|EXTRAORDINARY, HOMEMADE, 1ST CONFEDERATE NATIONAL FLAG, MADE OF LADIES’ DRESS SILK, WITH BEAUTIFUL COLORS AND EXCEPTIONAL PRESSED FOIL STARS, POSSIBLY OF NORTH CAROLINA ORIGIN; LIKELY PRESENTED TO AN OFFICER BY A LOVED ONE AND SEEMINGLY DISPLAYED THEREAFTER AS CONDITIONS PERMITTED; CAPTURED OR SEIZED BY CHAPLAIN-TURNED-GENERAL ELIPHALET WHITTLESEY OF MAINE, A STRONG OPPONENT OF SLAVERY, WHO EVENTUALLY LED AN ALL-BLACK REGIMENT (46TH U.S. COLORED TROOPS)
|Frame Size (H x L):
|Approx. 34" x 47.5"
|Flag Size (H x L):
|22.25" x 35.5"
|This extraordinary Confederate first national flag is among the most beautiful that I have ever owned. Homemade and especially unusual, the flag displays a variety of desirable traits. Chief among these are the intriguing materials, opalescent colors, uncommon proportions, and an endearing presentation of wear. Both the canton and the bars of the flag are constructed of fine silk, so sheer that it appears almost translucent. Likely produced for the making of dresses, as opposed to flags, note the striations that result from inconsistencies in the early fabric, and how this adds, rather than detracts, from its visual qualities. Entirely hand-sewn, note how the Canton is vertically-oriented, as opposed to horizontal. This is one of my favorite traits in early American flags, most often found in Philadelphia-made battle flags of the Union Army, and occasionally on other Civil War examples, both home and commercially made. Better than all of the above, however, are the stars. With fat, inconsistent profiles that exhibit wonderful folk qualities, these are made not of fabric, but of silver foil, with an intricately pressed design. In most cases I would be likely to discount the quality of an early flag for having paper stars, but not here. In this case, the effect is quite the opposite. The overall appearance is much like that of a fantastic confederate Bible flag, made by a loved one and presented to a soldier, with the intent that it be carried as a memento. Often sewn from ladies’ dress silk, even sometimes clipped from a dress with meaningful history to both the maker and the recipient, Bible flags were likely to have been first waved at some sort of ceremony or parade, such as accompanied the mustering of a regiment, before they were gifted. I strongly suspect that the same circumstance occurred here, and that the recipient was an officer, who—as evidenced by the wear from obvious use--then displayed the flag somewhere, such as to mark his tent, when conditions permitted. While Bible flags were typically small enough to be tucked into a pocket Bible for security, and are thus tiny, here the flag is much larger, with stars big enough to be even more appreciated for their extraordinary texture and attractive, metallic luster.
In the North, small, printed versions of the American National flag were available, often referred to as parade flags or hand-wavers. These were tacked or glued to a staff, to be waved at parades and political events. Because there were no available counterparts in the South until the mid-1880’s (at the very earliest), there were no equivalent, small, commercially-made flags in any of the national designs of the Confederacy, or any variant of the Southern Cross. Anything displayed at patriotic events thus needed to be hand-made. Gifting the flag to a loved one, after first waving it, would associate the soldier’s memory with its maker, declaring support to the recipient as he headed off into the unknown. The personal nature of small, homemade flags in the South are likely to have had an emotional impact on those who received them.
In spite of the fact that paper stars were not what one would expect of a flag displayed by a Civil War officer, they nonetheless reflect what was available to the maker in terms of time, skill, and the desired appearance. Foil stars are often encountered on war-period Confederate Bible flags, so they were familiar in the context of flag-making, and their metallic presentation was military appropriate, if not exactly hearty enough for field use.
Other traits that support a supposition of display by an officer include the fact that the flag is two-sided, and that it is of an appropriate scale for camp colors. It may have even seen temporary use as a guidon, until a more durable flag was assigned. Expected wear from extended display on a staff presents another contributing factor, as does the fact that this is not only a war-period textile, but one produced in the early part of the war.
This particular flag was accompanied by a hand-written note, inscribed with a dip pen, that read as follows: “Confederate flag brot [brought] home from N.C. by Gen Whitelesey [Whittlesey] in 1867.”
Eliphalet Whittlesey was born in New Britain, Connecticut (Hartford County) on May 14th, 1841. He was a 5th generation American, whose father was a farmer, teacher, and member of the Connecticut State legislature, preceded by three men who fought in the Revolution, the French & Indian Wars, and the early Indian Wars. Obtaining both undergraduate and graduate degrees from Yale, followed by Seminary, as well as at Andover, Massachusetts, Whittlesey spent most of his life in a combination of pastor, teacher, and public servant, as well as in military service during the Civil War. His earliest teaching positions, between Graduate School and the seminary, were in Alabama. Post-seminary he became pastor of Central Congregational Church in Bath, Maine (1851-61). In 1861 he became professor of rhetoric and oratory at Bowdoin College, though he left this position in 1862, when he was commissioned into Field & Staff of the 19th Maine Infantry, where he served as Chaplain. Between that year and 1865 he was promoted 6 times, almost immediately to Captain & Asst. Adjutant General on the staff of General O.O. Howard (08/25/62), then Major & Asst. Adjutant General (03/11/1863), followed by Major & Judge Advocate (09/1/1864), Lt. Colonel (03/13/1865, by Brevet), and Brig. General (3/13/1865, by Brevet), at which rank he mustered out of wartime service. He was soon after given the rank of Colonel (06/14/1865), and led an all black unit, the 46th United States Colored Troops (46th USCT Infantry), a.k.a. the 1st Arkansas Infantry Regiment (African Descent). In this duty he served at Clarksville and Brownsville, Texas, assigned to block residual Confederate troops that had not yet surrendered, from traveling to Mexico to avoid surrender.
Whittlesey assisted Howard and was intimately involved with the establishment of Howard University in Washington, DC, where he again taught rhetoric and oratory, and was appointed to serve as Assistant Commissioner and Adjutant of the Bureau of Freedmen, which Howard oversaw. In March of 1865 Whittlesey was placed in charge of North Carolina specifically, where he was a strong proponent of freed slaves and their welfare. He left the state in 1867, following a court martial where he was somehow blamed for the death of a man in an experimental, model farm project, that housed, employed, and fed African Americans. This followed a continued battle between Whittlesey and former slave owners, who sought to continue slavery through something called apprenticeships, that forcibly separated black children from their families and back into servitude, under the auspices of training them for employment. Howard continued to employ Whittlesey, who apparently brought this 1st national pattern flag back with him to Washington, though the specific source of the flag is unknown.
In 1876, Ulysses S. Grant appointed Whittlesey to the Board of Indian Commissioners, where he served until at least the mid-1890’s. He passed on September 30th, 1909 and was interred at Arlington National Cemetery.
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.
The Stars & Bars was instead a nickname for the flag that is the subject of this narrative, with a blue canton and three stripes, termed “bars,” in red-white-red. Approved by the Confederate congress on March 4th, 1861, this initially bore 7 stars to reflect the 7 states that left the Union in the initial wave of secession. This would later grow to 8, 9, 10, and 11, as 4 more states followed suit. The count of 13 stars present on this particular flag includes the two border states of Kentucky and Missouri, which had split governments, but were determined to have a significant enough population in support of the Southern position, with commensurate strength and leadership. For this reason, the two states were accepted by the Confederacy in November and December of 1861.
Because it looked so much like the Stars & Stripes, use of the Stars & Bars on the same battlefield created great confusion. For this reason, the national design would eventually change. The second national Confederate flag was adopted on May 26th, 1863. Known as the Stainless Banner, it was white in color, with the Southern Cross (a.k.a. the Confederate Battle Flag) serving as its canton. Soldiers and officers alike disliked this design because it looked too much like a surrender flag, especially if a unit that was carrying it was headed straight at you and there was no cross wind. If given the opportunity, so the story goes, soldiers would dip the fly end of the flag in blood.
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 called the “blood stained banner”, but officially the red did not represent blood, but rather paid homage to the French, which lent aid to the South during the war. If one were to replace the first third portions of the Third Confederate national flag with a blue vertical bar, the result would be the French tri-color (the national flag of France).
Changes in the flag on the battlefield, for the most part, occurred far more quickly. 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.
Mounting: The flag was mounted and framed in 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 flag was first stitched to supportive fabrics throughout, on the reverse. It was then hand-stitched to a background of 100% cotton twill, black in color, that was washed and treated for colorfastness. The mount was placed in a cove-shaped molding with a rope style inner lip and very dark brown, nearly black surface, with reddish highlights, to which a flat profile molding, with a finish like early gunmetal, was added as a liner. The glazing is U.V. protective acrylic (Plexiglas).
Condition: Please inquire for a full report.
|Flags for the truest Patriots. My best offerings
|Earliest Date of Origin:
|Latest Date of Origin:
|1861-1865 Civil War
|Please call (717) 676-0545 or (717) 502-1281