Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags
Sold Flags


Available: Sold
Frame Size (H x L): Approx. 34.5" x 58.5"
Flag Size (H x L): 23.5" x 46.5"

32 star American flags are rare. This is largely because they were only official for one year (1858-59), but it is also a result of the fact that this time frame occurred prior to the Civil War, in an era when use of the Stars & Stripes on land in the private sector was very slim. Flags were becoming popular in political campaigning, but their use had yet to be widespread in the display of general patriotism.

Minnesota joined the Union as the 32nd state on May 11th, 1858. The 32 star flag became official on July 4th of that year and remained so until July 3rd of 1859. Since Oregon joined the Union on February 14th, 1859, however, production of 32 star flags probably ceased well before July. For this reason, the 32-star count likely saw use for only 9 months. This made it one of the shortest lived flags in early America.

The union of this particular flag is press-dyed on a blended wool and cotton fabric. The red stripes are, by contrast, woven into a similar fabric. Upon close inspection, one can see that the weft is red where the stripes are red, but the warp in these areas is white, so the fabric looks like oxford cotton shirts, with white thread going in one direction and colored thread in the other, so that the overall effect has a slightly washed appearance. The royal blue of the canton appears more saturated because this has a solid application of pigment.

The canton of the flag was hand-stitched to the striped field. The fly end was turned back and bound with hand-stitching. There is a hand-sewn binding along the hoist, made of heavy cotton twill, with hand-sewn, whip-stitched grommets at either end. Some flags, especially those made for naval use during the mid-19th century, had extra fabric tucked back under the binding, to reinforce the seam and perhaps so that additional fabric was available for repair. While this is not a flag that would have normally been acquired for maritime use, the construction characteristic was included here.

Along the hoist binding, on the obverse, near the bottom, the name "E.A. Pratt" was inscribed with a dip pen. This would be the name of a former owner and it was common to mark flags in this fashion during the 19th and the early 20th centuries. Knowing that other flags in this exact style are known to have seen Civil War service, a survey of soldiers was undertaken for E.A. Pratt and the result matched this particular surname and initials with just one individual. Because Erastus A. Pratt of Brighton, Michigan, was an officer, this allowed for the relatively unusual opportunity to actually identify a hand-inscribed name with reasonable certainty.

Pratt enlisted early in the war, on October 22nd, 1861, at the rank of 1st Lieutenant. Assigned to Company D of the 15th Michigan Infantry, Pratt was unusually old among his fellow enlistees at the age of 44. Serving a 3-year term, he was promoted to Captain on October 1st, 1862. Transferring to Company A of the same regiment on March 11th, 1864, he served until the day before Christmas of that year, when he mustered out, surviving the war.

While most of its members had no military experience, one would be hard-pressed to locate a regiment that fought harder and with more glory than the 15th Michigan. Participating in no less than 24 battles, its list of famous engagements include Shiloh (where it arrived on the scene directly after mustering in and, it was said, "fought like veterans"), Vicksburg, Atlanta, and Sherman's March to the Sea. A history of the unit describes nearly countless skirmishes and constant fighting for its entire 3-year term. With a total enrollment of 2,390 men, it suffered losses nothing short of remarkable, including just 51 killed in action, 24 deaths from wounds, and 4 deaths while detained in Confederate prisons.

It is of interest to note that this same exact type of flag was made in a much larger size, except that all known flags in the larger scale were modified to include 2 additional stars, raising the overall count to 34. On all of the examples I have encountered, the 2 added stars were single-appliquéd in the same place, between the first and second row and between the 3rd and 4th row, respectively, in a staggered position, near the hoist end. Whether these flags were produced in the 32 star period, then updated later, or whether they were instead created in the 34 star era (1861-63), is not known. It is reasonable to assume, however, that the flag maker was using a lengths of press-dyed fabric, with 4 continuous rows of stars, in a fashion by which any star count could be achieved. The first step would simply be to get as close as possible to the desired number, using multiples of 4, then clipping additional stars from the same fabric and appliquéing them within the field. Whatever the case may be, the larger style is only known in the 34 star count and the smaller is only known in the 32 star count.

While someone may have procured the 32 star flags in the latter period and simply not had them updated due to time constraints or apathy, the 32 star examples are far scarcer. This tends to support that they were actually made in the period that corresponds with their star count.

While the name of the maker remains unknown, the late flag expert Howard Madaus suggested that there was reason to believe that these flags were produced by the Annin Company in New York City.** Annin is our nation's eldest flag-maker that is still in business today. The company was founded in the 1820's on the New York waterfront, incorporated in 1847, and, though it opened a large manufacturing operation in Verona, New Jersey in 1916, maintained its head office and some production in Manhattan until 1960.

A flag of this scale would have served well as a flank-marker, or as a camp colors, and may have been employed in either function. Though not of the exact dimensions for military issue, the demand for flags during wartime often exceeded their availability and reasonable substitutions were made as necessary. In addition, many units were outfitted entirely with private funding and their flags were acquired outside normal military channels. While some sources that record makers of military goods lack reference to specific military contracts with Annin, their Wikipedia entry might explain why. The narrative states: "…the U.S. Signal Corps requisitioned all its wartime flags from Annin Flagmakers for the Civil War. An undated newspaper article in Annin's 1860's archives states: "Without going through forms of contract, Annin supplied the government direct." "…As the war progressed, orders came pouring in from every state and city that was loyal to the Union, so that by the beginning of 1864, there was not a single battlefield, a brigade or a division that did not use Annin flags."

I have previously owned two similar flags with military history. One, in the same exact style, had a hand-written inscription that tied it to a soldier who served as the principle musician in the 13th Connecticut Infantry. The other, a 34 star flag in a slightly different style, but produced on the same fabric and in the same general scale, was handed down through the family of a Sergeant of the 26th Pennsylvania Volunteers. I suspect that both flags were probably employed as camp colors and were used for drilling. The discovery of this flag, bearing the name of yet another officer, tends to support this theory. Regimental flags and national colors were often turned in to state authorities, or taken home by high ranking officers, then often donated at some point to local historical societies and museums. Camp colors seem to have been occasionally taken home by lower ranking officers.

Some Notes on the Press-Dying Process:
First patented in 1849, the press-dying process was thought to be a novel idea that would improve flag-making efficiency. In this case, for example, it could potentially alleviate the chore of hand-appliquéing 68 stars (34 on each side). In reality, however, the result must have been less efficient than sewing. To achieve white stars, for example, metal plates in the shape of stars had to be clamped to either side of a length of woolen fabric, in the desired configuration, so they were back-to-back. These may have been lightly brushed beforehand with a solution that would resist dye, or perhaps with a thin coat of wax. The stars were clamped together tightly, the bunting was dyed blue, and the areas where the metal stars were positioned would be left white. For flags with press-dyed stripes (not applicable to the flag discussed here), the same task was repeated with different clamps.

A form of resist-dyeing, this method often resulted in crude characteristics, such as stripes with irregular lines, in various widths, and stars with inconsistent shapes, in slightly varying sizes. It is likely that this resulted in some lost product and wasted time, from flags that had bleeding or misprint issues and were of too poor quality to sell. This may perhaps explain why it never became a become a popular method of flag production.

Wool was preferred because it sheds water, making it the fabric of choice for all maritime flags and, in fact, most flags produced by professional flag-makers for long-term outdoor use. The inclusion of cotton would have made the fabric easier to dye and may have, in fact, precluded the need for clamp dying (another name for the process). Whatever the case may be, printing on wool is costly and difficult. Even today, only about 1% of wool fabric is printed**, because it generally needs to be washed afterward and wool cannot easily be treated with water.

History of the 15th Michigan Infantry:
The Fifteenth Michigan Volunteer Infantry was organized at Ypsilanti and Detroit between October 16, 1861, and March 13, 1862, and was mustered into Federal service for a three-year enlistment at Monroe, Michigan on March 20, 1862 under the command of Colonel John M. Oliver. For at least part of its term of service, at least part of the regiment was mounted, meaning that they rode to location, then dismounted and fought on foot.

The regiment left Monroe March 27th and arrived at Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee just in time to participate in the historic battle of Shiloh, fought there on the April 6th and 7th. It was here that Union forces, under General Ulysses S. Grant, defeated those of Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnson, who Confederate President Jefferson Davis felt to be the finest general officer in the Confederacy before the emergence of Robert E. Lee. Johnson was wounded and bled to death at Shiloh on the first day of the engagement, during which the 15th Michigan was attached to General Rosseau's brigade and suffered a loss of 2 officers and 31 men killed, with 1 officer and 63 men wounded. It was a severe experience for troops but recently organized, but the regiment is said to have fought with the steadiness of veterans and received notice from the brigade commander for conspicuous gallantry.

About a month later, the Fifteenth took part in the siege of Corinth, Mississippi, which lasted from May 10th - 31st. It again engaged the enemy at Iuka, Mississippi on September 19th, then at Chewalla on October 1st, and once again was in the advance at Corinth on the 3rd and 4th of that month, when an attack was made by the enemy that resulted in a loss to the Fifteenth of 13 killed and 32 wounded.

In November of that year the regiment moved to Grand Junction and remained in the vicinity until June of 1863, when it was attached to the First Division, Sixteenth Corps, and, in command of Colonel Oliver, was ordered to Vicksburg. It proceeded to Hayne's Bluff, where it was temporarily attached to the Ninth Corps, and on July 6th crossed the Big Black River in the advance upon Jackson, and operated with the Ninth Corps until the Confederates were driven across Pearl River on July 17th. Vicksburg having surrendered, the Fifteenth was attached to the Second Brigade, Fourth Division, Fifteenth Corps, and moved to reinforce the Army of the Cumberland. Passing north through Memphis, Tennessee, it headed South again through Corinth and arrived at Florence, Alabama on the 1st of November.

The regiment then moved to Bridgeport, Alabama, then to Scottsboro, where it remained until February of 1864. At this place 186 members re-enlisted and the regiment returned to Monroe, where the men were given a veteran furlough to return home. Assembling once again Monroe, the regiment proceeded south to Chattanooga, where it arrived on May 4th and immediately engaged under General Sherman's army in his March to the Sea. Here it was constantly marching and engaging the enemy, participating in many hard-fought battles before crossing the Chattahoochee River into the entrenchments during the siege of Atlanta. At Decatur, a few miles east, the Fifteenth had a desperate engagement with General Hood's army on the 22nd of July, but fought with such gallantry that it succeeded in repulsing a very determined attack of the enemy, capturing the colors of two Confederate regiments and 176 prisoners. It was constantly under fire during the siege, and when Sherman moved his army to the south, the Fifteenth repulsed a heavy assault at Jonesboro. It was here that Hood's forces were repulsed, forcing his evacuation of Atlanta.

The regiment then established camp at East Point, Georgia for a long needed rest, but when General Hood started north with his army, the Fifteenth joined in the pursuit. It started October 4th and marched 200 miles by way of Marietta, Allatoona, Rome, Resaca, and Snake Creek Gap to Carr Springs, Alabama, participating in numerous skirmishes, some of them arising to the dignity of battles. Leaving Hood to pursue his march north upon Nashville, where General Thomas was in readiness to receive him, the Fifteenth returned to Atlanta, where it arrived on the 12th of October and, two days afterward, commenced the march from Atlanta to the sea. At this time it was serving in the Third Brigade, Second Division, Fifteenth Corps. Moving with the corps upon Savannah, the city surrendered and the Fifteenth made camp until January 14, 1865, when it embarked upon transports for Beaufort, South Carolina. On the 30th it commenced the march through that state to the Carolinas, via Orangeburg, Columbia (where the order of secession was originally signed), Cheraw, and Fayetteville, reaching Goldsboro, NC on March 14th.

Colonel Oliver was promoted to Brigadier General January 12, 1865, and Frederick S. Hutchinson was commissioned Colonel January 14, 1865. Under the command of Hutchinson, the regiment marched to Raleigh and then to Washington, D. C., where it arrived on the 21st and took part in the Grand Review with Sherman's army before President Abraham Lincoln on May 24th.

On June 1st the regiment was sent to Louisville, Kentucky, then on to Little Rock, Arkansas, where it arrived July 7th and formally mustered out of service on August 18. It remained there until August 21st, when it began its return to Michigan. Arriving at Detroit on September 1st, 1865, it was paid and disbanded.

Chronological List of Engagements:
Shiloh (Pittsburg Landing), TN - Apr. 6-7, 1862
Farmington, MS - May 9, 1862
Siege of Corinth, MS - May 10-31, 1862
Iuka, MS - Sept. 19, 1862
Chewalla, MS - Oct. 1, 1862
Corinth, MS - Oct. 3-4, 1862
Vicksburg, MS, Jun. 11-July 4, 1863
Jackson, MS - Jul. 11-18, 1863
Resaca, GA - May 14, 1864
Big Shanty, GA - Jun. 15, 1864
Kennesaw, GA - Jun. 25, 1864
Decatur, GA - Jul. 20-21, 1864
Siege of Atlanta, GA - Jul. 22-August 25, 1864
Atlanta and M.R.R., GA - Aug. 29, 1864
Jonesboro, GA - Aug. 31, 1864
Lovejoy's Station, GA - Sept. 2, 1864
Clinton, GA - Nov. 20, 1864
Fort McAllister, GA - Dec. 13, 1864
Orangeburg, SC - Feb. 14-15, 1865
Congaree Creek, SC - Feb. 15, 1865
Saluda Creek, SC - Feb. 16, 1865
Columbia, SC - Feb. 17, 1865
Fayetteville, NC - Mar. 13, 1865
Bentonville, NC - Mar. 19, 1865

Total enrollment - 2,390
Killed in action - 51
Died of wounds - 24
Died in confederate prisons - 4
Died of disease - 182
Discharged for disability (wounds and disease) - 286

[Source: Record of Service of Michigan Volunteers 1861-65]

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: The flag is extremely well-preserved. There is very minor soiling in limited areas. There are very minor losses, in the form of various tiny holes and/or thin areas, throughout, accompanied by a small vertical tear in the 5th red stripe, and a much smller one in the 3rd red stripe. Many of my clients prefer early flags to show their age and history of use.

* Chen, W., Wang, G., & Bai, Y., “Best for Wool Fabric Printing…,” (Textile Asia, 2002, v.33 (12)), pp. 37-39.

** Madaus, H. & Smith, W., "The American Flag: Two Centuries of Concord and Conflict," (2006, VZ Publications, Santa Cruz, California), p. 62.
Collector Level: Advanced Collectors and the Person with Everything
Flag Type: Sewn flag
Star Count: 32
Earliest Date of Origin: 1858
Latest Date of Origin: 1859
State/Affiliation: Minnesota
War Association: 1777-1860 Pre-Civil War
Price: SOLD

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