|CIVIL WAR PERIOD, CONFEDERATE, SOUTHERN CROSS BATTLE FLAG, IN A VARIANT OF THE TYPE MADE AT THE RICHMOND DEPOT, PRIMARILY DISTRIBUTED TO ROBERT E. LEE’S ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA; FIELD-CARRIED AND QUITE POSSIBLY CAPTURED, LIKELY PRODUCED BETWEEN JULY, 1862 AND FEBRUARY, 1865, AS PART OF THE 3rd OR 7th BUNTING ISSUES
|Frame Size (H x L):||Approx. 56.5" x 56.5"|
|Flag Size (H x L):||44.75" x 44.25"|
|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 recent 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 examples, most often referenced throughout the world of Civil War flags and artifacts, are the square flags, in the Southern Cross style, ordered at Richmond, Virginia, and produced in 9 different issues, the last 7 of which were made of wool bunting. Almost all of the Richmond-made battle flags were issued to Robert E. Lee’s Army of the Potomac, soon renamed the Army of Northern Virginia (ANV).
The flag that is the subject of this narrative measures approx. 44.75” on the hoist x 44.25” on the fly and is entirely hand-sewn throughout. The red ground and the blue saltire are made of wool bunting. All of the stars are made of polished cotton sateen. These are double-appliquéd (applied to both sides). On the reverse, the fimbriation (white border on the blue saltire) is made of the same sateen fabric. This was the expected material on all 7 bunting issues. Use of this fabric for stars and trim is actually peculiar to ANV battle flags; that is, this fabric is not regularly encountered on early American flags of other sorts, at any time in American history. On this particular example, it would appear that the maker ran out of sateen when constructing the fimbriation on the obverse (front), and was forced to substitute wool bunting in its place. It is sometimes reported that all 7 bunting issues of ANV flags incorporated a binding of white cotton canvas, with three hand-sewn, whip-stitched grommets along the hoist, and a border of wool bunting on the remaining three sides (orange in color for issues 1 and 2, and white for the remainder). Others state that many of these flags were produced using the same design, but due to the influence of the members of certain sewing groups that participated, all were unique, some having a continuous strip of edge cloth around the flag. That is the case here, where there is a border of white wool bunting on all four sides, fluctuating between 1.75” and 2” in width (the standard was 2”), and there is no canvas header. The flag shows clear evidence of having been tacked to a staff—a method of attachment common across hand-carried flags during the Civil War, as evidenced by extensive tearing with associated loss at the top and bottom of the hoist. Wool bunting, while a great fabric for shedding water, in no way possessed the sort of rigidity required to construct a proper header.** Gauze-like and loosely woven, it frayed and tore easily. Such a choice reflected that the flag was either sewed by someone not usually employed in flag-making, or that the provided kit may not have contained canvas. In this case it would appear that both polished cotton and canvas may have been in short supply, and extra wool bunting was provided.
For those unfamiliar with the history of Confederate flag, know that the most widely recognized style, 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." In spite of the fact that the Southern Cross prominently displayed both of these features, this 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.
In the fall of 1861, General Joe Johnston became the first Confederate officer to approve a Southern Cross style flag for military use. Although the design would not become the battle flag of every unit, it would be carried by many, with tons of variations on the basic design, 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, which sometimes led to forces firing on their own men in the chaos of war. This occurred at the First Battle of Bull Run (a.k.a., First Manassas). Though Beauregard's request was denied, after conferring with Johnston, and General G.W. Smith, the importance of having proper signals was deemed so critical that Johnston approved use of the Southern Cross pattern battle flag at the field level. It was his own orders that led to the 1861 manufacture of the first silk examples, sewn by “ladies in Richmond,” 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 by Jefferson Davis, on December 10th of that year. The second order of flags, made of a blended, cotton and wool dress fabric, was placed in the Spring of 1862. Though Kentucky was obviously in by this time, the star count was not appropriately updated to reflect the additional state.
The government of the Confederacy took control process of flag manufacture for the last seven issues of ANV flags—the bunting issues—now funneled through the Richmond Depot, which also made uniforms, blankets, boots and shoes. All of the bunting issue flags displayed 13 stars, to recognize 11 states that had ‘officially’ seceded, by way of legislative vote, followed by some manner of ratification, plus the 2 Border States of Missouri and Kentucky. The latter were accepted by Jefferson Davis, in spite of divided views within their respective 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.3 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).”4 According to the late flag expert, Howard Madaus: “In both his 1872 letter to flag historian Admiral George Henry Preble, and in his own 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 a conference held at Centreville [Virginia] in September of 1861, measurements complied surviving ANV battle flags 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?”] I have since acquired a 2.5’ square example that appears to be of Richmond manufacture, but this appears to in all ways represent an anomaly.
Variation in the statements of Grimes-Wyatt vs. Madaus are probably due to a lack of consistency in the Richmond-produced flags. The issuing of flags seemed to have been driven by availability, as opposed to by 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”, documented, Richmond-made examples vary. 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 (now in the collection of the American Civil War Museum, Richmond, VA). The 49th Georgia Infantry was presented a 45 x 46-inch example with battle honors, following the Battle of Chancellorsville in April, 1863 (Georgia State Capital Collection). In spite of the fact that they were supposed to be perfectly square, many are not, with rectangular measurements fluctuating on the hoist and fly between 46 and 51 inches. While shrinkage of the wool fabric can sometimes be the culprit of such variance, the manner in which the Richmond Depot flags were made provides all of the explanation for inconsistency that one might ever need. 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 in a letter to the Richmond Whig newspaper, published November 18th, 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.” Ferguson reported that the depot turned out an average of “2,500 garments daily." The article goes on to state that: “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. Cotton & wool clothing fabrics were consumed for the second group because that is what remained. Then the Depot became involved and wool bunting—a fabric used only for flag-making—was employed, first using stolen inventory from the Federal Navy Yard at Norfolk, Virginia, then purchased, as required, from England. Getting supplies to Richmond was extremely difficult. All manner of variation was possible in such an operation, 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 well-supplied North were produced in much the same fashion throughout the second half of the 19th century. I often speak of variation as being the rule, as opposed to the exception, in Navy flags of this period. Among the many factors of potential human error, when joining 13 stripes, was that a deviation of as little as ¼”, when multiplied by 12 (the necessary number of seams) could resulted in a 3” error in the finished product. Loosely woven and gauze-like, wool bunting wasn’t easy to keep to a perfect measurement under the best of circumstances.
ANV battle flags were even more problematic. The use of a saltire in a pieced-and-joined flag required that the 4 sections of the red field be cut on the bias. This made it very difficult to achieve consistent measurements during the initial construction of the textile, and afterwards led to an inordinate amount of inconsistent sagging, stretching, and shrinkage. Getting antique examples to lay flat is almost always difficult and is sometimes impossible. In short, if anyone contends that ANV battle flags, made at the Richmond Depot, conformed to precise measurements, or utilized a precise fabric in every instance, folded to an exact width, cut and pieced in the same way, or with specific stitching techniques, I would urge them to heed the words of Quartermaster Ferguson.
It is very unlikely that any of the 2,000 women sewed precisely the same way—most do not—and close to zero of them had ever sewed a flag before of any sort. People were hired off the street. The unemployed showed up and took home a kit. If you were one of these women, and knew someone in need of work, or who wanted to contribute to the war, you might drag them along. As a person with a textile conservation business who has employed seamstresses for nearly 25 years, I can tell you that I simply can’t imagine the results of such an operation. It would be a veritable horror story. And in terms of measuring a surviving flag, I would add that even this simple task will result in different answers if two different people do the measuring. Early flags are seldom ever perfectly square or rectangular—especially Southern Cross battle flags. The measurements before and after mounting will differ, as well, sometimes a lot.
In spite of the above observations, basic facts concerning the size aspects, fabrics, colors, etc. have been compiled by Madaus and others. While one must take these with a grain of salt, they do provide some guidelines and clues that are worthy of much merit. At the very least, they give us an idea of what the depot was trying to make. The first two bunting issues used orange wool around the border, for example, while the next five bunting issues used white. Star size varied between 3.5” and 5” in diameter from one issue to the next, etc.
With regard to the flag that is the subject of this narrative, in terms of measurements, materials, and design, the only significant deviation is the large center star. Whether a flag is Union or Confederate, a larger center star is no surprise whatsoever on a flag made during the 19th century, though most identified, Richmond-produced, Southern Cross style battle flags do not share this feature. The most compelling argument against this being meaningful is the fabric used to create the stars themselves, as well as the fimbriation on the reverse, which I have rarely seen on any American flag of any sort. The use of this unusual cloth for flag-making, particularly on a ground of wool bunting—a commercial fabric not easily obtained by an individual making flags at home—is no coincidence.
In terms of measurements and other aspects assigned to identify the various bunting issues (by Madaus and others), this particular flag aligns most closely with the 3rd and the 7th bunting issues, the former produced and issued between July, 1862 – May, 1864, and the latter between Jan. – Feb., 1865. The width of the arms of the blue cross on the flag in question here measure around 4.5” (5” is specified for both the 3rd and 7th issues), with fimbriation varying between 1/2" and 5/8” (one or the other common to the first 6 bunting issues, presumed to be the same in the 7th.)5 With the exception of the larger center star, star size averages about 4” in diameter and spacing varies between 6” and 7” (3.5” / 6” assigned to the 3rd, and 4.5” / 7” to the 7th, respectively). Since this appears to have been a 45” square flag, as opposed to being 48”, possibly made with the intent of use by artillery, per information provided by Grimes-Wyatt, and since the flag was apparently produced at a time where there was at least some degree of fabric scarcity, minor adjustments may have been made for flags of this scale.
Due to the sheer number of flags produced between mid-1862 and mid-1864, and the fact that this covered an earlier period, when certain aspects are more likely to have been in transition, I expect that this particular flag would most likely have been made as part of the third wool bunting issue.
1 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).
2 When wool bunting continued to the edge of such a flag, made by a professional flag-make, a lining would be included for strength.
3 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.
4 Source: https://www.crwflags.com/fotw/flags/us-csa.html
5 Either would be close enough. Due to the nature of wool bunting, a 1/8” deviation cannot be considered meaningful in a wool bunting flag, especially one that was homemade during the 19th century.
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 flag has been hand-stitched throughout to a 100% natural fabric for support, then hand-stitched to a background of 100% cotton twill, black in color, that has been washed and treated for colorfastness. The mount was then placed in a black-painted and hand gilded Italian molding, with a wide, shaped profile. The glazing is U.V. protective acrylic (Plexiglas).
Condition: The flag exhibits signs of having been affixed to a staff, likely with metal tacks, that tore the fabric and caused significant losses, particularly at the top and bottom of the hoist end. Some of the tearing may have occurred because the flag was torn from its staff under the circumstances of being captured, either to take possession of it more easily, or so it could be hidden during surrender. It would appear that there may have been many tacks at top and bottom, and at least three in-between, along the outer edge. There are minor to modest tears with associated losses in all 4 quadrants, accompanied by a moderate to significant tear with associated loss in the top center quadrant. Some of the above is intermingled with minor to moderate mothing. There are minor nicks along the top edge, and there is modest bleeding in the lower, hoist end corner along the lower edge. Many of my clients prefer early flags to show their age and history of use. The extreme rarity of war-period, Confederate battle flags well warrants any and all of the above.
|Collector Level:||Flags for the truest Patriots. My best offerings|
|Flag Type:||Sewn flag|
|Earliest Date of Origin:||1862|
|Latest Date of Origin:||1865|
|War Association:||1861-1865 Civil War|
|Price:||Please call (717) 676-0545 or (717) 502-1281|