Sergeant Frank Price, 42d Mississippi, lunged forward to grab at the Pennsylvania State flag; Color Sergeant Henry Brehm, 149th Pennsylvania, tightly gripped the State color. The force of the collision pitched the two antagonists over some fence rails as Brehm dropped the flag and began brawling with Price; several Confederates reached for the fallen prize, but Keystoners and fellow color guardsmen, Corporal John Friddell and Corporal John Hammel, fired their muskets point blank. The antagonists fell dead. Corporal Brehm had, meantime, slugged Price and knocked him to the ground. Brehm quickly reclaimed the tattered State color, and the three men made their way to safety.
Hundreds of heroic stories surround Pennsylvania's Civil War battle flags. More than 300,000 Keystoners answered the call for duty during one of America's most trying times. In the initial days of the war, the Pennsylvania Legislature convened in a special session to provide for the defense of the Commonwealth. Among the new acts passed was one authorizing Governor Andrew G. Curtin to procure battle flags for each regiment that Pennsylvania contributed to the Union Army. Most regiments carried several flags issued either by the state or federal government.
After the war, Pennsylvania's military department was responsible for collecting the state-issued flags. Many of the colors were collected as the regiments mustered out of service. On July 4, 1866, the battle flags were officially returned to the custody of the Commonwealth. On that memorable day, Pennsylvania Civil War veterans, representing the state's 215 regiments, took part in a spectacular parade through the center of Philadelphia, culminating in an impressive ceremony at Independence Hall.
The following day the flags were moved to Harrisburg, where the colors were stored in special cases in the State Arsenal building. In 1872, the Legislature appropriated money to furnish a flag room on the second floor of the Hills Capitol. The flag room was completed in 1873 where these treasured relics remained until 1894. At that time they were removed to the newly erected Executive Library and Museum building (now known as the Speaker Matthew J. Ryan Building).
Twenty years later, June 14, 1914, after architect Joseph M. Huston had finished the new Capitol building, Pennsylvania veterans came together once again to transfer their flags back to the Capitol building.
In a heartrending ceremony, the aged warriors placed the colors in custom-made flag cases in the main rotunda. The flags were kept virtually untouched until 1982 when the Capitol Preservation Committee initiated its "Save the Flags" project. Throughout the years dust had accumulated on the rolled flags, and the long-term vertical display of the flags had placed severe stress on the brittle silk fabric and painted designs. Textile conservators carefully removed the flags from the rotunda and transported them to a state facility near the Capitol.
Over a period of five years, 390 Civil War and twenty-two Spanish-American flags were conserved. Each flag is now kept on an acid-free panel stored in custom designed, stainless steel storage units. The flags are protected from light, dust, fluctuating temperature, humidity, and excessive handling.