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  13 HUGE STARS, HAPHAZARDLY CONFIGURED IN A 4-5-4 PATTERN, ON A STRIKINGLY GRAPHIC FLAG OF THE CIVIL WAR ERA, MARKED “BIG BAY” AND PROBABLY EMPLOYED IN U.S. ARMY OR NAVY SERVICE

Available: Sold
Frame Size (H x L): 58.75" x 91.25"
Flag Size (H x L): 44.25" x 78.5
Description....:
American national flag of the Civil War era (circa 1861-65), with 13 hand-sewn stars haphazardly placed in a 4-5-4 arrangement. Note the large scale of the stars with respect to that of the flag itself, which contributes immensely to its bold presentation. These point in various directions on their vertical axis, which provides for great artistic impact with considerable folk qualities.

The purpose of the flag was likely nautical. In this function it would have been 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. 13 star flags were in regular use by the U.S. Navy for this purpose. The Navy generally made its own flags, and while the construction traits of this particular example do not conform to the manner expected of in-house production, the star count and their arrangement actually does. U.S. Navy small boat ensigns generally had 13 stars in the 4-5-4 pattern through the majority of the war.

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 the local businesses to make flags. In many instances they grabbed every flag in stock, regardless of the specifics laid forth in their own regulations.* Practical decision-making to meet the demands of war was the rule of thumb with regard to flags in military function during the 19th century, both on land and at sea.

Words that appear to read "Big Bay" are faintly inscribed along the hoist, while the name "Hastings" is boldly written along the fly. Big Bay Island Station, South Carolina, was a scantly-populated Union Army outpost during the Civil War. At one point there was but one man present to hold the position. No connection has been made between the name Hastings and this location, but it was common to mark flags in this manner during the 19th century to indicate ownership. Locations are less often seen. Even if they don't add substantial value, the presence of names on a flag in a period hand always add some level of academic interest.

The presence of a rope hoist in an open sleeve is more consistent with flags flown at sea than on land and the same is the case with the count of 13 stars. In any event, it was certainly flown for an extended period as evidenced by the losses and repair.

The flag’s cotton stars are double-appliquéd, meaning that they were applied to both sides of the blue canton, which is made of wool bunting that has been pieced in two segments with hand stitching. The stripes of the flag are made of wool bunting that has been joined with treadle stitching. The canton was joined to them with hand-stitching along the fly end side and by treadle stitching below. A linen sleeve binds the hoist, through which a braided hemp rope with loops at top and bottom was inserted and stitched firmly in place.

At some point the length of the flag was shortened as a standard means of repair during its course of use. When this occurred, a length of plain weave white cotton was either moved from its original position or added to re-bind the fly end. The method of using an applied binding along the fly can sometimes be seen in early flags, but is unusual. Note how its presence contributes a positive visual feature, as does the outward bow that follows the natural line of wear, which lends a degree of movement.

The 4-5-4 lineal configuration is both scarcer and more appealing than rows of stars in counts of 3-2-3-2-3, and is generally seen on flags made during the Civil War period and prior. For some reason the 4-5-4 pattern was not popular during the celebration of our nation’s 100-year anniversary of independence in 1876, or thereafter, so it is of greater interest and more desired by collectors than some other 13 star designs. Since there was no official star pattern for the American national flag set forth in the flag act of June 14th, 1777, and because the original does not survive, nor are descriptions of it recorded in public documents or private journals, no one actually knows what the very first one looked like. Due to its apparent popularity in early America, however, as evidenced by both drawings and surviving 19th century examples, lineal rows of 4-5-4 could have been the original design. This arrangement is sometimes seen in small flags made during Reconstruction of the South (1866-1876), and appears once again on small, commercially produced flags of the 1890’s, but surviving examples are scarce in both instances. Most flags in the 4-5-4 pattern date to the early periods in flag manufacture.

13 star flags have been flown from the 18th century to the present for a variety of purposes. They were hoisted at patriotic events, including Lafayette’s visit in 1825-26, the celebration of the nation's centennial in 1876, and the sesquicentennial in 1926. They were displayed during the Civil War, to reference past struggles for American liberty and victory over oppression, and were used by 19th century politicians in political campaigning for the same reason.

  The U.S. Navy used the 13 star count on small boats until 1916, because it was easier to discern fewer stars at a distance on a small flag. Commercial flag-makers mirrored this practice and some private ships flew 13 star flags during the same period as the Navy. The use of yachting ensigns with a wreath of 13 stars surrounding a fouled anchor, which allowed pleasure boats to bypass customs between 1848 and 1980, persists today without an official purpose.

Mounting: The flag has been hand-stitched to 100% silk organza for support on every seam and throughout the star field. It was then stitched to a background of 100% cotton, black in color, which was 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. The mount was then placed in a black-painted, hand-gilded and distressed Italian molding. The glazing is U.V. protective acrylic.

Condition: There are minor losses along the top of the canton and there are minor losses throughout from a combination of use and mothing. The flag was shortened at some point during its course of use to repair more significant loss, at which time the white binding at the fly end was either moved or added. There is minor foxing and staining throughout. Many of my clients prefer early flags to show their age and history of use.

* Many thanks to David Martucci for his words and insights into use and acquisition of flags by the U.S. Navy during this period.
Collector Level: Flags for the truest Patriots. My best offerings
Flag Type: Sewn flag
Star Count: 13
Earliest Date of Origin: 1861
Latest Date of Origin: 1865
State/Affiliation: South Carolina
War Association: 1861-1865 Civil War
Price: SOLD
E-mail: Inquire
 

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