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This spectacular flag is the first thirty-three star flag added to the Rare Flags collection.  Thirty-three star flags in general are very rare, especially compared to other star counts of the Civil War period (34, 35, or 36).  Thirty-three star flags were only official for two years during a pre-Civil War time where Americans were just beginning to make and use flags to represent their passionate feelings about the impending war.  This flag is one of the great survivors of the Civil War era.  The presence of the motto "PRESERVE THE UNION!" may be unique to any surviving American flag.  The phrase was a rallying cry for those Americans who did not want to see the Union dissolve into two separate nations, and it was on this platform that Abraham Lincoln was elected.  The symbolism in this flag runs deep. It's debatable whether or not what I describe here was fully intended by the maker of the flag, but given the consistent theme of the flag, to "Preserve the Union", I believe that much, if not all, of the symbolism was intentional.

The flag is homemade, possibly made for the election of 1860 or following the attack on Fort Sumter in April 1861.  It has the qualities of a political banner in the style of a flag. The flag itself well represents its motto. The canton, representing the Union, and the stripes, representing the Confederacy, are preserved in unity as one flag.  The pattern of the stars is the known as the "phalanx" pattern, which is a word that traces its roots to early military history, where soldiers would arrange themselves in a boxed pattern to protect the center.  Here, we see an outer box of slightly larger stars, surrounding an inner box of 13 stars (12 in the inner box, consisting of slightly smaller stars, and one large center star).  The symbolism is perhaps representative of protecting the ideals of the original 13 colonies.  The canton also sits on the red stripe, also known as the "war stripe", which is another very rare trait in early American flags.  While I believe that in some cases, on some flags, this is unintentional and simply an oversight by the maker of the flag, it's very likely that its use on this flag, at the commencement of war within the country itself, is intentional.  Although it's tempting to attribute the unusual 8 stripes to possibly be symbolic of the Confederacy, I believe the height of the stripes was simply based on the height of the stencils used to make the lettering, and the 8 stripes resulted in a well proportioned flag relative to the height of the canton. 

Taken together, the flag is highly symbolic and is one of the finest and rarest examples of an American flag that captures the dire circumstances surrounding the opening of a war that threatened to tear the nation asunder.  While printed 33 star flags are scarce, I've only seen a very small handful of 33 star flags with pieced-and-sewn construction.  There are some surviving examples which were later updated to 34, 35, 36 or other star counts during the period of the war and post-war reconstruction, but very few remain with 33 stars.  The phalanx pattern and large center halo star are also very scarce on sewn flags of any star count.  I only know of one other sewn flag, which is post-Civil War that has a large sewn haloed center star on it.  Center stars began to appear on printed parade flags with 30 stars, circa 1848-1850 (IAS-00238), and were a relatively new feature on American flags at the time when this flag was made. The star count was official from July 4, 1859 to July 4, 1861, though Kansas was admitted on January 29, 1861, so the nation actually had 34 states for more than 5 months of the official 33 star period. 


 
Learn more about flags of the Civil War. Star Count:  33 Stars

Dates:  1859-1861

War Era:  The Civil War

Statehood:  Kansas

Construction:  All Cotton, Hand Sewn

Catalog Number:  IAS-00300

Learn more about Center Stars.
   

Next:
48 Stars, Originally 35 Stars
Hand Embroidered Great Star


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