Written by Columb Higgins Monday, June 09, 2014 10:19 pm
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In the bottom left corner is a patch, probably sewn by a man in Company A of the 7th New Jersey Volunteer Infantry to repair damage in the field, said Jaime Hand, a board member of the Cape May County Historical and Genealogical Society. There are 34 stars in the canton representing each state in the Union, though 11 were fighting to secede at the time.
The ladies of Cape Island presented the flag to local soldiers when they mustered into the regiment on Aug. 23, 1861, according to a list found in a trunk with the flag. There were 24 Cape Island men who joined. They would see action in some of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War – Fredericksburg, Chancelorsville, Gettysburg and the Wilderness.
The flag was later donated by Col. George W. Smith, once the captain of Company A, to the City of Cape May in 1907. It was then presented to the Cape May County Historical Museum in 1938 but has not been on display to the public until now.
“It was in storage in the attic,” said Donna Matalucci, vice president of the society. “It was rolled up in a box. It is so thin, it almost felt like gauze.”
According to Hand, about 40 percent of the flag has been destroyed. About three or four feet of its length is missing, he said.
Textile conservationist Janet VanGilder, who vacations in Cape May County, restored the flag in Washington, D.C. The restoration cost the society $8,000, which board secretary John Turner and his wife, Sara, donated.
Board member Curtis Corson and Joe Lewis picked the flag up on Thursday, May 29 from Washington, D.C. and drove it back to Cape May County. They received an escort from county sheriff’s officers to the museum in Cape May Court House.
Matalucci said it felt like Christmas day to her.
“I don’t go back in Cape May County like some of our members but this is home to me,” she said. “This was our people. It happened here.”
7th New Jersey Volunteer Infantry Regiment participated in 38 major battles during the Civil War. According to the society, the flag was present during Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Ulysses S. Grant at the Appomattox Court House in Virginia.
The regiment lost 11 officers and 126 enlisted men killed and mortally wounded during the war. Two officers and 121 enlisted men were killed by disease.
More than 750,000 Americans from both North and South are estimated to have been killed during the Civil War. Two out of three deaths are said to have resulted from disease.
Most of the Cape May men mustered out of the regiment in 1864 before the end of the war. Of the 24 men that enlisted, 21 returned home.
John Mecray was the first of the company to fall in battle, according to information from the society. He was killed in action on May 5, 1862, probably during the Battle of Williamsburg as part of the Peninsula Campaign in Virginia.
Townsend T. Irelan was killed in battle. Charles J. Silvers died of his wounds.
George W. Smith, who started the war as a sergeant and was promoted to captain, is described in records as “a brave soldier.”
Matalucci said the flag would be displayed in a new military history wing in a barn behind the Cresse-Holmes house at 504 Route 9 in Cape May Court House. The society is raising funds for the new displays now.
“We are building the cases now,” she said. “The glass and coverings are very expensive.”
The society has about 450 members. Many trace their lineage back to the Mayflower, Matalucci said. Because of the influx of whalers in the 17th century, Cape May County has the second highest population of Mayflower descendents, she said.