|SILK, CIVIL WAR BATTLE FLAG WITH "GREEN MOUNTAIN BOYS" GILT-PAINTED IN WHIMSICAL SERPENTINE TEXT, INSIDE A RING OF 20 STARS THAT EXCLUDES THE SOUTHERN STATES, WITH A FEDERAL EAGLE ON THE REVERSE; APPARENTLY DISPLAYED POST-WAR, AT WHICH TIME A PAINTED PORTRAIT OF GEORGE WASHINGTON WAS APPLIED OVER THE UNIT NICKNAME; THIS ALMOST CERTAINLY OCCURRED IN 1877, WHEN A GIANT CELEBRATION WAS HELD TO COMMEMORATE THE 100-YEAR ANNIVERSARY OF THE BATTLE OF BENNINGTON (VERMONT), AND HONOR A VISIT OF PRESIDENT
|Frame Size (H x L):||66.5" x 91"|
|Flag Size (H x L):||53.5" x 79"|
|Entirely hand-sewn, silk, Civil War, presentation battle flag, with the famous name "Green Mountain Boys," painted in whimsical, gilded text, surrounded by a southern-exclusionary count of 20 stars. These appear in a single, open wreath, inside which a portrait of George Washington was afterwards added. Painted on a separate piece of the identical blue cloth, the image was expertly appliquéd with hand-stitching, situated just within the ring of stars, in such a way as to cover the letters, hiding them from view.
The Green Mountain Boys emerged in the latter 1760's as a militia unit it Northern New England. Led by Ethan Allen, a man who would become one of the most famous American patriots, and assisted by his extended family, the group mustered from within the region that would eventually become Vermont, across land that was once part of Upstate New York, Western New Hampshire, and North-Western Massachusetts.
The original intent of the Green Mountain Boys was not to gain independence from Britain, but instead to secure the right of local residents to become a separate British colony. The land in question was generally known as "The New Hampshire Grants." Disputed over by New York and New Hampshire, in 1775 it succeeded in becoming the Vermont Republic. The newly formed province actually resisted joining the American Revolution until 1777, when it too declared independence from Mother England. While its participation in the Revolution lagged behind the other 13 colonies, Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys did not. Entering the fray in 1775, Allen and his comrades successfully captured Fort Ticonderoga on Lake Champlain in May of that year. Joining forces with Richard Montgomery, they then proceeded to invade Canada, in what would become the Continental Army's first major campaign. Taking Ft. St. Johns and Montreal, the action was part of an attempt to gain control of Quebec and convince its French speaking citizens to join America in its fight against British control.
Because no funding was available for the Green Mountain Boys within the Vermont Republic, a pro-British colony, Allen and his nephew, Seth Warner, traveled to Philadelphia to petition the Continental Congress for support. Since New York had claimed control of the land, Congress recommended it pay the tab for outfitting and organizing the unit. In July of 1775, New York acquiesced and the newly formed regiment became known as the Green Mountain Continental Rangers. These men were led by Warner, while Allen was promoted to Lt. Colonel and assigned to the Northern Army of New York. So it was that the Green Mountain Boys--at least under that specific name--disbanded in 1876, one year before Vermont declared itself separate, free, and independent. Almost 15 years would pass before Vermont actually became the 14th state (1791), just one year after Rhode Island became the last of the 13 colonies to ratify the Constitution.
The vibrant, patriotic spirit of Allen, Warner, and their men became legendary. Compounded by success on the battlefield, honor for the Continental soldiers of the Green Mountains secured a strong foothold in American history. Nostalgia for the name indoctrinated it as a royal title, of sorts, for all military men who came afterward and hailed from Vermont. This is how the term was applied to the men of that state, who would later muster for the War of 1812, the Civil War, the Span-Am War, and beyond, and today still serves as the collective, unofficial name of the members of the Vermont National Guard.
The reason that the presence of the Green Mountain Boys text is so important on an early American flag, is that it does not exist on any other, of any early period, much less on a version of the Stars & Stripes. No surviving Revolutionary War regimental flags--exceptionally rare in their own right--share this text, and the same is true across all 19th century, war-period examples.
Interestingly enough, these words were not visible when the flag was discovered in the attic of a home in Washington, D.C., by a woman who was dispersing the estate of an elderly friend. This was because of the aforementioned portrait of George Washington, painted on a panel of the same exact blue silk, that was painstakingly appliquéd on top of the name. The task was accomplished using the finest stitching that I have ever encountered on an early American flag. Because the sewing was so expertly done, and consistently so throughout the flag, the initial presumption was that the painting was original to its construction. I presumed that the image of Washington was merely executed on a separate piece of fabric, commissioned from an artist, perhaps a portrait or sign painter, who was located some distance from the town where the flag originated.
A flag of this nature would have been made or purchased by local individuals, in order that it could be presented to a unit when it mustered in for service. "Presentation flags," as they are called, might be sewn by local women, or purchased from a professional flag-maker, or could theoretically be a combination of the two. Desired embellishments, in the form of fancy painted images or lettering, could be commissioned from an outside source, if the necessary skills were not present locally. For this reason, I was certainly intrigued, though not greatly surprised, that the painting was appliquéd in this way. Though I had not encountered this before, the reason seemed logical enough.
A collector that came in contact with the flag, following its discovery, automatically presumed that the 20 stars dated the textile to the period between 1818 and 1819, when we had 20 states. Given the entirely hand-sewn, silk construction, and the use of gold stars, this was a logical assumption. But the painting of Washington exhibited characteristics peculiar to the Victorian era--in particular, his rosy cheeks--and the painted eagle is not in a form that one would expect to find during the American Federal period (approx. 1789-1823). Federal eagles often appear in what historians call a "turkey head" or "snake-head" form, and are significantly different, on the whole, from Civil War period and later eagle images. Further, the particular sort of metallic paint employed in the eagle and stars was not one that I would expect to see in the early 19th century. I recognized it as Civil War period or even after. This was not what I would expect from a professional flag-maker in any period. Commercially-made examples would be likely to have gilt stars that were much more refined. In retrospect, this was consistent with Vermont’s rural location. Finally, the silk appeared to be weighted with mineral salts or some other agent, which caused the tell-tale vertical splits exhibited in the fabric. This condition is common in post-1860 flags, yet unusual in those made prior to that time. All of these traits pointed toward both a Civil War date and the use of 20 stars as a Southern-exclusionary element (removing the Southern states).
Upon my recommendation, the flag was taken to a textile lab. Silk American flags with painted elements usually employ two lengths of blue fabric, because paint will readily soak through just one layer. The two pieces are thus decorated first, then sewn back-to-back, as was the case with this example. During the subsequent examination, a lighted scope with a camera was passed down between the two pieces of blue cloth, made possible by the fact that they had become separated over time along the top. The result was an answer to the puzzling question of the flag's star count vs. its construction and imagery. What it revealed was the fantastic, serpentine, “Green Mountain Boys” text behind Washington’s image.
While the specific unit that this flag was presented to remains a mystery, it survives as the only known, Green Mountain Boys, Civil War battle flag in private hands, so far as I am aware, and the only one that exists from any period that includes the beloved nickname among its elements.
The 20 stars could represent one of two possible calculations by the maker(s), when removing the Confederate-leaning states. It could be that the total reflects the full count of 35 states between June of 1863 and October of 1864, less the 15 Slave States. Alternatively, it could reflect the count of 36, following the admission of Nevada on Halloween in 1864, less the 11 states that officially seceded by way of popular vote, (ratified by the respective state congresses,) minus the 5 states which, at that time, were considered Border States. These held a significant population that supported the Southern cause.
The portrait of Washington was added at a later time. I initially presumed that this was done to celebrate the 1876 centennial of American independence, or the centennial of Washington's 1789 inauguration, both of which were widely accompanied by parades and festivities of all kinds, all over the nation. After further investigation, however, I discovered that a far more likely scenario was that it was made to commemorate the Battle of Bennington in 1777, and Vermont's own independence from Great Britain, which occurred that same year. To celebrate the 100-year anniversary, in 1877, related ceremonies were far greater than anything that had previously occurred in the state, and were compounded in scale by the accompanying visit of President Rutherford B. Hayes. This was a much larger event for Vermont specifically than was the 1876 centennial of America that preceded it, or the 100-year anniversary of Washington's inauguration, that followed, and it resulted in the making of many flags. Military and veteran's units of all kinds were reviewed on parade by the president, displaying their new (or perhaps modified) banners.
Among other places, details of the events were recorded in a book entitled "Second Battle of Bennington: Vermont's Centennial" by Charles S. Forbes (1877, Advertiser Printing Co., St. Albans, VT). While numerous flags were described by the author in some detail, the focus of the work did not concern flags specifically. The flag that is the subject of this narrative is unfortunately not identified. What's clear from Forbes' account, however, is that flags played a critical role in the decorative fanfare that ensued.
Our own conservation staff carefully removed the portrait to reveal the lettering underneath, then, following some discussion and consideration, placed it on top of the field of stripes, in the lower register, during the mounting process.
The painted eagle on the reverse is illustrated beneath an arched configuration of 13 stars. On its breast is a federal shield with 10 pales (vertical stripes) and 10 stars, perhaps to reinforce the 20 star total on the obverse. In the eagle's right talon is an olive branch. The eagle's head is facing toward its left talon, which grips 3 arrows. Given the level of symbolism present in this flag's star count, and the matching count in its shield, I would suggest that the direction that the eagle's head is facing is intentionally oriented toward the articles of war, as opposed to peace.
Extensive research was undertaken to trace the flag back from the family in Washington, DC to the state of Vermont. After much work on the part of several top researchers, just one possible connection was found. The owner of the house was, quite remarkably, an Army officer who fought during both WWI and WWII, who had been stationed at Ft. Ethan Allen (a former U.S. Army base in Arlington, VT) from around 1908-1913. None of the family was from Vermont, however, and while some served in the Civil War on both sides of the blue-grey line, none belonged to a Vermont regiment. Perhaps he was gifted the flag while stationed there for some reason, now long forgotten.
Because there were only 18 volunteer units in the small and sparsely populated state, more research into the units specifically might someday reveal the origin. A description of the flag almost certainly appeared in a Civil War era newspaper at the time when it was presented. Events such as this were major news in a small community in the 1860's. An in-depth study of early newspaper accounts has thus far yielded no results, but as more and more small newspapers are digitized every day, at some point the answer will almost certainly appear. Probably this information will be revealed not only in news of the original presentation to the soldiers that carried it, but also in its use with the Washington portrait sewn on top during the 1877 celebration. Whatever the case may be, the Civil War date, silk construction, unique use of the Green Mountain Boys name, wide-spread admiration for Ethan Allen and his men, the Southern-exclusionary star count, the eagle and its interesting elements (exceptionally rare on privately held American flags in its own right), the portrait of Washington (almost unknown on early Stars & Stripes), the probable reference to Vermont's own centennial, and the overall graphics in general, together result in one of the most exceptional American flags in private hands.
Construction: Entirely hand-sewn silk canton and stripes with gold painted stars, text, and eagle. There are hand-sewn silk ties along the hoist. The portrait is painted in oil on silk.
Mounting: This is a pressure mount between U.V. protective acrylic and 100% cotton twill. The black cotton has been 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. Fabric of similar coloration was placed behind the flag for masking purposes. The mount was placed in a black-painted, hand-gilded and distressed Italian molding.
Condition: There is significant fading of the red stripes to a salmon color. As described above, the use of weighted white and red silk resulted in minor to moderate fabric breakdown throughout these two colors. There are several, period, stitched repairs. The seam between the two pieces of silk that form the canton has separated along the top. One of the silk ties along the hoist end (the red one) is probably a 19th century replacement. The condition of the flag is similar to many other silk battle flags of the period, most of which are made of weighted silk. The flag presents well and its great rarity warrants practically any condition.
|Collector Level:||Flags for the truest Patriots. My best offerings|
|Flag Type:||Sewn flag|
|Earliest Date of Origin:||1863|
|Latest Date of Origin:||1864|
|War Association:||1861-1865 Civil War|
|Price:||Please call (717) 676-0545 or (717) 502-1281|