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Flag & Arms Expert Howard Michael Madaus Dies At 63

Kathryn Jorgensen

- (September 2007) Flag and firearms expert Howard Michael Madaus died at his Cody, Wyo., home on July 21 at age 63. He is remembered for his expertise, generosity and sense of humor.

"There is hardly a museum, important private collection or Civil War curator in the United States (and some across the waters as well) who were not touched by his research and ideas," said Les Jensen, Curator of Arms and Armor at the West Point Museum.

"Howie," as he was known, was a native of Wisconsin. He received his bachelor's degree in history from Marquette University and did graduate work at Louisiana State University. From 1968 to 1992 he was curator of the Nunnemacher Arms Collection at the Milwaukee Public Museum.

From 1992 to 1999 he was curator of the Cody Firearms Museum at Cody's Buffalo Bill Historical Center. He became the first curator of the new National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, Pa., in 2000. He returned to Cody in 2003 to do consulting work.

Herbert G. Houze, arms author and former curator of the Cody Firearms Museum, called Madaus "one of America's most important arms historians" in a tribute to be published in Man at Arms magazine.

"Recognized as one of the world's foremost flag historians, Howie was one of the first historians to seriously study Southern battle flags," Houze recalled. Two of his books are now recognized as seminal works: The Battle Flags of the Confederate Army of Tennessee and Rebel Flags Afloat, A Survey of the Surviving Flags of the Confederate States Navy, Revenue Service, and Merchant Marine.

"Over the past few years he had renewed this study and had essentially completed a third volume, The Battle Flags of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, and begun work on a fourth," said Houze. "Thankfully, these projects will not be lost since 'fellow flag fanatics' have volunteered to complete Howie's work as a memoriam."

Because Madaus "eschewed supposition in favor of facts that could be documented and checked by others," his works will serve as primary references for generations, Houze wrote.

He added that Madaus was not a typical historian. He lacked pretense and egotism. "He did not suffer degree-laden historians well, finding their airs and torturous prose insufferable."

Houze called him "An old-fashioned curator who believed that you only learn about an object by handling it" and "an anachronism to today's white-gloved set."

He once told a concerned curator, "Historical objects are not lab specimens to be examined in a clean room. They are living reminders of who we were and are."

Noting Madaus' generosity with his knowledge, Houze said, "Perhaps this was his most endearing trait. In a world where secrets are frequently held close, Howie shared what he found."

Confederate aficionado Bruce Kusrow, who knew Madaus for more than 20 years, agreed, saying, "He was willing to share [his knowledge] with anybody - you asked, he told you. And if he didn't know he would try to find it out for you."

Kusrow commented on Madaus' well-known sense of humor. He recalled Madaus and his longtime friend Charlie Foster years ago bringing food from Wisconsin to the Gettysburg Collectors' Show and opening their room for friends to jam in for bratwurst, cheese, beer and story telling.

Les Jensen met Madaus almost 35 years ago at the Museum of the Confederacy where he was Curator of Collections and Madaus was researching flags.

Madaus "had already figured out the sequence of manufacture that resulted in the identification of the various Army of Northern Virginia battle flags" and was working on the western Confederate flags.

The result was "The Battle Flags of the Confederate Army of Tennessee (1976), our first look at a disciplined, well-researched, and comprehensive view of the flags of a major Confederate army," said Jensen.

Madaus' research showed that "these flags were parts of conscious systems of identification, produced mostly by Confederate Quartermasters in response to specific military needs, rather than being a just a plethora of home-made, folksy banners," he said.

The Confederacy gained respect for its organizational skills and museum personnel were energized by "the idea that it was the objects themselves, even more than the written record, that was producing this evidence," Jensen recalled.

Military historian Greg Biggs, one of the "fellow flag fanatics" at, called Madaus' death "a huge blow to the study of Civil War flags and firearms. Pretty much anyone that has worked in either field owes a lot to Howie's trail-blazing research which he was always willing to share."

Biggs said Madaus led the way for others. "Before him much of our knowledge of flags, in particular Confederate unit colors, was more mythology than solid fact."

He called Madaus the "go-to guy" when museums and collectors needed a flag documented or authenticated. Madaus examined well over 1,800 such flags.

Biggs recalled the excitement they both felt when Biggs came across National Archives information that indicated a major Confederate flag pattern was made in Augusta, not Atlanta as long thought.

Shortly before his death Madaus had agreed to be a peer reviewer for a Civil War flag book Biggs is doing for the Tennessee State Museum. "There was still so much more to learn from him," said Biggs. "I will deeply miss him."

Madaus was a member of the Company of Military Historians, the American Society of Arms Collectors, the North-South Skirmish Association and the Maryland Arms Collectors Association.

He was featured on History Channel, A&E and PBS programs and wrote numerous articles and books including The American Flag: Two Centuries of Concord & Conflict (2006).

He is survived by his wife Patricia and daughters Elizabeth, Theresa and Kathryn.

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