|34 STAR, AMERICAN, CIVIL WAR GUIDON OF THE 6th KENTUCKY CAVALRY (UNION), WITH A DOUBLE-WREATH MEDALLION CONFIGURATION OF STARS, MADE circa 1861-1863, HANDED DOWN THROUGH THE FAMILY OF LT. COL. JAMES MEAGHER, ACCOMPANIED BY HIS SHOULDER BARS AND DIARY
|Frame Size (H x L):
|37.5" x 50"
|Flag Size (H x L):
|26" x 40"
|34 star, silk, Union Army, swallowtail format guidon, of the type issued to cavalry regiments beginning in 1862. Like most of its counterparts, the flag is made entirely of silk. The stars, applied in gilt paint, are configured in a double-wreath that consists of two rings of stars, with an open center, and a flanking star in each corner of the blue canton, outside the basic pattern. Though sometime issued to artillery and infantry units, when demand outweighed supply—these flags served as flank-markers, allowing officers to keep sight of their units. This was especially critical when multiple companies were engaged. Loved by both Civil War and flag collectors alike, few can deny the attraction of their unique, forked profile and striking presentation.
This particular guidon was handed down through the family of Lt. Col. James Meagher and was accompanied by his colonel's bars and his diary from the war’s closing year, 1865, with limited but very intriguing entries. The latter span the month of January, from the 1st through the 31st, skipping February, but picking up again in March through early April. Some of these were written during engagements. In the back of the diary, inscribed in the same hand, is a ledger section where such things as "shirts, collars, and parrish [sic] books" were recorded. He became a minister after the war.
James R. Meagher was born in Jersey City, New Jersey on March 1st, 1839. When he was of suitable age, he followed work steam-boating on the St. Lawrence and Hudson Rivers. He pursued this for about 3 years, then went to sea for two, followed by work on the railroad. He was engaged for the latter from 1855 to 1860, before enlisting in the Union Army in Kentucky at the rank of Private on March 14, 1861. In October of that year he was assigned to the First Battalion of the Sixth Kentucky Cavalry, led by Major Reuben Munday. Meagher was initially engaged in scouting through Kentucky, parts of Tennessee, and Georgia. In April he was with Munday at the Battle of Pittsburg Landing (Shiloh). In August of 1862, while scouting, he was captured and made prisoner at Columbus, KY by the rebel guerrilla, General John Hunt Morgan. He was held only a short time before escaping to Union forces. The rebels wanted Meagher so badly that they offered a $10,000 reward to anyone who could recapture him. Though no one ever succeeded, his friends, knowing the above facts, were Capt. Brooks, Senator Cook and Tom Alexander, who were with him at the time the above reward was offered.
Meagher received a commission as Brevet Second Lieutenant and was commissioned as First Lieutenant on August 25th, 1862. He was later promoted to Adjutant, then Major, and finally to Lieutenant Colonel. Participating in many engagements, he mustered out at Louisville on October 18th, 1865, long after Lee’s surrender the preceding April. Travelling extensively post-war, from Washington, D.C., to Buffalo, to Colorado, to the Wyoming Territory, apparently as a minister, he appears to have found found supplemental employment of various sorts, some of it in government employ, before accepting a position as agent for the Union Pacific Railroad in Julesburg, CO. Transferring to Nebraska, he was elected Mayor of the Town of Columbus in that state in the Spring of 1881. At some point, date unknown, he married a woman named Margaret (Nov. 21st, 1847 – July 31st, 1921). James Meagher passed on March 7th, 1915. According to his grave, the couple had children, but he was buried in New Jersey and the obituary was notably void of information.
Military issued, Union Army, Civil War battle colors are loved the flag collecting world. For several, simple reasons, few have survived in private hands. Post war, many were presented to state governments as the units returned, often at special ceremonies. Most were silk, rapidly becoming fragile with age, regardless of the degree of wartime use. Many were no-doubt discarded, with the soldier who possessed them long deceased, and their stories forgotten. It’s common for these fragile textiles to be brittle, found in many pieces, falling apart, and with the fabric literally turning to dust. Among those that survived, a significant portion were eventually donated to museums and historical societies, military establishments, battlefields, and large collections both state and federally controlled, away from private hands.
Most of the silk used in the manufacture of Union Army battle flags was treated with agents such as mineral salts, to make the fabric heavier for merchants who sold it by the pound. For this reason, in spite of how often they were carried, even those among the holdings of well-funded institutions are typically in deplorable condition. The fact that these were often neglected, due to ignorance about proper care, military code (some could not be unfurled after their placement in special sleeves and cases), or budgetary restrictions, most slipped into a state of disrepair not easily managed by an average person, and with the costs of professional conservation beyond the reach of those with average means.
Another reason for the desirability of Civil War guidons is their small size. At just 26 x 40 inches, this is one of the smallest types of flags with pieced-and-sewn construction that was made prior to the 1890’s. In early America, such flags were typically eight feet long and larger. This is because they were important in their function as signals, meaning that they needed to be seen and recognized from great distance. A flag that was six feet in length was considered small and production of flags smaller than this was extremely limited. Even infantry battle flags were approximately six by six-and-one-half feet and thus practically the size of an average quilt of the same period. Many collectors prefer smaller flags because they are more practical to frame and display.
Kansas was admitted into the Union as the 34th state on January 29th, 1861, about 2 ½ months before the Confederate assault on Fort Sumter that marked the beginning of the Civil War. The 34th star was officially added on July 4th of that year, but most flag makers would have added a 34th star with the addition of Kansas in January. The star count remained official until July 4th, 1863, and 34 star flags would have been produced until the addition of West Virginia in June of that year, just before the Battle of Gettysburg.
Construction: Made of plain weave silk with the stars stenciled in gold gilt. The canton and stripes of the flag are pieced and joined with treadle stitching, typical of many swallowtail guidons. The sleeve was created by folding back a section of the stripes and canton, which was bound so that a staff would slip directly through this open portion of the hoist.
Mounting: This is a pressure mount between 100% cotton twill, black in color, and U.V. protective acrylic. The black fabric was washed to reduce excess dye. An acid-free agent was added to the wash to further set the dye and the fabric was heat-treated for the same purpose. The mount was placed in a dark brown painted molding with a grain like mahogany and a deep, shadowbox-style, rectangular profile, to which a gold molding was added as a cap.
Condition: Extensive wear from obvious use in the field. Please inquire for a detailed description.
IMPORTANT NOTE: The large pastel portraits of Meagher and his wife are not included. These are privately owned and I was lucky enough to acquire images of them.
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|1861-1865 Civil War
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