|21 HAND-SEWN STARS IN A “GREAT STAR” OR “GREAT LUMINARY” PATTERN, ON AN EXTRAORDINARY SOUTHERN-EXCLUSIONARY FLAG MADE DURING THE CIVIL WAR
|Frame Size (H x L):||65.5" x 87"|
|Flag Size (H x L):||53.5" x 75.25"|
|At the beginning of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln fervently urged the American people not to remove the stars from the flag that represented the states that were succeeding from the Union. He felt strongly that there was great need to demonstrate that he had not written off those Americans living in the South who did not support the ideals of Jefferson Davis and the Confederacy. He also thought there was great need to show both the nation and the world that we were still a unified body, and that he would do everything in his power to ensure Union victory.
Despite his pleas, there were some who did as they wished with regard to the number of stars on the Stars & Stripes, removing those that represented Southern states. The 21 stars on this particular flag represent a count that could have theoretically have been chosen for that purpose at more than one time during the course of the war. The more likely of these scenarios occurred in late 1861, following Jefferson Davis’ admission of the Border States of Missouri and Kentucky into the Confederate States of America. Between late 1860 and early 1861, 7 slaveholding Southern States (South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas) voted for secession. Although popular votes of the each state’s population and subsequent ratification by the respective state legislatures occurred over a period of time, on different days, the group officially agreed to leave the Union together on February 2nd, 1861. This announcement was referred to as the “First Wave of Secession." Between the months of April and June of that year, these were followed by Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee, which seceded in the same, formal, legislative manner, which brought the official total to 11.
Events in the Border States were a bit different. On August 19th , 1861, the Confederate Congress signed a treaty with the State of Missouri. Then, on October 28th or 31st [accounts differ], a rump Missouri congress, consisting solely of Southern-supporting members, called into session by Southern-leaning governor, C.F. Jackson, approved secession. Although the corresponding ordinance was never presented to the people of the for a vote, Jackson sent the paperwork on to the Confederate capitol, in Richmond. On November 28th, 1861, noting that the state’s level of commitment had reached what he felt was a critical level, Jefferson Davis formally admitted Missouri as the 12th Confederate State.
Kentucky soon followed. While the state attempted to maintain neutrality, an invasion of Southern troops prompted them to call upon Union forces to drive out the Confederate Army. On November 20th, 1861, while in a state of unrest, the people of Kentucky formed a group styling itself as a “Convention of the People of Kentucky”. With 200 participants representing 65 counties, the group voted in favor of secession and, on December 10th, Davis admitted Kentucky as number 13. It is for this reason that most Confederate Southern Cross battle flags display 13 stars.
Between the opening of the war, in April of 1861, and June of 1863, there were 34 states in total. This number, less the official Confederate total of 13, means that the count of pro-Union States, at least in some people’s perception, would be 21.
The second most likely scenario to reach this star count was present between Halloween of 1864 and the war’s close. By one measure, this technically occurred when the last Confederate general surrendered on May 26th, 1865. During this approximate 7-month period, there were 36 states. West Virginia had become the 35th on June 20th, 1863, just before the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1st-3rd), when it broke off from Virginia and entered the Union as a Free State. Nevada became number 36 on October 31st, 1864, when it was ushered in by Abraham Lincoln just 8 days before his re-election, motivated by the political benefits of its Republican-supporting electoral votes, as well as the state’s wealth in silver and its potential contribution to wartime debt. 36 states in total, less the number of Slave States (15)—which some would consider the correct Confederate number, votes, ratifications, and acceptances aside—also equals 21.
Construction: The stars of the flag are made of cotton, hand-sewn and double-appliquéd (meaning that they are applied to both sides). These are arranged in what is known as the “Great Star” or “Great Luminary” pattern, which is comprised of a large star made out of smaller ones. The canton and stripes are made of fine, merino wool that has been pieced and joined with treadle stitching. There are two plain weave cotton bindings along the hoist, applied on top of one-another and sewn with treadle stitching. The rectangular patches at the top and bottom of the hoist end are called gussets. These were added at the points where the flag received the most wear and are often original to the construction. In this case both appear to have been added later, though during the flag’s regular course of use. The same variety of merino wool fabric appears to have been used in both cases, but the dye lots are different. The stitching was done with two different types of stitching, one lineal and one with a chain stitch. The latter of these can be accurately dated to the 1864-65 period. It was popular for a very brief time, then reportedly abandoned due to the fact that it consumed far more thread than a standard stitch. In short, the benefits simply outweighed the additional cost. The second hoist binding appears to have been added to the flag when the gussets were applied, laid directly over the original binding and stitched into place with what appears to have been the same treadle machine, or one like it. It seems very likely that the flag was made towards the beginning of the war, in the late 1861-mid-1863 era, and that the gussets were subsequently added late war, between 1864 and 1865.
Some Notes About the Great Star Pattern:
In the world of antique American flags there are nearly countless star patterns, but most have lineal rows or columns. Some have circular designs, which are further down the rarity scale. The Great Star is far more scarce and is highly coveted due to both its rarity and strong visual qualities. The concept of arranging the stars in this fashion seems to have come about shortly after the War of 1812, when Congressman Peter Wendover of New York requested that Captain Samuel Reid, a War of 1812 naval hero, create a new design that would become the third official format of the Stars & Stripes. A recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor, Reid became harbor master of New York following the war. During his lifetime, he created many innovations in signal use, including a system that could actually send messages from New York to New Orleans by sea in just two hours.
Use as a Naval signal had been the primary reason for the initial creation of an American national flag in 1777, but since there was no official star design, the appearance of our flag varied greatly. Reid’s primary concern centered on both consistency and ease of recognition. His hope was as more and more states joined the Union and more and more stars were added to the flag, that this important signal would remain easily identified on the open seas. In 1818, Reid suggested to Congress that the number of stripes permanently return to 13 (reduced from 15) and that the stars be grouped into the shape of one large star.
Reid’s proposal would have kept the star constellation in roughly the same format, in a pattern that could be quickly identified at a distance as the number of states grew. His concept for the stripes was ultimately accepted, but his advice on the star pattern was rejected by President James Monroe, due to the increased cost of arranging the stars in the fashion. Monroe suggested a simple pattern of justified rows, but did not issue an official deign, so the Great Star was produced by anyone willing to make it. Its rarity today, along with its beauty, has driven the desirability of American flags with this configuration.
Great Star patterns vary widely in the way that they are assembled. In this case the configuration is comprised of a central star, around which is a loose circle of 5 stars. The remaining 16 stars comprise the perimeter of the five-pointed star formation, which has a rather fat profile due to the shallow, curved valleys between each arm. The Great Star is situated so that it is canted with one point in the 11:00 position, which adds a significant folk quality to an already artistically interesting and impactful design. Note the lustrous sheen of the merino wool fabrics and how the royal blue color of the canton creates a striking contrast to the scarlet red stripes. The combination of all of these features results in one of the best graphic images one may encounter in early American flags, and makes for a wonderful accompaniment to its historical value.
Mounting: The flag was mounted and framed within our own conservation department, which is led by expert staff. We take great care in the mounting and presentation of flags and have preserved thousands of examples.
The black-painted, hand-gilded and distressed molding is Italian. The background fabric is 100% cotton twill, black in color. The glazing is U.V. protective plexiglass. Feel free to contact us for more details.
Condition: There is a stitched repair to a 3” x ½” tear in the 4th red stripe and a 2.5” x 2.5” L-shaped tear in the last red stripe. There is minor mothing throughout and there is minor foxing and staining in limited areas. The gussets at the top and bottom of the hoist were probably added between 1864 and 1865. The hoist binding was overlaid at this time and the fly end was apparently turned back and re-bound at the same time. The overall condition is tremendous for a wool flag of the Civil War and its presentation would be difficult if not impossible to improve upon. Many of my clients prefer early flags to show their age and history of use.
|Collector Level:||Flags for the truest Patriots. My best offerings|
|Flag Type:||Sewn flag|
|Earliest Date of Origin:||1861|
|Latest Date of Origin:||1865|
|War Association:||1861-1865 Civil War|
|Price:||Please call (717) 676-0545 or (717) 502-1281|