|EXTREMELY RARE CONFEDERATE BATTLE FLAG, IN A SIZE AND STYLE KNOWN TO HAVE BEEN ORDERED AT RICHMOND BY GENERAL JOE JOHNSTON, FOR USE BY CONFEDERATE CAVALRY IN THE ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA (ANV), BUT THOUGHT TO HAVE NEVER BEEN PRODUCED; LIKELY MADE BETWEEN JULY, 1862 - FEBRUARY, 1865, AS PART OF THE 3rd -7th ISSUES OF ANV BATTLE FLAGS
|Frame Size (H x L):
|43" x 43.25"
|Flag Size (H x L):
|31" x 31.25"
|Of all the types of early American flags, war-period Confederate battle flags fall among the most desirable artifacts. Their collective value is driven by a combination of their tiny window of production (1861-1865), a fascination with the Civil War (1861-1865), interest in Southern history, and the great diversity across the often-individualized designs. The end of slavery in America brought with it the bloodiest conflict ever fought on American soil. The sacrifice of life was so great that the 620,000 service-related deaths equal almost half the number across all American wars combined, from the Revolution (1775-1783) through the present conflicts in the Middle East.* These textiles, often beautiful and fragile, serve to document the passing of an age, at great expense, for the advancement of a nation.
Across surviving examples of Confederate battle flags there are many varieties. The quintessential design, most often referenced throughout the world of Civil War flags and artifacts, is the square format in the Southern Cross style, ordered at Richmond, Virginia, and produced in nine different issues.
For those unfamiliar with the history of Confederate flag, know that the most widely recognized design, with 13 stars upon St. Andrew's Cross (a.k.a., the Southern Cross), was not actually one of the three successive national flags of the Confederate States of America. In other words, the pattern known to most people as the Confederate flag, was not, to the Confederacy, what the American national flag was to the Union. Nor was it the flag commonly known as the "Stars & Bars." Despite the fact that the Southern Cross prominently displayed both of these features, that was instead a nickname for the First National Flag of the Confederacy, which looked a good deal like the Stars & Stripes, save that it had fewer stars—typically between 7 and 13—and just 3 horizontal bars, in red-white-red.
General Joe Johnston became the first Confederate officer to approve a Southern Cross style flag for use by ground forces, in the Fall of 1861. The design would not become the battle flag of every unit. It would, however, go on to be carried by many units, with tons of variation, throughout all states in the Confederacy.
Johnson's approval followed the suggestion of General P.G.T. Beauregard, who complained to the Confederate government that the First Confederate National Flag, (a.k.a., the Stars & Bars,) looked too much like the Stars & Stripes. Beauregard's request was denied, but after conferring with Johnston, and General G.W. Smith, Johnston approved use of the Southern Cross style Confederate battle flag at the field level. It was Johnston's own orders that led to the manufacture of the first silk examples, sewn by “ladies in Richmond,” in 1861, for use by the Army of the Potomac, soon after renamed the Army of Northern Virginia (ANV). Due in part to the fame of its commander, Robert E. Lee, the term “ANV battle flag” would become a synonymous, among collectors, for Southern Cross pattern flags of Richmond issue.
The first two, “non-bunting” issue flags, displayed just 12 stars. Distribution of the initial order began in late November, 1861. Kentucky became the last of the 13 Confederate States to be accepted, on December 10th of that year. The second order, made of a blended, cotton and wool dress fabric, was placed in the Spring of 1862. Kentucky was obviously added by then, but the star count was not updated accordingly.
The last seven issues of ANV flags were made of wool bunting. All of the “bunting issue” flags displayed 13 stars, recognizing the 11 states that officially seceded, by way of legislative vote, followed by some manner of ratification, plus the Border States of Missouri and Kentucky. The latter were accepted by Confederate President Jefferson Davis, in spite of the divided views of their populous, and a less official achievement of secession.
Generally speaking, the flags of infantry units in the South were much smaller than they were in the North, where there was greater access to a combination of wealth and manufacturing. Most textile production was in the North. Union infantry battle flags, by regulation, measured 6 x 6.5 feet. Their Confederate counterparts made at Richmond, by contrast, were generally 4 x 4 feet for infantry, with a bit of variation.**
Vexillologist William M. Grimes-Wyatt, stated that the Southern Cross battle flag, “In a square design, with a pink, orange and finally white 2" border…was used by the Army of Northern Virginia, the main army of the South, led by Robert E. Lee, as a cavalry, artillery and infantry battle flag, depending on size (39",45" or 51" square).” [Source: https://www.crwflags.com/fotw/flags/us-csa.html]
According to the late flag expert, Howard Madaus: “In both his 1872 letter to flag historian Admiral George Henry Preble and his 1878 memoirs, Joseph E. Johnston recollected that he had ordered that the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia be made in three sizes: 4 feet square for infantry, 3 feet square for artillery, and 2.5 feet square for cavalry. While the documentary and inductive evidence … suggests that this had indeed been the intent of the conference held at Centreville in September of 1861, the surviving flags from the Army of Northern Virginia fail to indicate that this policy was ever fully implemented.”
Madaus contends that a while a very small number of Richmond-made, ANV flags are known to have been carried by cavalry units (one in silk, and a small handful in bunting), all of the identified examples are 48” x 48”. A few 36” square, artillery-sized, ANV flags have been identified, says Madaus, but none in the 2.5 foot version actually specified for cavalry. [Source: Taken from a treatise written by Howard Madaus on February 17th, 2000, entitled “Was There a Cavalry Size Army of Northern Virginia Battle Flag?”]
Variation in the statements of Wyatt vs. Madaus are probably due to a lack of consistency in the Richmond-produced flags, versus what the Depot itself specified, and possibly due to the fact that flags seemed to have been issued to regiments as driven by availability, as opposed to having the exact, specified size. Though Madaus and others state that the bunting issues consisted entirely of 48” x 48” flags for infantry, save in the 4th bunting issue, when they were 51” x 51”, an ANV flag carried by the 1st Virginia Infantry, raised at Richmond, measuring 45” square, was captured at the Battle of Gettysburg in July, 1863 (Museum of the Confederacy collection, Richmond). A flag carried by the 49th Georgia Infantry, Army of Northern Virginia, was presented a 45 x 46-inch ANV flag, with battle honors, following the Battle of Chancellorsville in April, 1863 (Georgia State Capital Collection). Many others among known examples are not square, with rectangular measurements fluctuating on the hoist and fly from 46 – 51 inches. Whatever the case may be, the flag that is the subject of this narrative is an extremely rare one. Recently discovered, it provides contrary evidence to the hypothesis that 2.5’ square examples were not produced among the bunting issues of Richmond Depot origin. Made in precisely the same style, and of the same fabrics employed in bunting issues three - seven, save for the border, the manner of construction is congruent with documented flags. Entirely hand-sewn throughout, the red field and the cross are constructed of wool bunting. The stars are made of plain weave cotton and are double-appliquéd (applied to both sides). The hoist binding is made of cotton canvas, with three hand-sewn, whip-stitched grommets. This was the specified fabric, as well as the number and type of eyelets, on all seven bunting issue flags. The fimbriation (white border on the red cross), as well as the three borders along the top, bottom, and fly ends, are both made of a similar cotton to that employed in the stars. While it was reported that the fimbriation on ANV flags was constructed of “white, polished cotton” (probably cotton sateen), the fabric used on most, for this purpose, appears to have been plain weave, unpolished, cotton fabric.
The most significant deviation in this 2.5’ square example, from identified, ANV bunting issue flags, occurs in the border along the top, bottom, and fly ends, which is made of cotton instead of wool. Finding a cotton substitute, especially on a smaller version, which could have been treated differently, based on available fabric, is anything but surprising. In an article about the history of Confederate flags, written in conjunction with an exhibit at the Museum of the Confederacy, Richmond, (renamed the American Civil War Museum in 2017,) authors Madaus, Biggs, et al, quote Richmond Depot Quartermaster W.G. Ferguson, as having reported the following, writing to the Richmond Whig newspaper on November, 18, 1862:
"We have employed in this depot about 60 cutters and trimmers and 2,000 women to make the clothing, mostly wives and daughters of absent soldiers in the field and the poor of our city....We average 2,500 garments daily."
The article goes on to state: “The depot building itself was not large enough to house such a large labor force, so the women would come to the depot and pick up the uniforms and flags in kits, take them home to sew together and then return finished products to the depot and receive their payments.” This was a time of shortages and make-do solutions. For the first ANV flags, all of the silk fabric in the area that was red, pink, salmon, burgundy, or otherwise, was acquired. A similarly wide spectrum of blues was likewise purchased, until the supply of all silk fabric in usable colors was exhausted. Then cotton & wool clothing fabrics were used for the second group. Then the Depot became involved and wool bunting—a fabric only used for flag-making—was employed, first using stolen inventory from the Navy Yard at Norfolk, then purchased, as required, from England. Getting supplies to Richmond was extremely difficult. All manner of variation was possible in such an operation as this, and the use of a white fabric, already being utilized in the same flag, for stars and fimbriation, was in no way a significant deviation from the norm. U.S. Navy flags, in the much more well-supplied North, were produced in much the same fashion, throughout the second half of the 19th century. In that case, variety, in terms of finished size, was pretty much the rule as opposed to the exception. Among other factors of human error, when you were joining 13 stripes, a deviation of as little as ¼” made a big difference in the end, when multiplied by 12 (the necessary number of seams).
This particular flag would most likely have been made between July of 1862, and February of 1865, as part of the third -seventh wool bunting issues. Due to the combined scarcity of Confederate, Civil War battle flags, and the demand of fascinated collectors to own them, examples such as this are highly prized in both the world of Civil War collectors and flag collectors alike.
* WWII (405,399), WWI (116,516), Vietnam (58,209), Korea (40,000), the Revolutionary War (25,000) the War of 1812 (15,000) the Mexican War (13,250), ongoing conflicts in the Middle East incl. the Gulf War (7,350) the Spanish-American War (2,446).
** The second, non-bunting (cotton & wool blend) issue of infantry flags were 42 inches square. The 4th of the 7 wool bunting issues of infantry flags were 51 x 51 inches.
Mounting: 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 background is 100% cotton twill, black in color, that has been washed and treated for colorfastness. The black-painted and hand gilded molding, with its wide, shaped profile, is Italian. The glazing is U.V. protective acrylic (Plexiglas).
Condition: The flag exhibits signs of having been affixed to a staff by way of the upper and lower grommets, as well as in the fraying present along the perimeter of the white binding, and wear with minor, associated loss within the stars. Minor to modest mothing is present in the top, bottom, and hoist end quadrants of the red field, and very minor of the same in the fly-end quadrant. There are several tears, with associated fabric loss, in the blue wool bunting. There is modest soiling in the white fabrics, and minor fading in the red wool bunting. Many of my clients prefer early flags to show their age and history of use. The condition is terrific among known examples. The extreme rarity of war-period, Confederate battle flags would well warrant extreme losses.
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