Hopewell community members held grand celebrations as local men prepared to depart for duty as soldiers in the Civil War. On August 28, 1861, Hopewell families bade a sad, but boisterous, farewell to the 7th Indiana Infantry Regiment, Company F as they left for their three-year commitment to the Union. Held in a wooded grove near the north west corner of the John H. Van Nuys farm, the event included a picnic attended by friends and families of departing soldiers. One soldier was John H. Van Nuys, who witnessed the presentation of a regimental flag sewn by the women of Hopewell Presbyterian Church. The 4’ x 6’ flag was crafted out of silk and muslin. It consisted of 21 stars forming one larger star shape surrounded by a circle of 13 stars. Alongside were 13 red and white stripes.
The ceremony to present the flag began with moving remarks from Mary Ellen (Van Nuys) Covert, niece of host John H. Van Nuys:
“Soldiers, defenders of our homes and firesides – We are here today for the performance of a duty at once sad and yet pleasant, and because we must bid farewell to our brave friends and relatives. It may be for years and it may be forever…. It is not for us to engage in the bitter strife of the battlefield, nor face the rifle ball, nor bare our breasts to the brandished steel. It is little we can do, but your work, we’ll cheer, and as a pledge of this we present you with this flag. It is the work of our hands. We solemnly ask you to guard it well….
Take this flag, bear it, bear it proudly and in the tempest of battle and the din of arms and the shrieks of the dying and wounded, look up to that banner and know that the hands which set in order those stars and stripes are raised to heaven for you. That our hearts are poured out in supplication at the throne of grace. That the God of battle will be with you, shield you and be your exceeding great reward.…
Should the staff be broken and the flag fall to the ground we are sure there will be some one in this company who, Jaspar like will spring forward in the hottest strife and raise it to heaven from whence it gathers all its hues…. Yes, though we tell you weeping, we say to you go, and in the name of your God set up your banners… go, and may our happy hearts ere long welcome you to our now desolate homes and firesides….”
Regimental flags, as this quote demonstrates, were more than just a formality. For women, the sewing of the flag served as an important way they demonstrated their allegiance to the Union cause. Flags were used as a gathering point for troops on the battlefield who might have been disoriented by smoke and sound. The flag also brought the attention of enemy troops. Flag bearers were targets on the battlefield as capturing the opponents regimental flag was seen as a sign of success. Billy Davis, a Hopewell native and member of Company F, supposedly picked up the Company F flag twice after the flag bearers were shot during battle. As battles continued, Company F soldiers would patch it during their stays in camp. Keeping one’s flag tended was seen as a patriotic duty. After the war, what is believed to be the original flag of Company F was brought back to the Hopewell Presbyterian Church for display. It was later given on permanent loan to the Johnson County Museum of History.
The site of the original flag presentation in 1861 remains in the Van Nuys family. In 1978 it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.