A massive flag from the Civil War-era is on display through Aug. 10 in Memorial Hall at the Adams Free Library.
ADAMS, Mass. — A flag that flew over a Civil War battle ship will be on display at the Adams Free Library beginning this Sunday.
The 24-foot-long American flag has been stored away in a back room for decades.
The Adams Historical Society is sponsoring the exhibit on the second floor of the library, in Memorial Hall, to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War and the Battle of Mobile Bay.
The library has had the flag in its possession for 105 years. It flew on the USS Brooklyn and was given to Adams resident John Welch, who served on the ship during the Battle of Mobile Bay.
Historical Society member Eugene Michalenko said the exhibit will have artifacts from the bloodiest war America ever faced.
"It is the 150th anniversary of the Civil War; the greatest cataclysmic war that ever struck America," Michalenko said. "I think more people died in the Civil War than all the other wars we have won combined."
Michalenko said the flag is very much connected to the Battle of Mobile Bay; one of the most important battles in the Civil War. Mobile, Ala., was the last important port on the Gulf of Mexico east of the Mississippi River remaining in Confederate hands. A Union fleet led by Rear Adm. David Farragut attacked the port in August of 1864.
The attack was led by the USS Brooklyn.
The bay was heavily planted with torpedoes (underwater mines) that made navigating the bay exceptionally challenging. One of the Union Ships, the USS Tecumseh, veered off the path of attack because of heavy fire from Confederate-controlled Fort Morgan, struck a torpedo and sank in an explosion.
The Brooklyn slowed and began to reverse toward the squadron's flagship USS Hartford, where Farragut was lashed to the Hartford's main mast so he could better see the battle. Farragut asked why the ship was retreating and the USS Brooklyn responded "torpedoes ahead." Farragut famously responded, "Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!"
The fleet hastily sailed into the bay and took it from Confederate control.
Welch asked for an old flag from the ship, decommissioned in 1889, to take back home to Adams. He then donated it to the GAR post that met in the second floor of the library where the exhibit is now displayed. The flag hung behind the podium in Memorial Hall from 1909 to 1916. It was then folded and put in a box for display.
Historical Society member Ginny Duval said the flag may not have flown in the battle, but it is directly connected to it.
"We can't say that this is one of the flags that flew on the ship during the battle; maybe it was, but it is from the time period when the Brooklyn was in many battles," Duval said.
John Welch, taken in 1909.
Duval said the library was built as a Civil War memorial and housed the Grand Army of the Republic Post 126 meeting area. That makes the building itself tied into the Civil War, he said, and part of the exhibit.
"This hall is fairly unique," Duval said. "To have a GAR post where everything is still furnished as it was originally, the room in which this flag is being exhibited is as much part of the display as the flag."
Michalenko said many of the items in the exhibit come from the Civil War veterans' meeting place.
"You are stepping back in time," he said. "We are going to have a general viewing and many other exhibits here having to do with the battle, the battleship, and this room itself will be open, which it rarely is."
He said the very chairs in the room were used by Civil War veterans and the minutes from the GAR meetings, swords, guns, charters and documents will be displayed.
Duval said her great-great-grandfather was part of the GAR and his profile is archived in the GAR archives. All of the documents will be displayed.
The exhibit opens Sunday, July 27, at 1 p.m. and runs through Aug. 10, when the library is open; it will also be open weekends when the library is closed.
In addition to the exhibit, the Historical Society will hold a mass reading of the Gettysburg Address on Friday, July 31, at 7 p.m. in the Memorial Hall around the flag, and a singing of the "Star-Spangled Banner" led by Tourism Director Samantha Talora.