|ENTIRELY HAND-SEWN, 13 STAR AMERICAN FLAG, WITH A 3-2-3-2-3 ARRANGEMENT OF STARS, U.S. NAVY SMALL BOAT ENSIGN, LIKELY MADE DURING THE CLOSING YEARS OF THE CIVIL WAR, 1864-1865
|Frame Size (H x L):
|51.5" x 79"
|Flag Size (H x L):
|40.5" x 67.75"
|13 star American national flag of the type flown by the U.S. Navy on small craft. These flags were flown at the stern, from a gaff, or from the yard-arm on a larger vessel, or as the primary flag on a skiff or other small craft that carried sailors back and forth to shore. During the period in which this flag was made, the scale of these signals varied between 2.5 feet on the hoist x 5 feet on the fly, and 5.28 feet on the hoist x 10 feet on the fly. There were five specified regulation sizes. At approximately 40.5 x 68 inches, the height of this particular flag comes close to the 38.5-inches specified in Naval regulations for a “No. 13” ensign, and the corresponding length is within reasonable realm of 72,” especially in light of probable shrinkage of the wool, and the manner that it was finished along the fly end. Note the wide hem, with three rows of hand-stitching.
Because the Navy generally produced their own flags during the 19th century, many times subcontracted to female relatives of Navy men, there was a good deal of irregularity and variation. The width of the hems tends to range a lot from one seamstress to another, not to mention the manner in which they are accomplished. Even presuming that all of its many flag-makers began with precisely the same size lengths of cloth, making no errors whatsoever in trimming or basic planning, when creating the seams necessary to join 13 stripes, a difference of something as small as 1/8”, would be 1.5” in overall variance on the hoist measurement. A 1/4” difference would result in a 3” variance. In addition to the width of the hem at the fly end, the way in which the binding is applied along the hoist creates another margin for error.
When war broke out in 1861, the Navy was woefully unprepared in many ways, not least of which was flag-making. As a result, orders flew out to local businesses to make flags and, in many instances, Navy quartermasters grabbed everything in existing stock, regardless of regulations. With this sort of need, one can imagine the opposing relationship between speed and consistency.
A size designation, specified as “No. 13,” appeared in U.S. Navy Regulations, between the closing two years of the Civil War, 1864-65, and 1882. Although the flag that is the subject of this narrative may theoretically have been produced anywhere within this 18-year window, I believe it to be a Civil War period example, based upon others I have owned, not only of that era, but both prior and after.
The flag is entirely hand-sewn throughout. The stars are made of plain weave cotton and are double-appliquéd (applied to both sides). The stripes and canton are made of wool bunting. Note how the 3rd white stripe is pieced from two lengths of fabric, as a means of conserving available resources. This is typical in the 19th century. There is a narrow linen or hemp binding along the hoist, in the form of an open sleeve, that has experienced significant degradation, with associated fabric loss.
Though the star configuration wasn’t specified, the 4-5-4 pattern is generally seen on U.S. Navy small boat flags of the 1850’s through the opening years of the Civil War. In or about 1864, when new regulations replaced those of 10 years prior, flags bearing the hallmarks of Navy manufacture, start to appear with lineal rows of 3-2-3-2-3. Though almost never encountered beforehand, this soon became the most often seen pattern on 13 star flags of all kinds, post-war. In most cases, the design can also be viewed as a diamond of stars with a star in each corner, or as a combination of the crosses of St. Andrew and St. George, which some experts feel was the design of the very first American flag and serves as a link between this star pattern and the British Union Jack.
Why 13 Stars? As the number of stars grew with the addition of new states, it became more and more difficult to fit their full complement on a small flag. The stars would, by necessity, become much smaller, in order to fit in the same amount of space. This made it more and more difficult to view them from a distance as individual objects. The fear was that too many stars, too close together, would become as one white mass, and distort the ability to identify American ships on the open seas. Keeping the count low allowed for better visibility. For this reason the U.S. Navy flew 13 star flags on small boats. Some private ship owners mirrored this practice and flew 13 star flags during the same period as the Navy.
Flag experts disagree about precisely when the Navy began to revert to 13 stars and other low counts. Some feel that the use of 13 star flags never stopped, which seems to be supported by depictions of ships in period artwork. This was, of course, the original number of stars on the first American national flag, by way of the First Flag Act of 1777, and equal to the number of original colonies that became states. Any American flag that has previously been official remains so according to the flag acts, so it remains perfectly acceptable to fly 13 star flags today by way of congressional law.
Due to a combination of U.S. Navy use, a Civil War period date, and the fact that the flag is entirely hand-sewn, along with its attractive presentation, from great texture and strong colors, this is an excellent example among 13 star flags of the latter 19th century.
* Many thanks to David Martucci for his words and insights into use and acquisition of flags by the U.S. Navy during this period.
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 mount was placed in a black-painted, hand-gilded and distressed Italian molding. The background is 100% cotton twill, black in color, that has been washed and treated for colorfastness. The glazing is U.V. protective acrylic (Plexiglas).
Condition: In addition to the obvious fabric breakdown and loss along the hoist binding, there is modest foxing and staining in the white fabrics. There is minor mothing throughout the striped field, accompanied by modest of the same, below the canton, in the 5th red stripe, and two moderate holes in the white stripe above it. Many of my clients prefer early flags to show their age and history of use.
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|1861-1865 Civil War
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