Highway traffic passing my Rockville property for the past several weeks may have been doing some head-scratching as they looked over to see a strikingly beautiful, familiar yet unfamiliar “American” banner flying at the top of my flag pole: alternating red and white horizontal stripes with white stars in a field of blue filling the upper left quadrant. One member of my prized collection of seventeen historic “American” flags, this one gets flown on very rare occasions. It is in fact the first national flag of The Confederate States of America with only seven stars (representing Texas, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina and Louisiana.
Known affectionately as “the stars and bars”, its three broad stripes when rippling in the wind or blown about in battle could easily be mistaken as the Union colors, confusing maneuvering troops of both denominations, and getting people killed at Manassas in the first Bull Run battle. Because the white bar was so large, it may even have been mistaken as a “surrender” symbol. Accordingly it was replaced by the more well-known and unmistakable “battle flag” with its diagonal cross-bars.
When displaying this particular flag to school children I point out that it figures importantly in our country’s history, and that many tens of thousands of American boys died fighting under its stars and bars; it is their youthful bravery and devotion to a cause that I honor – NOT the cause itself.
It was with President Lincoln’s call for 75,000 volunteers in April, 1861 that the plunge toward civil war probably became irreversible, setting the stage for South Carolina’s firing on Fort Sumter on April 12, an eventuality Lincoln had sought to avoid at all costs. (In fact he had carefully coordinated the dispatch of the ship carrying needed supplies for the fort with Confederate leaders. Of all the “southern” states, South Carolina was the most obdurate and entrenched in its anti-Union, pro-secession sentiments.)
It was almost exactly four years later on April 9, 1865 that Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia to General Ulysses (“Sam”) Grant, effectively bringing America’s costliest war to an end in the living room of a home owned by Wilmer McLean in Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia. Seeking peace and safety for his family, McLean - a proud Southerner - had departed his previous home in Manassas Virginia, when the war had actually begun when a Union cannon ball fell on his kitchen when he was dining with Confederate General PGT Beauregard in July, 1861.
Then it was Apri1 15, 1865 when an assassin’s bullet took the life of Abraham Lincoln who was probably the only living human who could have prevented the era of political and social strife which befell the bereft nation which had paid so egregious a price for a reunion over which the slain leader would likely have presided.
As the breeze rippled the “Stars and Bars” these past few days, I could not help but visit other “collectors’ banners in my personal “museum” including: the 20th Maine regimental; Irish Brigade colors; Colonel George Armstrong Custer’s 7th Cavalry guide-on; General Hood’s 1st Texas Headquarters flag; George Washington’s “Pine tree” flag and the Revolution’s “Bennington Battle Flag”.
On the wall to my left hangs Don Troiani’s portrait of the 14th Brooklyn Hussars of 1862, while at my back a large lighted reproduction of Mort Kunstler’s “Lee Takes Command” capturing that historic May 31, 1862 event looks down on my writing desk. A replica 1863 Cavalry Officer’s sword is suspended over all.
As an ironic afterthought, there is also a certificate with then Governor Zell Miller’s signature “appointing” Al Cooper (a definite “Yankee boy”) a Lieutenant Colonel in the Georgia Militia - a thank you from the State of Georgia for a modest piece of service during the 2002 Olympics.