A program presented
Compatriot Walter E. Dockery
Flags were as important on the field of battle as the artillery or cannon and were an important means of communication. In the heat of battle, with all the smoke, noise and no means of communication, they showed where the regiments were on the field and where the individual soldier should be to reform the line. Flags were large and carried high. Sometime they were the only things that could be seen in the smoke and dust of battle.
Carrying the flag was a great honor, usually by an unarmed sergeant and usually with six to nine armed men carrying guns at shoulder arms and they did not fire unless the flag was in danger, and then only to protect the flag.
I have more information on the flag bearers, etc. of regiments on both sides in the War Between the States than earlier wars, but I would suggest that there were many similarities.
An example of the significance of flags during the War Between the States is the fact that more than half of the Medals of Honor awarded in the Union Army were granted for bravery relating to the flag. Flag bearers carried their colors into the very jaws of death knowing full well they probably would not return, yet they felt honor was greater than glory. Loosing a flag to the enemy was a disgrace. Flag bearers were found with the flag stuffed into their jackets riddled with bullet holes and stained with their own blood rather than surrender the flag to the enemy. The 26th North Carolina, on the 1st day of Gettysburg, lost 13 color bearers fighting against the 24th Michigan. The 24th Michigan lost 9, yet both regiments carried their flags from the field. A Georgian trooper killed Harrison Jeffers of the 4th Michigan Regiment with a bayonet, the only regimental commander killed by a bayonet in the War Between the States. Jeffers was trying to save the flag from capture.
Flags also were significant from an emotional impact. As an example, the part the 30’ wide 42’ long Star Spangled Banner played in the Battle of Baltimore during the War of 1812. This is an example of deception employed by a daring Major Armistead whose forces were a fraction of the forces of the British attacking them. This deception saved Baltimore from British invasion and burning by making the enemy think the defenders of Ft. McHenry were much, much stronger than they were, thus saving Maryland and resulting in inspiring Francis Scott Key to pen the famous words which became our National Anthem.
Now for a brief history of our colonial, revolutionary, 1812 and present flag.
1. The first is our present flag, “Old Glory” whose design has been in its present form since 1818 when it reverted back to the 13 stripes representing the original colonies. By law, a star is added to the U.S.A. flag on the 4th of July following the admission of a state or states. No star is identified with a specific state, and there is no law designating the permanent arrangement of the stars. However, since 1912, whenever a new state has been added, the new design has been announced by presidential order. No flag ever becomes obsolete; each is still a legal flag and is entitled to the same respect shown the current flag.
2. The colonial militia of Bedford, Massachusetts used this “Bedford Flag” for almost a century prior to the American Revolution. It was under this banner that the first shots of the American Revolutionary War for independence from British rule was fired at Lexington. The Latin motto on the banner reads, “Conquer or die”. Emerson wrote of that battle; “by the rude bridge that arched the flood, their flag to April’s breeze unfurled, here once the embattled farmers stood and fired the shot heard around the world.” This priceless relic is the oldest flag in the United States. The original can be seen at the Bedford town library.
3. The “Betsy Ross Flag” was adopted June 14, 1777, which is Flag Day. The Continental Congress on that day resolved, that the flag of the United States shall have thirteen stripes alternating red and white and that the union have thirteen white stars in a field of blue. The circular design was by George Washington, Francis Hopkins and Betsy Ross. The congress however did not specify an arrangement for the stars in the canton; as a result there are many variations in the flags that followed until 1912.
4. The “Bennington Flag,” also known as the “Vermont,” flew over the military stores in Bennington, Vermont on August 16, 1777. The American militia led by Gen. John Stark, defeated a large British raiding force, thus protecting the military supplies at Bennington. Note that the flag begins with a white stripe.
5. On the night of June 16, 1775, the Americans fortified Breed’s and Bunker Hills overlooking Boston Harbor. Although they had not officially declared their independence, a fight was underway. When the British advanced up the slope the next day they saw an early New England flag, possibly a red or blue banner. Many early colonial flags had been made by altering an English flag and most still contained a reference to the mother country. This was an example that the colonist still saw themselves as British subjects but was declaring their right to be free from violations of their liberties.
6. The “Continental Flag” is also believed to have been carried at the Battle of Bunker Hill. This was a version of the British Red Ensign or Meteor Flag with a green New England pine tree substituted for the Union Flag in the canton.
7. The “Cowpens Flag” was first carried by the 3rd Maryland Regiment which was part of the Continental Line of Maryland, Virginia and Georgia regiments. On January 17, 1781, General Daniel Morgan won a decisive victory against the British at Cowpens, South Carolina. The original flag is enshrined in the State House in Annapolis, Maryland.
8. The “Culpepper Flag” shown here, represented a group of about 100 minutemen from Culpepper, Virginia. The group formed part of Col. Patrick Henry’s 1st Virginia Regiment of 1775. In October - November 1775 three hundred such minutemen, led by Col. Stevens, assembled at Culpepper Court House and marched for Williamsburg. Their unusual dress alarmed the people as they marched through the country. The words “Liberty or Death” were in large white letters on the breast of their hunting shirts. They had buck tails in their hats and in their belts they carried tomahawks and scalping knives.
First Continental Regiment
9. The “First Continental Regiment also known as First Pennsylvania Rifle Regiment” served during the course of the revolution in each of the thirteen colonies and its banner was carried at the battles of Trenton, Princeton, Brandywine, Monmouth and Yorktown.
The First Navy Jack
10. This flag, “The
First Navy Jack” is believed to have flown aboard the continental fleet’s
flagship “Alfred” in January 1776. This flag or one of its variations was used
by American ships throughout the revolution.
Like many of you, I watched the war in Iraq on TV and on April 3, 2003, a reporter was interviewing one of our United States marines and this flag was seen prominently flying in the background on one of our tanks. The motto says, “Don’t tread on me.” I might also mention, that effective September 11, 2002, all United States ships will fly this flag in lieu of the U.S. Jack to honor the victims of September 11, 2001. They will continue to fly this flag until the war on terrorism is won! Before 9/11 the only U. S. navy ship authorized to fly this flag was the aircraft carrier, USS Kitty Hawk.
11. Colonel William Moultrie’s South Carolina militia carried the “Fort Moultrie Flag” on Sullivan Island in Charleston harbor on June 28, 1776. The British were defeated that day, which saved the South from British occupation for another two years. The South Carolina state flag still contains the crescent moon from this revolutionary flag.
12. The “Gadsden” was first used by Commodore Esek Hopkins, the first Commander in Chief of the New Continental Fleet when his ships put to sea for the first time in February 1776. Flags with the symbol of the rattlesnake were very popular in Rhode Island at the time. Col. Gadsden of South Carolina copied and presented this flag to the Continental Congress.
13. The “Grand Union or Continental Colors” was never officially sanctioned by the Continental Congress but is considered the first flag of the United States and was in use from late 1775 until mid 1777. This flag was an alteration of the British Meteor flag. In its blue canton is the red cross of St. George and the white cross of St. Andrew. The thirteen stripes signified the original colonies. Retaining the British union in the canton indicted a continued loyalty, as the Americans saw it, to the constitutional government against which they fought. On January 1, 1776, this flag was first raised on Prospect Hill (then called Mt. Pisgah) in Somerville, Massachusetts. At this time the Continental Army came into formal existence. In one of Washington’s letters he referred to it as the “Grand Union Flag” and it is most commonly called the Grand Union today.
Green Mountain Boys
14. On August 16, 1777, the “Green Mountain Boys” fought under General Stark at the Battle of Bennington. Its green field represented their name and the thirteen white stars a tribute to the thirteen colonies. Another notable victory of the Green Mountain Boys under Ethan Allen occurred on the morning of May 10, 1775, when they silently invaded the British held Fort Ticonderoga and demanded its surrender “in the name of the great Jehovah and the Continental Congress.” The captured cannon and mortars were transported across the snow covered mountains of New England and their installation on the heights over Boston Harbor enabled Washington to force the British to leave that important seaport.
15. “Guilford Courthouse Flag” is an example of the lack of uniformity in American flags during the revolutionary period as each group chose which flag to be used as its standard. This flag has the unique elements of an elongated canton and blue stripes. It was raised over the Guilford courthouse, North Carolina on March 15, 1781 under the leadership of General Greene whose militiamen halted the British advance through the Carolinas and turned them back to the seaport towns. This was one of the bloodiest battles of the long war with the British losing over a quarter of their troops. It was in this battle that Lord Cornwallis ordered his cannons to fire on his own troops that were intermingled with the American troops.
16. This flag the “Lord Baltimore” is derived from the coat of arms of Lord Baltimore (George Calvert) the proprietor of the Maryland colony. This most colorful flag was in use for more than a century before the revolution. It is still represented in the Maryland state flag, the county of Baltimore and the city of Baltimore flags.
Philadelphia Light Horse Troop
17. This is the “Philadelphia Light Horse Troop Flag.” This troop was formed by a group of Philadelphia gentlemen on November 17, 1774. Many were businessmen and merchants who supplied their own uniforms, military equipment and horses. The flag was contributed to the unit by Captain Markoe; it was designed by John Folwell and painted by James Claypoole. The British Union was originally painted in the canton, but the artist was instructed to paint thirteen stripes to represent the united colonies. It was this troop that escorted George Washington from Philadelphia to take command of the Continental Army assembled at Cambridge outside of Boston in June 1775. The Light Horse Troop later carried their flag in the battles of Brandywine, Germantown, Princeton and Trenton.
Rhode island Regiment
18. On the “Rhode Island Regiment Flag,” the anchor has been used as a state symbol ever since 1647, and is evident in their current state flag. The anchor represents Rhode Island’s seafaring activities and has been recognized as a symbol of hope for centuries and the thirteen stars represents the original thirteen colonies. The native Rhode Islanders were among the first to join the Minutemen outside of Boston. The Rhode Island regiments served at the battles of Brandywine, Trenton and Yorktown. This flag is preserved today in the State House at Providence, Rhode Island.
19. This flag, the “Serapis” is unique in having red, white and blue alternating stripes and the stars have seven points in the field. It is named for the British ship H.M.S. “Serapis” that John Paul Jones captured in one of the most famous sea battles of the revolution. In winning the battle, Jones’s own ship the “Bon-Homme Richard” was so damaged that he was forced to abandon his sinking ship and transfer to the “Serapis.” It was this flag that flew above the “Serapis” when it sailed into the Dutch Port of Texel.
Sons of Liberty
20. This was the flag of the early colonist who had joined together in the protest against the British impositions on American economic freedom. One such protest was resistance to the Stamp Act on October 7, 1765. A delegate from each of the nine colonies formed the “Stamp Act Congress”. They petitioned the King and Parliament and the act was repealed on March 18, 1766. The flag of nine red and white stripes that represented these “Sons of Liberty” became known as “The Rebellious Stripes”. On December 16, 1773, the Sons of Liberty protested the Parliament’s Tea Act, an action that became known as the Boston Tea Party. The colonists’ believed the tax to be a violation of their legitimate economic liberty. Three and a half years after the Tea Party the thirteen colonies had come together in their decision to fight for independence and the nine stripes had grown to thirteen. The sons of liberty would rally under a large tree which became known as “the Liberty Tree.”
21. This flag is another example of the colonists’ modifying the British flag, in this case the British Red Ensign. It was raised on the liberty pole in Taunton, Massachusetts on October 21, 1774 and is known as the “Taunton.” Its motto is “Liberty and Union.”
22. George Washington used this flag on his squadron of six schooners that he outfitted at his own expense in the fall of 1775. This flag was a variation of the New England Pine Tree flag. It was later modified and adopted by the Massachusetts navy. The Sons of Liberty would rally under a large tree, in Boston Massachusetts, which became known as the liberty tree. This tree became a symbol of American independence. Knowing they were up against a great military power they beloved they were sustained by still a greater power, thus their “Appeal to Heaven.” The flag is known as “Washington’s Cruisers.”
23. General Washington during his winter encampment at Valley Forge flew this flag. He had a personal protection guard called the “Life Guard”. It consisted of a few hand picked men from each colony and this special guard carried these colors. It is called “Washington’s Headquarters Flag” or the “Commander in Chief’s flag”. In 1782 the Life Guard unit adopted their own flag which depicted a horse, an officer, stars, a woman representing liberty supporting a shield of the United States and a spread eagle.
Alabama is honored to have a member of Washington’s Life Guard who lived in Alabama. Ensign James McCrory, was born in Ireland, sailed from Belfast in 1775 when he was 17 years old and landed in Baltimore. He settled in North Carolina and enlisted in the Continental Army in 1776. He made his home in Tuscaloosa for the last 25 years of his life and is buried in what is now Pickens County.
Star Spangled Banner
24. The “Star Spangled Banner” was flying above Ft. McHenry at Baltimore when the British attacked on September 13, 1814. Francs Scott Key, a lawyer from Washington had gone aboard a British ship seeking the release of a friend held prisoner. He was detained throughout the night while the British shelled and bombed the fort. The sight of the American flag still flying over the fortress the next morning inspired Key to write what, in 1931, became our National Anthem. This flag has 15 stripes, which makes it our only official flag ever to have more than thirteen stripes. It was our flag during the 2nd war with England, known as the War of 1812. The original Ft. McHenry flag is displayed in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. The Star Spangled Banner holds a special significance to the people of our state and in my area in particular.
Francis Scott Key was sent to Tuscaloosa in 1833 by President Andrew Jackson as an emissary to treat with the then governor Gayle over a nullification feud which broke out between Governor Gayle and President Jackson over the problem of Indian removal. For a few days the Alabama capital, which at that time was in Tuscaloosa, was the center of national attention. The feud soon was resolved, but Key became life-long friends with Governor and Mrs. Gayle.
It is my hope that the flag display will draw attention to this period of our history and inspire us to learn more of our country’s struggle for independence and freedom.
The recognition of the hardships, deprivations, tenacity, valor and sacrifices in achieving our country’s liberties and freedom should command respect and enough gratitude from each of us to pledge ourselves to see that it is perpetuated. Our Patriots are but dust today but their spirit must not fade away. It is present in the voting booth, our freedom of speech, freedom of the press and embodied in the Constitution and Bill of Rights. Our Patriot Forefathers gave all of this to us, but with their gift we were given the responsibility of its defense. Past and present generations arose to the challenge again in the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the War Between the States, War with Spain, WWI, WWII, Korean, Vietnam, Gulf and Enduring Freedom Wars and the War on Terrorism.
When the annals of history are written, in the chapter on freedom, liberty and sacrifice, let it not be said that it was our generation that dropped the torch lit by our Forefathers in 1776.
God bless America !!!
Walter E. Dockery, Past President