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  EXCEPTIONAL CONFEDERATE 1ST NATIONAL PATTERN BIBLE FLAG WITH A CRESCENT FORMATION OF 11 STARS, 2 OF WHICH APPEAR TO HAVE BEEN SUBSEQUENTLY ADDED AS MORE STATES SECEDED FROM THE UNION; MADE ca MARCH-MAY, 1861, UPDATED BETWEEN THEN AND OCTOBER; FOUND AMONG A COLLECTION OF LETTERS WRITTEN BY TWO NEW ENGLAND SOLDIERS, PROBABLE UNION CAPTURE

Available: Sold
Frame Size (H x L): Approx. 10.5" x 13.5"
Flag Size (H x L): 4.5" x 7.5"
Description....:
Bible flags were made for a soldier by a loved one, to be presented as a token of pride and affection when he went away to war, or to be sent to them in the mail while on duty in the field. This type of flag received its name because it was typically carried in a Bible, both because this was the safest place that a soldier might keep a flat, treasured object on his person, with limited places to do so, and because it sometimes doubled as a bookmark.

Bible flags were most often made of ladies’ dress silk or dress ribbon. A woman might use new fabric, but if the maker was a girlfriend or fiancé, as opposed to a mother or sister, then she might use fabric clipped from her own dress as a way to further personalize the gift. Bible flags are found in all shapes and sizes, and with every star configuration imaginable, but many are small enough to fit in a small Bible, at least when folded.

From a collector's standpoint, several things are great about Bible flags. One is that they are as different--or perhaps even more different--as one person is from another. They appear not only in a surprising array of star counts, but in a myriad of interpretations of various designs and with a beautiful variety of fabrics, colors, and materials. Stars might be embroidered, sewn, glued, executed with simple needlework, or applied using foil or sequins. Stripes might be pink instead of red, reflecting the availability of ladies fabrics in a household. Sometimes there was fringe. Always there was personality.

This particular flag, like the vast majority of its known counterparts, appears in the First National Confederate Flag design. This is the pattern that was given the nickname the "Stars & Bars." Entirely hand-sewn, the canton of the flag is made of blue, plain weave silk, as-is the white bar. The red bars are made of what appears to be a length of pink, ladies' dress ribbon with a subtle, decorative weave along the edge. A length of white silk along the hoist end was, as found, wrapped around a hickory staff and stitched in place like an open sleeve.

The canton of the flag displays 11 stars, 10 of which appear in a crescent, laying on its side and the 11th beyond it, in the lower corner at the hoist end. Crudely embroidered in silk thread, and resembling rowels of a spur, most have 8 points, but some fewer, apparently having sustained minor thread loss. At first glance it appears that some of the stars may have been added, possibly including all three along the hoist end, plus the small one in the upper corner at the fly end. One-sided, like most Bible flags, further evidence of the sewing of the stars can be obtained by looking at them on the reverse. Here it becomes apparent that the star in the upper, fly end corner was stitched at the same time as the ones adjacent to it, because their stitches are connected. It is difficult to determine if the large star in the mirror image position, at the hoist end, was stitched contemporaneously with the others or not. Having evaluated it carefully under magnification, though unattached and with a slightly different appearance, it does appear to be original. This means that it accompanies the 4 additional stars beyond it, moving toward the fly, and the 4 below the curved line, beginning at the fly end and counting back. The fact that these 9 stars form a rather nice crescent tends to support that theory. The 2 stars below the big star in the upper, hoist end corner, including one even bigger, jammed in the line that forms the crescent, and the small one placed curiously outside it, appear to have thicker thread of slightly different stock.

When originally adopted by the provisional Confederate legislature, on March 4th, 1861, the First National Confederate flag was to have 7 stars. These represented South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas, which left in what is referred to as "the initial wave of secession." Officially, these were to be arranged in a circle, though in practice--as was the case with pretty much all 19th century American flags, Confederate and otherwise--people did as they saw fit and positioned them to their liking.

As with the American National Flag, the Stars & Bars received a star for each new state. 4 more states were added shortly after the 7, including Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee. The exact order of these is arguable, based upon how one goes about calculating the order of secession. Without getting into a lengthy discussion of that topic here, suffice to say that these can safely be presumed to represent the states of North Carolina and Tennessee, either in that order or reversed.*

In the fall of 1861, these were followed by 2 more states, for a total of 13. The latter reflected the Border States of Missouri and Kentucky, which didn't officially secede, but were nonetheless accepted by Confederate President Jefferson Davis, who viewed them as having enough support to positively impact the Southern cause.

Since the flag likely had 9 stars originally, its making can reasonably be presumed to have taken place between May 6th, 1861, when Arkansas voted in favor of secession, and May 20th, when North Carolina voted and was immediately admitted to the Confederacy. The additional 2 stars can be attributed sometime between that date and Halloween, October 31st, 1861, when Missouri was admitted. Being able to target a particular date window like this is really nice, especially when it comes to a homemade, wartime, 19th century object.

The flag was discovered with a group of collected letters written by two Union soldiers, Stehen Millet Bragdon of the 5th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, Company E (b. 1836, d. 1909), and Stephen F. Downs of the 3rd New Hampshire Infantry, Company K (b. 1839, d. May 16th, 1864, killed at Drewry’s Bluff). It seems likely that the flag was among the possessions of one of these two men, taken as a trophy of the war and either brought or sent home. Though none mention the flag, color copies of all of the letters are included with the flag, as are write-ups and period photos of the two men.

The crescent configuration is something I have not seen on any other Confederate Bible flag. This has a couple of possible meanings. The most likely is a relationship to South Carolina. When a flag was needed during the Revolutionary War to alert local citizens of a possible British attack, Colonel William Moultrie created a blue flag that matched the color of his soldier's uniforms, with a crescent that matched the symbol on the hats they wore, and a palmetto tree to symbolize the palmetto log fort Moultrie held in defense of Sullivan's Island on June 28, 1776. The reason that there were crescents on the hats remains a mystery, even today, but may pay homage to a crescent on the family crest of the colony's lieutenant governor. Fast-forwarding to 1860, when South Carolina became the first Confederate state to secede from the Union, on December 20th of that year, it became immediately apparent that a flag was needed. A version of Moultrie's flag was adopted by the South Carolina State Assembly on January 28th, 1861. On this design, the crescent was laying down, with both points upright, as-is the case on the Bible flag. It wasn't until a new version of the flag was adopted by South Carolina in 1910 that the crescent was rotated, as it appears today. Though crescents appear on Confederate flags used by Arkansas regiments, and though New Orleans is nicknamed The Crescent City, due to a crescent-shaped bend in French Quarter as follows the Mississippi River, these relationships pale in comparison to the amount of use of the crescent in South Carolina imagery. Whatever the case may be with this particular Confederate Bible flag, the result is both rare and beautiful.

Brief Notes on Confederate Flag Design:
Many people are unaware that it was this, not the Southern Cross, that was the national flag of the Confederacy. There were actually three successive national patterns, none of which was flag that most people think of today. The First National Confederate Flag was so similar to the Stars & Stripes that it led to confusion on battlefields laden with the smoke of black powder. For this reason, the Second National Confederate design was adopted on May 26th, 1863. Nicknamed the “Stainless Banner,” this was white in color, with the Southern Cross serving as the canton in place of the blue field with stars. Soldiers and officers disliked this design, because it looked too much like a surrender flag, and, if given the opportunity--so the story goes--would dip the end in blood. 36 days before the war’s end a red vertical bar was added at the fly end to create a third national pattern. Officially this paid homage to French, who lent aid to the South during the war, noting that if one were to take the Third National pattern and add a blue vertical bar at the fly end, replacing the Southern Cross and the white field below it, the result would be the national flag of France.

The Southern Cross battle flag, the Confederate flag design that most people are so familiar with today, was put into use more quickly than the adoption of the Second National Confederate Flag. General Joe Johnston became the first Confederate officer to approve what would become generically known as the "Confederate Battle Flag" in the fall of 1861, following the suggestion of his second in command, General P.G.T. Beauregard. Many units carried variations of it for the remainder of the war. The reason for doing so was that it was a better signal, being distinctly different than the Stars & Stripes. It received widespread love in the South because it was carried by Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, and because the second national design was not admired, and because the third was too late in coming.

* The order in which the next 4 states followed can be arranged in more than one way. In all cases, there was a date on which representatives to the respective state legislature voted for secession. These took place in the following order:

State Legislatures Voting for Secession
8 April 17th Virginia (88 to 55 in favor of secession)
9 May 6th Arkansas (69 to 1 in favor of secession, 9 delegates were not present)
10 May 6th Tennessee (66 to 25 in favor of secession, the vote coming later in the day, following Arkansas)
11 May 20th North Carolina (Unanimous in favor of secession)

In two of the four, a vote of the legislature was followed by a popular vote of the people:

Popular Vote for Secession
8 [May 6th] Arkansas (state representatives voted 55 to 15 against a popular vote)
9 [May 20th] North Carolina (state legislature declared there would be no popular vote; apparently unanimous)
10 May 23rd Virginia (132,201 to 37,451 in favor of secession, yet the ballots of pro-Union counties were conveniently "lost")
11 June 8th Tennessee (104,471 to 47,183 in favor of secession)

Despite the fact that Virginia doesn't technically consider itself as having seceded until May 23rd, when the popular vote occurred, following Arkansas and North Carolina, practically all literary sources cite Virginia as being the 8th state to secede, with a date of April 17th. Interestingly enough, most of these same sources cite Tennessee as being the 11th state, using the date of the popular vote on June 8th as opposed to the legislative one on May 6th.

A third way to arrange the list would be to use the date on which the Confederate States of America accepted each state:

Dates of Admittance to the Confederacy
8 May 7th Virginia
9 May 18th Arkansas
10 May 20th North Carolina
11 July 2nd Tennessee

This method would be the appropriate way to determine a star count for a First National Confederate Flag produced in an official manner, but when a private individual made a flag at home, a number of other factors were involved. One would be his/her personal understanding of the current count of Confederate States on any given day.

Even today, the collected information above is either incompletely represented or else confusing in most sources on the topic, if not just plain wrong in others. Nowhere, in fact, is all of this information on voting of senators and the people within the 8th-11th Confederate States, and their acceptance by the Confederacy, neatly compiled. Though I have studied the topic for years, I found that my own notes and writings were actually just as bad. Access to the information, in a way that it could be readily compared and analyzed, would have been far worse in 1861, especially with the dates so close together and information taking time to disseminate.

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 preservation of flags and have framed thousands of examples. The fantastic, ripple-profile molding has a paint-decorated and gilded surface and dates to the period between 1830 and 1860. This is a pressure mount. The background is 100% cotton, black in color, that has been washed and treated for color fastness. The glazing is U.V. protective acrylic.

Condition: The fly end has lost some of its length and has a raw, uneven edge. There is minor to modest splitting of the silk fabric. There is significant loss in the white silk fabric along the hoist end, which separated from the body of the flag when it was removed from the wooden staff. It had been affixed with both glue and stitching and was very fragile. There is minor to modest soiling throughout and there is moderate fading of the pink silk ribbon. Many of my clients prefer early flags to show their age and history of use. The flag presents beautifully and the great rarity and of Bible flags warrants almost any condition.
Collector Level: Flags for the truest Patriots. My best offerings
Flag Type: Sewn flag
Star Count: 11
Earliest Date of Origin: 1861
Latest Date of Origin: 1861
State/Affiliation: South Carolina
War Association: 1861-1865 Civil War
Price: SOLD
 

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