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This 13 Star American Parade Flag is one of the most poignant and historically fascinating parade flags one can encounter. Civil War era flags rarely have such precise history and personal provenance as this flag. The actual soldier who carried the flag and preserved it is unknown, but most likely he too was assigned to Company A, 12th New York Cavalry, and was captured along with Private William H. Courtney (Cortney) and imprisoned along with Private Courtney at the Andersonville Prison in Andersonville, Georgia.

During the Battle of Plymouth, North Carolina, Company A and Company F of the 12th New York Cavalry sustained significant losses in men killed, wounded and captured. Confederate forces under the command of Maj. Gen. Robert F. Hoke attacked the Federal Garrison at Plymouth, NC on April 17. On April 19, the Union Navy supporting the garrison was driven off by the CSS Albemarle. Confederate forces first captured Fort Comfort, driving the defenders to nearby Fort Williams. On April 20, 1864, Fort Williams also surrendered to the Confederate forces. According to records, 125 men from A and F Co. were captured during the four days of the battle between the 17th and 20th of April, 1864. Among those captured was young Private William H. Courtney, who at the age of 26 enlisted in the 12th Cavalry from his home in Oswego, New York. The tragedy that befell the men of these units is that they were captured and transferred to Andersonville, Georgia, the most notorious prison in the Confederate prison system. While in operation, the prison received over 45,000 soldiers and of those, 12,913 died of disease and starvation. During the summer of 1864, the soldiers suffered greatly from heat, disease and malnourishment. Within seven months, nearly a third of them died from dysentery and scurvy.  A Union soldier described his entry into the prison camp:

"As we entered the place, a spectacle met our eyes that almost froze our blood with horror, and made our hearts fail within us. Before us were forms that had once been active and erect "stalwart men", now nothing but mere walking skeletons, covered with filth and vermin. Many of our men, in the heat and intensity of their feeling, exclaimed with earnestness. "Can this be hell?" "God protect us!" and all thought that He alone could bring them out alive from such terrible a place. In the center of the whole was a swamp, occupying about three or four acres of the narrowed limits, and a part of this marshy place had been used by the prisoners as a sink, and excrement covered the ground, the scent arising from which was suffocating. The ground allotted to our ninety was near the edge of this plague-spot, and how we were to live through the warm summer weather in the midst of such fearful surroundings, was more than we cared to think of just then."

It was under these conditions that young Private William H. Courtney died on July 14, 1864. A fellow soldier and friend, unknown to history, carried this flag and wrote upon it Private Courtney's date of death and the grave number to preserve his memory and to one day present to his loved ones. While soldiers are known to have carried with them small parade flags, sometimes sewn into their uniforms, the survival of these flags, especially with such hand written provenance and historical significance is extremely rare. The wear and soiling of the flag are reminders of the horrid conditions the soldiers endured in the prison camp, making this small, beautiful flag one of the most personal and poignant relics to have survived the American Civil War.

Among the 125 men originally captured from A Co. and F Co., 12th NY Cavalry, 8 men escaped, 47 men were paroled and survived capture, and the remaining 70 men died in Confederate Prison in 1864 (1 at Charleston, SC., 4 at Florence, SC, and 65 at Andersonville, GA, most during the summer of 1864.)

1Kellogg, Robert H. Life and Death in Rebel Prisons. Hartford, CT: L. Stebbins, 1865.

Learn more about printed parade flags. Star Count:  13

Dates:  1864

War Era:  Civil War

Statehood:  Original 13 Colonies

Construction:  Printed Cotton

Catalog Number:  IAS-00169

Learn more about the presence of writing on American flags.

43 Star Grand Luminary
circa 1890

Except where cited otherwise, all content 2010-2020 by Anthony Iasso   

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