Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags
Sold Flags


Available: Sold
Frame Size (H x L): 46" x 84"
Flag Size (H x L): 33.5" x 69.25"
38 star American national flag, made sometime between 1876 and 1889, with its stars arranged in a configuration that falls among the best-of-the-best that exist across 19th century examples. This consists of a dynamic pattern that appears to burst outward from the center into what I have termed a “starburst” or "starburst cross" medallion. One of only four pieced-and-sewn flags that are known in this rare style, it is also the only one measuring less than 6 feet on the fly and the only one with interesting specific history of ownership in the period in which it was made.

Each of the Starburst Cross flags is slightly different, but all share interesting similarities. All have a prominent saltire present in the design, formed by the two diagonal lines that run corner-to-corner in the canton. Commonly known as the Cross of St. Andrew (the term having been borrowed from the British Union Flag, a.k.a. "Union Jack"), in the Civil War era this was most commonly recognized in America as the Southern Cross. For this reason, presence of the pattern in war-period flags, or in those made in the two or three decades that followed, is suggestive of possible Confederate sympathies. Such a relationship seems unlikely in this instance, however, because this flag was handed down through the family of Ira Swartz, a career soldier who fought with the Union Army during the Civil War, in one of the most celebrated of all Northern units. Swartz survived the war and thereafter remained in the service of our country until approximately the time of his death, in the 1920's. It might be that Swartz, or whomever else may have ordered the flag to be made, simply liked this beautiful design.

Whatever the case may be, symbolism of various kinds, both obvious and subtle, abounds in Civil War era flags, as well as those produced in its wake. This was, of course, a time of great passion and expression, and since there was no official way to configure the stars on the American flag until 1912, flag makers took all manner of liberties to both send messages and create beautiful imagery. When a visually impressive star pattern or is present on an early flag, interest among collectors is heightened. When the design is unique or particularly rare, and/or historically interesting messages might exist, the increase in desirability can become exponential. In this case, whether or not the flag bears Southern sympathies, the configuration of the stars is so extraordinarily graphic that it easily falls among the top 1% of those known to exist.

Among the four flags in this closely related group, all are post-war. One other shares the 38 star count. The remaining two have 37 stars, which places their manufacture immediately beforehand, between 1867-1876. I expect that all of these may have been made in 1876 specifically, for use during celebrations of our nation's 100-year anniversary of independence. This patriotic occasion resulted in lots of flag-making and this was the year when Reconstruction of the South came to an end. Both the 37 and 38 star counts were in use during that year and those with a starburst may symbolize an exploding firework and the general fanfare associated with this historic event.

Two of the four flags, including the one in question here, actually display the Cross of St. George juxtaposed against other stars that form the Cross of St. Andrew, creating a closer association with the design of the British Union Flag. For this reason, one could postulate that this suggests British ties instead of Southern, but it could simply part of an artistically balanced pattern.

Flag collectors and authors Boleslaw and Marie-Louise D'Otrange Mastai owned one of the 37 star variants, which they illustrated in their landmark text: “The Stars & The Stripes” (Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1973), p. 116.

Former owner of the flag, Ira Martin Swartz of Pennsylvania (b. 1842, d. 1927), moved to Michigan at around the age of 19, in 1860. War broke out on April 12th, 1861 and on March 3rd of the following year, listing his age as 21 and his residence as the town of Trenton, he enlisted with the 1st Michigan Cavalry. The flag is accompanied by tintype photograph of Ira, taken on December 8th, 1859 in Philadelphia, as well as one of his elder brother, George H. Swartz (b. about 1832, d. unknown), who fought with the 104th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. Also included is a modern printing of what is obviously a larger scale image of Ira, dressed in military uniform and wearing a Rough-Riders hat, presumably taken sometime between the latter 1890's and WWI (U.S. involvement 1917-18). Also accompanying the flag is a small sterling silver flask that belonged to Ira, engraved with his initials, plus copies of his military records from the National Archives, and, most remarkably, a brief autobiography that he typed in 1919, about 8 years prior to his passing. Schwartz was employed by the Quartermaster Department of the U.S. Army for approximately 60 years, from the time the Civil War ended until sometime during the 1920's. Many years of careful recordkeeping probably contributed to this tidy biographical account. Following is the portion of it that best pertains to his life and military career:

Portland, Oregon
October 25, 1919.

Memorandum - Autobiography

Ira M. Swartz

Was born in Scranton, pa., January 15th, 1842, being one of fourteen children born to my parents.

My schooling consisted of attendance in district schools and Wyoming Seminary (Methodist) Kingston, Pa. I attended the seminary two years.

Passed examination and taught district school winter 1859-60. At the close of school I went to Michigan where I worked on a farm during the summer of 1860 and 61, and in a grocery store in Detroit during the winter of 1861-62.

March 3rd, 1862, I enlisted in Company "K", 1st Michigan Cavalry. I served as a private in Company "K" and later in Company "B" of the regiment continuously till March 28th, 1865, when I was honorably discharged. (I will here state that on or about March 3rd, 1864, I re-enlisted in the same regiment for the continuance of the war, but for some reason it was not made of record and I was discharged March 28th, 1865 at City Point, Virginia, and was immediately employed as a Clerk in the Quartermaster Department where, with the exception of about two years which I served as Clerk of the Second U.S. District Court of Utah at Provo, Utah, I have almost continually have been employed to date.)

[NOTE: Records also show that he was promoted from Private to Wagoner on or about October 16th, 1862.]

February 16th, 1869, I was married to Myra C. Hatch of Detroit, Michigan. There was born to this Union eight children, five boys and three girls. Of these but two are living,

William Rufus Story,) Field Clerk
Joseph Gibbon, ) Q.M.C., U.S.A.

On the day of this writing I am Chief Clerk, Deputy Zone Supply Office, Portland, Oregon…

Swartz was a Master Mason and ends the biography with a detailed accounting of his degrees held, etc., with both the Masons and other fraternal organizations.

The 1st Michigan Cavalry was one of the most celebrated regiments of the Civil War. Across all of the those that I have thus far researched and written about during my experience with early flags and the soldiers who owned them, I have never encountered a regiment that participated in so many battles, numerous of which resulted in turning points of the war. At most every junctures, the 1st Michigan Cavalry seems to have positioned themselves at the very crux of the fighting, with repeated victory at almost every turn, sometimes with substantial loss of life. Between March of 1862 and April of 1865, the 1st Michigan engaged the enemy no less than 66 times. First, under General Banks, then Custer and Sheridan, their results led to gallantry again and again. Swartz was with the 1st Michigan during this entire period.

Swartz would have somehow come into possession of the flag following the war, within the 38 star period. It seems highly unlikely that he had anything to do with any sort of Southern Sympathizer design, unless for some reason he did not feel it bore any such relationship. Since he was employed with the Department of the Quartermaster, he may have been presented with it by a flag-maker as a gift at some point , while stationed in the West, or, being a patriotic individual, he may have simply ordered it for himself, requesting this dynamic star pattern. He may have apprehended it from someone , but given its state of preservation, the former possibilities seem more likely. The flag was obviously flown, as evidenced by the patterning of minor wear, but it looks to have been cared for by someone with a quartermaster's diligence.

Colorado became the 38th state on August 1st, 1876. This was the year of our nation’s 100-year anniversary of independence. Per the Third Flag Act of 1818, stars were not officially added until the 4th of July following a state's addition. For this reason, 37 was the official star count for the American flag in 1876. Flag-making was a competitive venture, however, and few flag-makers would have been continuing to produce 37 star flags when their competitors were making 38’s. It is for this reason that 38 and 13 stars (to represent the original 13 colonies) are more often seen at the Centennial International Exposition, the six-month long World’s Fair held in Philadelphia in honor of the event. Some flag-makers would have been adding a star for the 38th state even before it entered the Union, in the early part of 1876 or even prior. In fact, many makers of parade flags were actually producing 39 star flags, in hopeful anticipation of the addition of two more Western Territories instead of one. But the 39th state would not join the Union for another 13 years, when the Dakota Territory entered as two states on the same day. The 38 star flag became official on July 4th, 1877 and was generally used until the addition of the Dakotas in 1889.

President Ulysses S. Grant was in office when the first 38 star flags would have appeared. The list of presidents serving during the period when the 38 star flag was actually official include Rutherford B. Hayes, James Garfield, Chester Arthur, Grover Cleveland, and Benjamin Harrison.

Construction: The flag is entirely hand-sewn. The canton and stripes are made of wool bunting. The stars are made of cotton and double-appliquéd (applied to both sides). A twill cotton sleeve binds the hoist, through which a rope was inserted and stitched into place, with a wooden toggle at the top and a loop at the bottom for hoisting. The canton and stripes were folded over and bound in such a way along the hoist as to strengthen the seam at this point, exposing part of the fold. This tends to be an earlier trait, seen in the Civil War era and prior, but which is sometimes encountered afterwards. The small patch in the lower corner of the last stripe at the hoist end is a gusset (patch added for reinforcement at a point where the textile is likely to receive the most wear).

Measuring just a hair under six feet on the fly, the size is uncommonly small among its counterparts of the period with pieced-and-sewn construction, most of which were 8 feet long and larger. Because they can be far more easily framed and displayed, smaller flags appeal to both flag enthusiasts and one-time buyers alike.

In summary, this is an absolutely exceptional flag in all respects and one of the best that I have ever encountered in the 38 star count, among which it has few peers.

Brief history of the 1st Michigan Cavalry:
Following are various excerpts from the "Record of Service of Michigan Volunteers 1861-65" that highlight some of their many achievements:

"The brigade was in command of General Custer in June, 1863, during the Pennsylvania campaign and in July the First was with the brigade at Gettysburg and made a saber charge upon Hampton's brigade of Confederate cavalry, one of the most desperate as well as brilliant charges of the war. The First drove a whole brigade in confusion from the field and turned what appeared to be a defeat of the Union forces into a complete victory."

"…at Falling Waters…[the] Cavalry Brigade captured 500 prisoners one gun, three battle flags and a large quantity of small arms. The First captured two of the battle flags, one major and 70 men…"

"…at James City in October [1863]…Kilpatrick's division, of which the Michigan Brigade formed a part, was attacked by the enemy under Fitz Hugh Lee and a desperate battle ensued. Custer's brigade was surrounded and he determined to cut his way out with the saber. The First and Fifth regiments were formed in column of battalions, ordered to draw sabers and, while the band played "Yankee Doodle," went forward at a full gallop, scattering the foe in their front, and afterward secured a place of safety for the whole command."

"[At Richmond] the First was among the forces commanded by General Sheridan in his celebrated raid in the rear of Lee's army and took part in the severe engagements that were fought both in the advance…and the return. Major Brewer, with one battalion of the First, charged the enemy conducting 400 Union prisoners to Richmond and re-captured all of them." "[At Yellow Tavern] the enemy's forces under General J. E. B. Stuart's command was encountered…and a sanguinary encounter took place. While the balance of the brigade was confronting the enemy the First was formed in column for a charge. It moved forward under Lieutenant Colonel Stagg, meeting a severe fire of grape and canister from a battery concealed on the right, but, nothing daunted, the regiment advanced with cheers and yells, though it had to cross five fences and a narrow bridge. The men rode straight for the battery and captured it with a large number of prisoners. The Confederate forces were completely routed and the greatest cavalry commander of the confederacy, J. E. B. Stuart, was mortally wounded and died in Richmond shortly afterward." "…the First was at Cold Harbor and during a spirited engagement with infantry, artillery and cavalry Major Brewer of the First made a saber charge upon the enemy and broke his line, when the Confederates threw down their arms and fled, leaving their dead and wounded on the field. This position was an important one and orders were received to hold it at all hazards and the troops of the Michigan Cavalry Brigade slept on their arms during the night. Soon after daybreak that portion of the line held by the First Michigan was attacked by a large force of the enemy, which was repulsed. During this attack Captain Brevoort, one of the most gallant officers in the command, was killed and Captain William B. Heazlitt was wounded. The cavalry held this line until near noon, when it was relieved by the Sixth Corps." "the First was ordered to Washington to take part in the Shenandoah campaign under General Sheridan. It shared all the vicissitudes of the numerous battles that culminated in driving General Early and all Confederate forces out of the valley. The campaign was a brilliant series of successes and the First maintained its most honorable record and was conspicuous for its gallantry in many of the decisive victories won. No brief or abridged history of a cavalry regiment can do justice to the officers and men of the organization, for it frequently is separated from its brigade and division and is required to plan its own advance and attack and the hazardous positions such a command often finds itself in requires the coolest judgment, a fertility of resources and the highest skill to extricate itself with honor and credit. To write the history of a cavalry regiment requires a daily memorandum, for its constant movements night and day and the detachments sent on perilous scouts cannot be covered by a brief statement of its campaigns."

"The First helped to destroy the locks, acqueducts and mills on the James river canal, the destruction of which was a serious embarrassment to General Lee. It returned to the White House after this successful raid March 19 and immediately took part in the momentous movement when the Army of the Potomac was swung around General Lee's right. It fought at Five Forks and clung close to the enemy during the memorable days of the pursuit of General Lee's army, everywhere striking hard blows that helped to deprive the enemy of his wagon trains and artillery, fighting desperately at Sailor's Creek, where the Michigan Brigade destroyed 400 wagons and captured sixteen guns and cut off General Ewell's corps from General Lee's army, when General Ewell and his corps of 6,000 surrendered. After the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, the First with its brigade was sent to North Carolina, but returned to Washington, where it took part in the grand review May 23."

Mounting: The flag was mounted and framed within our own conservation department, which is led by masters degree trained staff. We take great care in the mounting and preservation of flags and have framed thousands of examples; more than anyone worldwide. The background is 100% cotton twill, black in color. The mount was placed in a black-painted, hand-gilded and distressed Italian molding. The glazing is U.V. protective plexiglass. Feel free to contact us for more details.

Condition: There is moderate fabric loss resulting from obvious use in the upper corner of the canton where it meets the binding. A small section of the binding here was replaced to repair the wear. There are 2 modest holes and a more moderate one in the 5th red stripe, and a modest hole in the last red stripe, near the hoist end. There are minor holes in the stripe field and there is very minor loss in the upper, fly end corner in the top stripe. Fabric of similar coloration was placed behind the flag during the mounting process, both to strengthen its color against the dark ground and to mask losses. There are a couple of tiny nicks along the bottom of the last stripe and there is minor breakdown along the seams with associated fraying in limited areas. There is minor soiling and bleeding throughout. Many of my clients prefer early flags to show their age and history of use. Overall the condition is excellent for a flag of this period and scale with merino wool construction and it surpasses expectations in that regard. The presentation is excellent.
Collector Level: Flags for the truest Patriots. My best offerings
Flag Type: Sewn flag
Star Count: 38
Earliest Date of Origin: 1876
Latest Date of Origin: 1889
State/Affiliation: Colorado
War Association: 1866-1890 Indian Wars
Price: SOLD
E-mail: Inquire

Views: 611