13 STAR U.S. MILITARY CAMP COLORS, PRESS-DYED ON WOOL BUNTING, CIVIL WAR OR EARLY INDIAN WARS PERIOD, 1861-1876, ONE OF JUST THREE KNOWN EXAMPLES
American military camp colors of the 19th century are rare in the antiques marketplace. These little flags, generally the smallest used for military purposes, stood outside tents to mark encampments. The staffs that they were affixed could be rather massive by contrast. Some were thick, tapered at both ends, and stood about eight feet in height. The staff would be slipped completely through a wide, open sleeve along the hoist end, or else the fabric was simply wrapped around the staff and tacked in and nailed in place with flat-headed upholstery tacks.
Due to the lack of consistency in the mid-19th century, flags made for that purpose cannot only be difficult to obtain, but difficult to identify as well. More innocuous than traditional battle flags and guidons (flank-markers), these were not painted or embroidered with unit identification and were not saved and recorded with the same consistency. They were probably seldom carried in parades like their battle flag counterparts, or displayed in armories and veterans' halls.
I have been privileged to own a small handful of Civil War period camp colors over the years, in both the 34 and 35-star counts, in a style that matches identified examples in the New York State Military Museum. These also match a pair of flags in a private collection, which remarkably survive tacked to their original wooden staffs, which have embossed metal labels from the maker that specifically identify them as camp colors. All have precisely the same manner of construction and are in approximately the same size, measuring about 1.5 feet on the hoist and 2 feet on the fly (give or take an inch or two for human error, exposure to temperature and humidity). Made of press-dyed wool bunting, there is an integrated sleeve along the hoist end where an unusual amount of extra fabric was rolled back onto itself, lined with cotton or linen for strength, and stitched into place. The fly end was bound with treadle stitching.
This example displays the same construction and scale, but the full complement of stars is exchanged for 13 to reflect the original colonies. Further information uncovered two more examples of the same variety with 13 stars. Beyond the connection to our nation's colonial past, there were also utilitarian reasons to employ this particular star count. The U.S. Navy flew 13 star flags on small craft throughout most or all of the 19th century. When there were fewer stars, it was easier to discern them at a distance on a small flag. Commercial flag-makers sometimes mirrored this practice, so some private ships could also be seen flying 13 star flags during the same period as the Navy.
Given the military function, it would be reasonable to assume that the Marine Corps may have procured flags with 13 stars, instead of the full star count. It would have been particularly fitting for a flag of this scale. Marine Corps records are scant, however, in the Civil War period, and I could find no specific evidence of what was carried by any of the small the number of Marines in federal service at that time. The logic of 13 stars is self-evident, however, and would have mirrored Navy practice.
According to the late flag expert Howard Madaus, flags with 13 stars were known to be carried by Civil War troops for use in both the camp and the field, though he carefully points out that none were thus far documented as having been carried as battle flags. There was a Brooklyn unit of Civil War Zuaves that carried a 13 star flag as a guidon, and a fragment of a large silk flag with military traits, handed down through the family of a member of the 41st Wisconsin Infantry, has a canton with 13 stars surrounding the numeral "13". Others probably exist. Madaus' knowledge of Civil War flags was expansive, as was his access to government collections across America. Those in a standard, land force military style and with the coinciding manner of construction are so few in number, however, that I cannot personally recall others. This star count is far more common in homemade examples, but true military production flags with 13 stars are extraordinarily rare outside maritime use.
The stars of this particular example are arranged in rows of 3-2-3-2-3. In most cases this configuration can also be viewed as a diamond of stars with a star in each corner, or as the intersection of the diagonal cross of St. Andrew with the erect, rectangular one of St. George.
Note how the vertical orientation of the portion of the canton that is adjacent to the sleeve has forced the 3-2-3-2-3 pattern into a vertical profile that is particularly interesting from a visual perspective. Also note how the stars, which are rather small in respect to the scale of the canton, appear with one point up in the 1st, 3rd, and 5th rows, while those in the 2nd and 4th have one point facing down.
Based upon similarity to the 34 and 35-star examples, and the use of 13 stars in the 3-2-3-2-3 pattern, and the need for production of camp colors, the most likely date of manufacture would be late Civil War, between 1864 and 1865. Use of the 3-2-3-2-3 star pattern is uncommon until late war. No 36, 37 or 38-star versions seem to exist in camp colors with this manner of construction. These facts, plus gut instinct from having handled so many examples, taking into consideration the fabric, the star pattern, etc., I would say that Civil War manufacture is likely, but conservatively extend the window of possible manufacture through the 1870's. This would encompass the Reconstruction of the South and the beginning of the Indian Wars.
Whatever the case may be, the presentation of this particular style of flag is both unusual and beautiful. Camp colors are an excellent addition to any collection due to their military purpose and readily displayable size, and this is the only known example in this style.
Some Notes on Press-Dyed Flags
Press-dyed wool flags are far more scarce than those printed on cotton and silk. The earliest examples were produced by Edward Brierly, a textile manufacturer in Lowell, Massachusetts, who received the first patent for the process in 1849. From this time until the Civil War period (1861-65), most of the flags produced in this fashion appear to have served a military purpose, either as camp colors or perhaps as flank markers when need arose.
By contrast, most small decorative flags were instead printed on cotton or silk. Called parade flags or hand-wavers, these were intended for one day’s use only at a specific parade, rally, or other patriotic event. Cotton and silk were ill-suited for exposure to moisture. Because wool sheds water, it was more appropriate extended outdoor use. In 1876, the Centennial International Exposition, a six-month-long World's Fair held in Philadelphia, required many small decorative flags that could withstand long-term exposure to the elements. The Horstmann Company appears to have made and sold many for this function.
Previous to this time, flag maker Annin & Company is suspected of playing a role in the production of printed or press-dyed flags with wool content. Annin may have made press-dyed and sold them to both outfitters and the Depots. While some sources that record makers of military goods lack reference to specific military contracts with Annin, the firm's Wikipedia entry might explain why. The listing states: "…the U.S. Signal Corps requisitioned all its wartime flags from Annin Flagmakers for the Civil War. An undated newspaper article in Annin’s archives from the 1860's states: “Without going through forms of contract, Annin supplied the government direct…as the war progressed, orders came pouring in from every state and city that was loyal to the Union, so that by the beginning of 1864, there was not a single battlefield, a brigade or a division that did not use Annin flags.”
Flag-makers such as Annin (New York) or Horstmann (Philadelphia) would have produced whatever was asked of them, within reason, to fulfill special requests.
I have a specific appreciation for printed wool flags due to their scarcity as well as their superior texture over most of their cotton and silk counterparts. Dyed wool bunting usually holds its colors well. That is certainly the case here, where attractive shades of navy blue and true red provide for pleasant contrast with the ivory white stripes.
Mounting: The flag has been hand-stitched to 100% natural fabric for throughout for support. It was then hand-stitched to a background of 100% hemp fabric. The mount was then placed in a black-painted, hand-gilded and distressed Italian molding. The glazing is U.V. protective acrylic.
Condition: There is very minor mothing, accompanied by minor foxing and staining throughout. Many of my clients prefer early flags to show their age and history of use.
Frame Size (H x L): 30" x 33" Flag Size (H x L): 19" x 22.25"
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