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Man captures Civil War sentiment with replica flags
Flags take 60-70 hours to complete
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Pictured is a replica of the 1840 Georgia state flag, hand-sewn by Robert Banks. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Civil War flags

What: Display of replica Union and Confederate flags
Where: Northeast Georgia History Center at Brenau University
When: At least through June. The museum is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
Contact: 770-297-5900

SAUTEE-NACOOCHEE — A trip to the Georgia Capitol about 10 years ago started a hobby for Robert Banks that has put him in demand, especially with 150th anniversary observations of the Civil War.

After viewing a couple of original battle flags, "I began thinking it would be just so nice to ... be able to make some of these flags, carry them around and let people see what they look like," he said.

"I've never really seen any nice reproductions displayed anywhere, and the originals are too expensive and too fragile to really showcase anywhere."

A public viewing of Banks' flags will take place at least through June at the Northeast Georgia History Center at Brenau University, with Banks having hauled them there Saturday in his pickup truck from his home in the North Georgia mountains.

He has made some two dozen Union and Confederate flags so far and they vary widely in size, design and colors.

Banks, 60, keeps them stashed in his basement, which also serves as his work room. He can spend hours there, using rolls of silk and tons of patience to painstakingly stitch together the patriotic emblems.

About 60 to 70 hours go into every flag, as he fights a "little arthritis setting in my hands and eyesight not being what it used to be," he said during an interview at his home last week.

"Everything I do is hand sewn. I do nothing with a sewing machine, although a good many flags were made with sewing machines," he said. "And I do all the painting myself.

"It's a good way to pass away the time. I really enjoy it."

An Atlanta area native, he worked as an elevator mechanic for 37 years before retiring. He started the flag making before he quit working, so he couldn't devote as much time as he wanted to his newfound hobby.

"I was on night calls too, so I didn't get a chance to really work on (the flags)," Banks said.

A Civil War buff, he was particularly drawn to flags because "that was where all the emotion was on the field," he said. Soldiers "were fighting for that flag. Some of these regiments would go through 10 or 11 color bearers at a time in a battle."

Each of the flags tells some kind of story.

"These fellows were from Kentucky," Banks said, holding the edge of one flag. "Of course, Kentucky was divided up (in allegiance to a particular side). Tennessee was too."

Many of Banks' flags depict the names of places where armies fought, such as at Chickamauga in Northwest Georgia.

Flags would be changed "if the (soldiers) didn't lose (the battle), if they weren't torn up, or an artist or somebody was available to do it for them," he said.

Federal troops often had artists at the ready for such a fix.

"For the Confederates, it was pretty much get some blue paint and put it on there yourself, or get an artist coming by to do it," Banks said.

He enjoys just taking a few moments to study the flags in his basement. "I can get a chair and sit down and keep looking at them," he said.

But the flags "just glow" when they are displayed in a museum with track lighting and in the right setting.

And they also spark some interesting conversations when people pause to look at them.

"I'm always ready for (questions) and I never delve into the politics of the war unless it's pushed on me," Banks said, smiling.

He has found himself playfully crossing swords with Northerners.

"Sometimes you get some testy questions, like ‘What were you thinking when you left the Union?' " he said.

Banks gently shrugs it off.

"There's nothing going on today that can equal (that era) as far as politics," he said. "It was just something you can't comprehend. Both sides were just as passionate as they could be."

He remembers his own reactions to seeing the original flags at the Capitol — one in particular that was tattered and blood-stained, a stark reminder of America's bloodiest war.

"I was just taken aback," he said. "... You can just imagine what that old flag has seen."

 

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