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The Wisconsin Capitol building is filled with interesting and historical objects like paintings, sculptures, and statues, along with people who both work there and visit. Did you know that it used to be home to almost 200 silk flags that were carried into battle during the Civil War? That the delicate, irreplaceable flags miraculously survived a fire that destroyed the Capitol? And that the flags, along with priceless tintype and albumen photographs, uniforms and weapons, and letters written during the war, were cared for by Civil War veterans themselves? All of it happened in G.A.R. Memorial Hall.


  • Entrance, Grand Army of the Republic Memorial Hall at the Wisconsin State Capitol, Madison. Visible though the entrance are exhibit spaces.
  • Grand Army of the Republic Memorial Hall, including custodian Hosea Rood and the collection of the GAR Memorial Hall.  This image is of the Hall and collections before the Wisconsin State Capitol burned down in 1904.
  • Group photograph of Civil War veterans gathered outside the Wisconsin State Capitol, Madison. The veterans are featured seated or standing in groups, wearing civilian clothes with Grand Amy of the Republic ribbons an insignia. The image was taken during a reunion in June 1914.
  • Flag exhibit, Grand Army of the Republic Memorial Hall at the Wisconsin State Capitol, Madison. In the exhibit, Civil War and Grand Army of the Republic flags are featured, rolled on their poles. Also featured is an Iron Bridge banner.
  • Desk and library collections at the Grand Army of the Republic Memorial Hall, Wisconsin State Capitol.
  • Office in the Grand Army of the Republic Memorial Hall, featuring Dr. Richard Zietlin, former director of the Wisconsin Veterans Museum.

Following the Civil War, Union soldiers formed a veterans’ organization known as the Grand Army of the Republic, known as the G.A.R. The group became incredibly powerful in state and national politics, and this was definitely the case in Wisconsin. The Wisconsin G.A.R. wanted to ensure that future generations would remember their service and sacrifices, and so they worked to have it written into law. In 1901, state statute established the G.A.R. Memorial Hall, a museum dedicated to preserving the memory of Wisconsin’s role in the Civil War. It was to be located in the Capitol building and operated by members of the Wisconsin G.A.R. 

The core of G.A.R. Memorial Hall collection was the Civil War battle flags carried by Wisconsin troops throughout the war. When a fire broke out in the Capitol in February 1904, local residents bravely raced into the burning building to rescue the flags. The building was destroyed, but within a year of the new (and current) Capitol opening in 1917, G.A.R. Memorial Hall was rededicated. Generations of Wisconsin residents toured the Hall and marveled at the precious artifacts from the Civil War. 

As the last Civil War veterans began passing away, Spanish-American War veterans took over care of G.A.R. Memorial Hall. Following World War II, the newly created Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs operated the museum. The collection grew to include objects from Wisconsin veterans of subsequent conflicts. In 1972, G.A.R. Memorial Hall was renamed the Wisconsin Veterans Museum to reflect the broader focus, and a little more than 20 years after that, the museum moved to its current location on Mifflin Street. While G.A.R. Memorial Hall doesn’t exist any longer, its battle flags and other objects, and the stories of Wisconsin veterans live on at the Wisconsin Veterans Museum. 

G.A.R. Memorial Hall Collection. Wisconsin Veterans Museum. 

Image Sources(Click to expand)

Wisconsin Veterans Museum. Photographs and slides, Mss2012.165. Wisconsin Veterans Museum (Madison, Wis).

Wisconsin Veterans Museum. Photographs and slides, Mss2012.165. Wisconsin Veterans Museum (Madison, Wis).

Charles F. Whipple Papers and photographs, 1862-1914, WVM Mss 226. Wisconsin Veterans Museum (Madison, Wis).

Wisconsin Veterans Museum. Photographs and slides, Mss2012.165. Wisconsin Veterans Museum (Madison, Wis).

Wisconsin Veterans Museum. Photographs and slides, Mss2012.165. Wisconsin Veterans Museum (Madison, Wis).

Wisconsin Veterans Museum. Photographs and slides, Mss2012.165. Wisconsin Veterans Museum (Madison, Wis).