A National Treasure Rediscovered

February 12, 2015 · Collections ·

 President Abraham Lincoln’s  FlagThe Connecticut Historical Society’s (CHS) “Lincoln Flag, was one of five flags used to decorate President Abraham Lincoln’s box at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D. C. the night he was assassinated, April 14, 1865. Two of the flags present that fateful night were borrowed from the Treasury Guard, a unit formed to defend the nation’s capital against Confederate attack.

One of the two Treasury Guard flags is now displayed at Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site. The other, once thought to have been destroyed, had actually been given to The Connecticut Historical Society in 1922.  Its true identity and significance came to light in 1998, leading to the flag’s painstaking conservation and the announcement of its rediscovery.

The Story 

In the years immediately following Lincoln’s assassination, the CHS’s Treasury Guard flag lay forgotten in the basement of the U.S. Treasury Building. Then, in 1872, the head of Treasury Department security, Henry A. Cobaugh, discovered it there and hung it in his office. By the 1880s, so many people wanted to see the flag that Cobaugh had a special case made for it and placed the encased flag on display elsewhere in the Treasury Building.

By 1900, questions arose over where the flag should be properly preserved and displayed.  Its owners – the surviving veterans of the Treasury Guard – and Treasury Department officials seemed to have different ideas on the subject.  In 1907, Cobaugh gave the boxed flag to Edgar S. Yergason of Hartford, a well-respected Civil War veteran, avid Civil War collector, and a White House confidant and interior designer.  Cobaugh undoubtedly believed that his friend, Edgar Yergason, was the perfect custodian for the famous flag.

By the 1920s it appears that another flag was at the Treasury Department – one that somehow became mistaken for the original Treasury Guard flag that had hung on Lincoln’s box. The second flag was housed in a sealed wooden case, and fumes from the case’s varnished finish apparently contributed to the flag’s gradual disintegration.  Eventually it was in such bad shape that it was destroyed in the 1960s.

In 1920, Edgar Yergason died and his son, Dr. Robert M. Yergason of Hartford, inherited the original Treasury Guard flag that his father had received from Cobaugh in 1907. Robert Yergason understood the flag’s historic significance and donated it –in its box — to The Connecticut Historical Society in 1922. Fortunately, when the flag was “rediscovered” in 1998, textile conservation techniques had advanced to the point that The Connecticut Historical Society, caretaker of this important relic, was able to have the flag restored. Extensive conservation work took place from 1998-2000. Now stabilized and repaired, this historic flag can be enjoyed and appreciated by future generations.

Treasury Guard National Flag, 1864, silk, Horstmann Brothers & Company, Philadelphia, PA, Gift of Dr. Robert M. Yergason.

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