Ceremony to honor one of the county’s treasured artifacts

Staff Writer

A ceremony on Courthouse Square in Newton at the Catawba County Museum of History will take place Saturday morning (May 27) for the return for one of the county’s treasured artifacts, a large handmade Confederate flag created by local women and carried in the 1860s war by local soldiers.
The unveiling of the restored flag, a project undertaken and funded by the county’s Captain Charles Franklin Connor Camp #849, North Carolina Sons of Confederate Veterans, is set for 10 a.m. outdoors on the west (Main Avenue) side of the museum (the former county courthouse). The flag, which was donated a half century ago to the museum and has been on display for many years, will then be placed for a temporary special exhibit in the rotunda of the museum before going to a designated site in the building.
Both Amber Clawson Albert, executive director of the historical association, and Mark Nixon, commander of the SCV camp, have announced plans and noted that the program is free and open to the public.
The banner, sewn 156 years ago by the wives of Catawba Confederate soldiers, “is a delicate object with a rich history,” declared Albert. Robert Smith, an officer in the local SCV organization, added that it is also special because it was carried in battle by men of the 12th North Carolina Regiment, Company A, formed in this county and named the Catawba Rifles.
Nixon pointed out that the banner depicts the rebels’ First National flag of the Confederacy, not the more familiar battle flag. Instead of the battle flag’s elongated “X” adorned with the 13 stars for the participating Southern states, Albert described it as featuring bars of red and white with a blue field in the upper left corner. The two-sided flag shows a single star on one side and 11 stars surrounding one central star on the other.
In the half century it has been in the museum collection, only one side of the flag has been visible. Inspired by the unique two-sided nature of the flag, the local SCV camp proposed the $1,000 restoration project and then donated the funds and labor to erect a stable, museum-quality case.
Smith, who chaired the men’s project, noted that the new case includes lexan in place of regular glass protecting the framed fabric, thus providing ultra-violet light protection to prevent fading of the flag. He said eight members of the men’s organization worked on the project.
John J. Cline, who is a member of both the Catawba County Historical Association Board of Trustees and the local Sons of Confederate Veterans organization, said the 71-inch-by-42-inch antique flag is “a priceless, real-life piece of our county’s history and conserving it from deterioration is a greatly appreciated undertaking.”
He added, “It is significant that this simple banner created with pride and love for local soldiers went through battles of that horrific war and then returned home to be honored by descendants of the more than 600 Catawbans who died in the war and the more than 1,500 men who answered the call to arms against what they felt was a threat of this region’s independent spirit.”
Sybil Baird Stewart, president of the historical association, commented, “This artifact embodies the home-front struggle during the Civil War when supplies were scarce. The flag shows the sacrifice of those women who stitched it together from scraps of family clothing. Very faintly, one can see traces of the gingham and floral cotton fabric that was used and then dyed with homemade vegetable dye. It is quite poignant.”
Sidney Halma, retired long-time executive director of the historical association, recalled that the flag was a gift to the organization’s museum from the family of George Rabb, a noted Catawba Confederate warrior who brought in back from the battlefield and preserved it. Museum records indicate the flag was given to the historical society in April of 1966.
Rabb, after the war, became a prominent businessman whose holdings included the textile manufacturing plant Providence Mill east of Maiden. Rabb, who moved to Newton and resided in a house where the present U. S. Post Office is now located, also wrote his memoirs of the war, a book that is a valued written account of that era.
The program this week will follow an outdoor ceremony on Courthouse Square a week ago commemorating the day North Carolina seceded from the Union in 1861.
The event Saturday will begin with SCV members presenting the flag in color guard reenactment uniforms. Among the participants will be Kevin Stone of Sanford, state SCV commander; Bill Starnes of Belmont, a state SCV officer commanding the Mechanized Cavalry unit; Nixon; and the local camp lieutenant commander, Tommy Carroll.