming this dialogue within the community. It also lets people be open about how they feel about this exhibit because people sometimes are reluctant to tell you how they feel about something. This provides people a way to communicate how this made them feel.”
The exhibit will be on display at the museum at 901 Court St. through Jan. 31. The museum is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. on Sundays.