|CONFEDERATE BIBLE FLAG CAPTURED BY MATTHEW ROBERTSON OF THE 13TH INDIANA INFANTRY AT THE BATTLE OF RICH MOUNTAIN, VIRGINIA (NOW WEST VIRGINIA) IN JULY OF 1861, WITH LOOM-WOVEN STARS AND SILK RIBBON STRIPES; AN EXCEPTIONAL EXAMPLE
|Frame Size (H x L):
|13" x 15"
|Flag Size (H x L):
|5.75" x 7.5"
|Bible flags are tiny flags made for a soldier by a loved one, to be presented as a token of pride and affection when he went away to war. They received this name because they were 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.
This example, in the First National format (a.k.a., Stars & Bars), was found among the personal effects of Matthew Robertson (b. 1836, d. unknown), a resident of Washington County, Indiana, who enlisted at the rank of Private on June 19th, 1861 and was assigned to Company “G” of the 13th Indiana Infantry.
The flag is made of four lengths of small lengths of silk ribbon that have been expertly joined with hand-stitching. Note in particular the white variety, which has a fanciful, decorative edge. The field of bars was stitched to a very unusual canton, unique among flags that I have ever encountered of both Southern and Northern origin. This is also made of ribbon, but of a style that is far more elaborate, made of loom-woven silk with repeating columns of stars. Done in such a way that the colors are reversed on the opposing sides, the obverse has blue stars on a white field and the reverse displays white stars on a blue ground. It seems likely that the fabric was produced to use in a winter / summer capacity for use in both seasons and for the sake of variety in a woman’s wardrobe, perhaps to be tied about the waist of a dress. Whether or not it was purposefully made for the American market is unknown, but this also seems probable. Whatever the case may be, I have never seen the textile incorporated in any other object, patriotic or otherwise, and the presentation of blue stars on white makes this dramatically different from other known Bible flags. Further, the proportions and vertically-oriented canton, as well as the combination of colors, are simply beautiful.
The starred ribbon is almost certainly of French origin. The only think like it that I have ever seen is a variety of American flag made for the 1876 Centennial International Exhibition in Philadelphia, America’s first world’s fair, which has woven text on each side that is not visible on the reverse. The verbiage celebrates America and France and the flags were almost certainly sold in the French pavilion at the expo. The technology to produce this type of fine embroidery, woven with a modified, jacquard weave loom, was developed simultaneously by Swiss, French, German, and English makers in the 1860’s.
While there are 14 stars visible on the flag as it is presented, the intent of the maker was to show 11 of these. The three stars closes to the hoist end display evidence of having been covered by a wooden staff to which it was once tacked (removed by a former owner). This makes sense with a hand-written note that accompanied it, that reads as follows:
“Found in deserted Confederate camp, near Rich Mountain Virginia, by Matthew Robertson, on July 12th – 1861”
According to military records, Robertson was with the 13th Indiana during the Battle of Rich Mountain, which occurred just one day beforehand, on July 11th. It is logical to assume that federal forces were pushing through formerly occupied Confederate positions in the days that followed. In the summer of 1861 the Confederate States of America had admitted 11 Confederate States, the last of which, Tennessee, had voted to secede on June 8th.
Robertson remained with the 13th Indiana until wounded and honorably discharged in 1862. Very little else is known about him. An 1888 pension record shows him living in California. An 1890 voter registration card indicates that he was a farmer living in that state in Alton in Humbolt County, reporting his date of birth as “abt 1836.”
Bible flags were most often made of ladies’ dress silk or dress ribbon, as is the case with this example. 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 a way to further personalize the gift. Bible flags are found in all shapes and sizes, and with every star configuration imaginable, but most are small enough to fit in a small Bible. Some were small enough to fit in a Civil War cover (a small 19th century envelope) and were mailed to a loved one in the field. Others, like this example, show evidence of having been affixed to staffs and very likely waved when their recipients mustered in to leave for war.
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.
Most Bible flags appear in the pattern of the First National Confederate Flag. This was the first official design adopted by the Confederate Congress on March 4th, 1861, when in session at the temporary capitol of Montgomery, Alabama. Initially this had 7 stars, but as more states seceded, more stars were added, with a total of 11 officially seceding by way of popular vote, followed by ratification of the respective state legislatures. The Border States of Missouri and Kentucky were also sometimes included, for total of 13, and sometimes more stars appear to reflect other Border States or Western Territories that the maker felt were loyal to the Southern cause. The First National is the flag also known as the "Stars & Bars." Because they were so alike, use of the Stars & Stripes and the Stars & Bars on the same smoke-laden battlefields created great confusion. For this reason, the Second National Confederate Flag was adopted on May 26th, 1863. It was white in color, with the Southern Cross (the Confederate battle flag) serving as its canton. Soldiers and officers alike disliked this design because it looked too much like a surrender flag, and, so the story goes, if given the opportunity, would dip the end in blood to provide color.
36 days before the war’s end a red vertical bar was added at the fly end and the result became the third national design. This was the “blood-stained banner”, but officially it did not represent blood, but rather paid homage to the French, which lent aid to the South during the war. Note how if you were to replace the first third of the flag with a blue vertical bar, the result would be the French tricolor, the national flag of France.
The “Southern Cross,” “the Confederate battle flag, or the "Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia," all of which it is sometimes generically called, was put into use more quickly than the adoption of the Second National Confederate design and was carried simultaneously by various Confederate units for the remainder of the war. The purpose was the same. It was a better signal, being distinctly different than the Stars & Stripes.
Many people are surprised to learn that the Southern Cross, by itself, was not the national flag of the Confederate States of America. Officially, in rectangular format, it served as the Confederate Navy Jack, flown when a ship was at port or anchor. In either square or rectangular format it was also carried by land forces as a battle flag and was assigned that generic title, partly because it was carried for that purpose by both Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, by P.G.T. Beauregard’s Armies, and by others. It also received widespread love in the South because the Second and Third National designs were not particularly admired by Confederate soldiers, the Second for reasons previously stated and the Third because the design was so short-lived.
HISTORY OF THE 13TH INDIANA INFANTRY:
Cols., Jeremiah C. Sullivan, Robert G. Foster, Cyrus J. Dobbs, John H. Lawrence; Lieut.-Cols., Will Cumback, Horace Heffren, Robert S. Foster, Cyrus J. Dobbs, John M. Wilson, Samuel M. Zent, Majs., Robert S. Foster, Cyrus J. Dobbs, John M. Wilson, John C. Burton John H. Lawrence, Richard J. Graham.
This regiment was originally accepted for state service for one year and was organized at Indianapolis for the U. S. service by volunteers from the companies in camp. It was one of the first four regiments volunteering from the state for three years and was mustered in June 19, 1861.
It left the state July 4, and joined Gen. McClellan's forces at Rich Mountain, W. Va., July 10 participating in the battle at that place the following day. It was in numerous skirmishes about Cheat Mountain in September, supported a battery at Green Brier in October and was in the battle of Camp Alleghany in December.
It then moved to Green Spring Run, where it remained until March, when it took part in the battle of Winchester Heights, and joined in pursuit of Jackson's army as far as New Market. Col. Sullivan was appointed brigadier-general on May 2 and Lieut.-Col. Foster was made colonel.
The regiment was in the engagement at Summerville, and then moved in pursuit of the enemy to Luray and Alexandria. It embarked on June 28 for Harrison's landing, where it remained from July 2 to Aug. 15, when it marched for Fortress Monroe. From there it moved to Suffolk, and engaged in reconnaissance during the fall and winter. It was in the engagement at Deserted House, and aided in the defeat of Longstreet, in his attempt to seize Suffolk in the spring of 1863.
Col. Foster was appointed brigadier-general on June 16, and Lieut.-Col. Cyrus J. Dobbs was promoted to colonel. On June 27, the regiment joined the expedition north of Richmond and sailed for Folly island, Charleston Harbor, July 28. It participated in the siege operations of Forts Wagner and Gregg, being the first regiment to enter Fort Wagner in the assault of Sept. 7.
Part of the regiment reenlisted as veterans in December and were furloughed home. The regiment moved to Jacksonville, Fla., in Feb., 1864, remaining there until April 17, when it was transferred to Gloucester Point, Va., and assigned to the 2nd brigade, 3rd division, 10th corps.
It participated in most of the operations of Gen. Butler's army south of Richmond, was engaged at Port Walthal Junction, Chester Station, and in the charge on the enemy's rifle pits, losing nearly 200 men in these engagements. It was attached to the 3rd brigade, 3rd division, 18th corps on May 26, and joined the Army of the Potomac at Cold Harbor June 1.
After the battle of Cold Harbor it participated in the early assaults on the works at Petersburg. The non-veterans left for Indianapolis on June 19, and were mustered out on the 24th. The regiment engaged in the charge at the Crater, July 30, and was in the trenches before Petersburg until September.
It was in the battles of Strawberry Plains, at Chaffin's Bluff and Fort Gilmer and in the attack on Richmond in October. It was sent to New York during the election in November, and joined the first expedition to Fort Fisher in December, returning to Chaffin's Bluff on the 31st.
The veterans and recruits were reorganized into a battalion of five companies on Dec. 6 and five companies of drafted men were added later, making a full regiment. It participated in the assault on Fort Fisher in Jan. 1865 in the capture of Fort Anderson and the occupation of Wilmington, and was stationed at Raleigh, until July 20, when it was assigned to duty at Goldsboro, where it remained until mustered out, Sept. 5, 1865.
The original strength of the regiment was 1,047. Gain by recruits, 192; reenlistments, 148; unassigned recruits, 40, total, 1,427. Loss by death 136; desertion, 103; unaccounted for 25. At its reorganization, the original strength was 980. Gain by recruits, 166; total 1,146. Loss by death, 98; desertion, 1; unaccounted for 30.
Source: "The Union Army: A History of Military Affairs in the Loyal States, 1861-65 -- Records of the Regiments in the Union Army -- Cyclopedia of Battles -- Memoirs of Commanders and Soldiers" (1908, Federal Publishing Company, Madison, WI), Vol. III.
Report Of Col. Cyrus J. Dobbs, Thirteenth Indiana Infantry, Of Operations May 10.
Hdqrs. Thirteenth Regt. Indiana Vols., Camp in the Field, May 11, 1864.
SIR: In compliance with instructions, I have the honor to report that on the morning of the 10th instant I proceeded with my command to a point about 1 mile beyond the Richmond and Petersburg turnpike and took up my position, throwing forward skirmishers, resting my left on the Richmond and Petersburg Railroad, 1 1/2 miles below Chester Station, the right connecting with the One hundred and sixty-ninth New York Volunteers, Col. McConihe, who had been placed on the extreme right. One section of the First Connecticut Battery and four companies of the Sixty-seventh Ohio Volunteers having reported to me, I placed the artillery in position, supported by the detachment to me, I placed the artillery in position, supported by the detachment of the Sixty-seventh Ohio. Immediately after the disposition of this small force, comprising the command, the enemy was in force, I ordered the artillery to open fire and sent to the rear for re-enforcements. The enemy formed promptly and advanced in fine style. I threw forward all my reserve but one company on the advanced line. We allowed the enemy to advance within easy range, when a volley from our entire front threw them in confusion and finally in hasty retreat. They promptly re-enforced their lines, renewed the attack, with the same result. By this time I was re-enforced by the Sixth Connecticut Volunteers, Seventh New Hampshire Volunteers and four pieces of Capt. Rockwell's battery.
I ordered the Sixth Connecticut Volunteers to the right of the road the Seventh New Hampshire Volunteers to the left, as supports to the advanced line, and etched Maj. J. C. Burton with five companies of the Thirteenth Indiana Volunteers to the extreme right of the One hundred and sixty-ninth New York Volunteers. The enemy now reappeared from the woods beyond in largely increased force, displaying five stand of colors in our front and two on our right, advancing in splendid our. Again they were allowed to advance within easy range, when a murderous fire opened from both sides, with both musketry and artillery. This contest was final and desperate. The enemy broke and rallied, but was finally compelled to take cover in the woods. The detachment under Maj. Burton, of the Thirteenth Indiana, advanced under a severe fire and charged the enemy in a hand-to-hand conflict, recapturing two pieces of artillery, but being unsupported on the right, and flanked, were compelled to retire to another position. Capt. Rockwell's battery did excellent execution in this assault. The enemy was now evidently making preparations for a final assault. Our troops were in excellent spirits, feeling strong in their superiority over their enemy. At about noon the last advance was made by the enemy, but was soon driven back with heavy loss, and retired from view. The line on the left occupied by the Thirteenth Indiana and Sixty-seventh Ohio was maintained during the whole affair.
The officers under my command without an exception behaved in such a gallant manner that it would be doing justice to name one and not all. I regret to report that out of 400 of the Thirteenth Indiana the loss was 102. EInclosed please find a list* of casualties sustained by the Thirteenth Indiana Volunteers. I would also state that the number of prisoners taken from the enemy on the 10th instant by the Thirteenth Indiana Volunteers is 37.
C. J. DOBBS,
Acting Assistant Adjutant-Gen.
Source: Official Records of the United State Army, Chapter XLVIII, South Side of the James, p. 110-68 [Series I. Vol. 36. Part Ii, Reports, Correspondence, Etc. Serial No. 68.]
Report of Capt. Samuel M. Zent, Thirteenth Indiana Infantry, of Operations August 14-16:
Hdqrs. Thirteenth Indiana Veteran Volunteers, In the Field, Va., August 20, 1864.
SIR: Agreeably to instructions, I have the honor to report that the Thirteenth Indiana crossed the James River near Jones' Landing on the morning of the 14th instant. Marched to the front, where the regiment was placed on picket, where it remained until about 2 p.m., during which time Corpl. William H. Pollard, of Company B, was severely wounded and William Bogue sunstruck. During the following night we were marched to the right of the Tenth Army Corps. Nothing of any importance transpired during the 15th instant. On the morning of the 16th the Thirteenth Indiana was sent to the front for the purpose of dislodging some rebel sharpshooters who were annoying our gunners. The battalion took its position in immediate front of the One hundredth New York Volunteers, where we remained until late in the afternoon, when we joined the brigade behind the front line of entrenchments, where we remained until the following day, when the battalion was detailed as provost guard for the Second Division, Tenth Army Corps, in which capacity it has since been employed.
Sergt. Joseph R. McCray, acting first lieutenant of Company A, was killed while in charge of a squared of sharpshooters on the 16th instant.
I remain, sir, with respect, your obedient servant,
S. M. ZENT,
Capt., Cmdg. Battalion.
Capt. T. B. EATON,
Acting Assistant Adjutant-Gen.
Source: Official Records of the United State Army, Chapter LIV; The Richmond Campaign, p. 770-87 [Series I. Vol. 42. Part I, Reports. Serial No. 87.]
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| Sewn flag
|Earliest Date of Origin:
|Latest Date of Origin:
|1861-1865 Civil War