Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags
Sold Flags


Available: Sold
Frame Size (H x L): 43.75" x 45"
Flag Size (H x L): 30.5" x 31.5"
During the Civil War, U.S. Army regulations set forth that an infantry unit would carry two flags. These included a national colors, meaning the Stars & Stripes, and a regimental colors, also referred to as a federal standard. This second flag, when issued by the federal government, displayed a federal eagle with a shield upon its breast, bearing the typical arrows and olive branches gripped in its talons, displayed on a blue ground, with an arch of stars above. The eagle had a red streamer in its beak with the E Pluribus Unum slogan, and another below the entire device, left blank so that a unit designation could be added after the flag was issued. Both the national and regimental colors were trimmed on three sides with gold silk fringe.

When the war broke out in 1861, the federal government did expand the regular army, but mostly it relied upon local volunteer units that were organized on state level. These were equipped by the states themselves, or else by wealthy persons or organizations wishing to donate to the Union cause. States supplied both types of colors. A great deal of variation followed as both government and independent flag-makers interpreted the regulations and formats differently, and states provided input that sometimes altered the imagery to include state-associated symbols. Pennsylvania, for example, generally followed the federal format, while Connecticut merged the Federal eagle with state symbolism. In some instances the federal eagle was painted on one side and the state crest on the other. And in some cases the regimental flag had the state device only. Interpretations of devices of all kinds varied by maker and artist.

In early 1862, the federal government retook the responsibility for the provision of regimental colors. Private groups or individuals that raised units often had their own flags made, however, and presented them in formal ceremonies. These usually did not follow the form of federal standards at all, but rather put forth their own designs, including localized references by way of slogans, figures, landscapes, etc., plus eagles in various forms and a myriad of patriotic and military symbols. State and local militia groups that existed pre-war had their own flags that could either be carried as-is, or retired so that new flags could be produced for Civil War service. In either case these would often bear devices, dates and references specific to the history of the unit itself. Many of these units were comprised of veterans of other wars. Many were immigrants and the nationalities of their membership were conveyed in words or symbols on both their regimental standards, as well as in the cantons or stripes of their national colors.

As a result of all of the above factors, the breadth of designs carried by units varied extensively and the inconsistency of it even within a state, let alone across states, was rampant. The same was true of uniforms.

Regimental colors in the form of a federal standard were typically 6 x 6.5 feet (72 x 78 inches) for an infantry unit, which mirrored the size of their national colors. Cavalry units carried a much smaller standard that typically measured around 2.25 x 2.5 feet (28 x 30 inches). The infantry examples typically bore the full count of stars above the eagle, while the smaller variety displayed 13 stars. This was consistent with United States Navy practice on small versus large scale ensigns.

When a regimental colors was issued to a unit, it was up to the commanding officer to have the unit name painted onto the red streamer beneath the eagle. Perhaps due to available time or materials, this didn't always happen, as evidenced by surviving examples with good provenance in state and other collections.

In some states, New York being a prime example, there were so many volunteer units that naming, organizing, re-naming and equipping regiments was a nebulous task. The supply of flags and logistics of distribution was simply outstripped by demand. For this reason, the colors usually assigned to cavalry units sometimes ended up with infantry and artillery units, carried as guidons / flank markers, used to align troops in formation as well as in battle. Because the scale of a cavalry regimental standard was so small, it was suitable for the task. Flags produced as camp colors, to be used for military drilling and to mark the perimeter of a unit's encampment, were also sometimes requisitioned for the same purpose.

Bearing 13 stars and in the traditional format of a federal standard, without state or other devices, this particular flag is of cavalry specifications. Because there is no unit designation and no specific history is known, there is no knowledge as to whether this flag was issued to a cavalry, infantry, or artillery unit.

In so far as the construction is concerned, the flag is precisely as expected. Like most regimental flags, this one is hand-painted on a silk ground. The background is Navy blue and the stars, scrollwork, "E Pluribus Unum" motto, and accenting are executed in dark gold pigment, accented in a much lighter shade of tan / khaki. Hand-painting allowed for excellent detail and colorful embellishment, both of which are present here, with ample inflection of lighting through subtle shading. Like most of its counterparts of this scale, the presentation is bold and interesting, because the device is so large with respect to the size of the flag. The fringe is also more prominent than on infantry and artillery regimental and national colors, and the size is much easier for a collector to display, which raises interest in its own right.

At the outset of the Civil War, regulations stated that battle flags were supposed to be embroidered on silk, but very few were. This was due to the lack of skilled embroiderers. Although there were prototypes, the embroidery machine had not yet been successfully invented in 1861. Even though success on that front was achieved in Switzerland in 1863, none were imported to the U.S. until about eight years later, in 1873. The result was that flags were instead hand-painted on silk, which certainly resulted in at least one key benefit. Painted flags were much lighter to carry. As the late flag expert Howard Madaus once explained, "Because the a regimental flag was often the only trace of a unit visible on the smoke-choked field of battle, it drew an inordinate amount of enemy fire [and] accordingly, casualties were thickest closest to the colors." The flag bearer needed to have the ability to move as freely as possible, averting death and fulfill the duties of his position, keeping the unit organized.

Civil War battle flags, such as this one, are rare and federal standards are especially so. Following the war, most regiments presented their flags back to their respective states in formal ceremonies. Thousands of silk, Civil War colors of various sorts are held across state, federal, and other institutional collections, but just a tiny handful turn up in the private marketplace.

One of the best preserved and documented state collections is in Albany, New York, where at least five examples of federal standards in this same basic size are among the holdings of the New York Military Museum. One is unattributed and no unit designation is painted on it. One was issued to the 1st Regiment NY Dragoons, one to the 16th NY Cavalry, and two to the 25th NY Cavalry. One of the two examples of the latter unit appears to have been produced by the same maker as the flag under examination here, with the same scrollwork, colors and shading, olive branch, a very similarly painted eagle, etc. In Pennsylvania, which also houses a huge collection in Harrisburg, examples in a similar size, in the federal standard style, are attributed to the 6th, 12th, and 21st cavalries. The later of these is also appears to be a match to the flag in question here.

Due to the Civil War date, exceptional colors and graphics, rarity, and small yet boldly displayable size, this is a masterpiece level object among its 19th century counterparts and a great addition to any collection.

Condition: The flag is remarkable fine and intact. There are minor splits, some with minor, associated loss, including very minor paint loss. The flag presents beautifully.

Mounting: Proper mounting and framing in one of our best moldings, with U.V. protective plexiglass, is included.
Collector Level: Flags for the truest Patriots. My best offerings
Flag Type: Sewn flag
Star Count: 13
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

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