|Description and Photograph||
The flag of the Confederacy rose and fell in only four years. It arose over a prosperous, peaceful nation whose mothers sent their husbands and sons to die if need be, under its folds. And die they did, from the plains of Manassas to the fields of Pennsylvania, from Shiloh to Nashville, from the Wilderness to Appomattox.
The flag the Confederacy adopted as its National Standard on March 4, 1861 was first raised on Capitol Hill in Montgomery, Alabama. The honorable Jefferson Davis, ex-U.S. Secretary of War and new president of the Confederacy, invited Letitia Christian Tyler to raise the first official flag of the new Confederacy. Miss Tyler had been born in the White House, the capitol of the United States. She was the granddaughter of ex-U.S. President John Tyler. The seven star flag Miss Tyler raised that day has come to be known as the First National Confederate flag, or the Stars and Bars. The circle of seven stars in the canton represented the seven Southern States that had seceded up until that time: South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas. Lincoln’s illegal demand that the Southern States aid in subjugating her sister states forced another six states to secede. Virginia on April 17, Arkansas, May 6, Tennessee, May 7, North Carolina, May 20, Missouri, August 5, Kentucky, and November 5. A star was added to the flag for each new state that joined the Southern Confederacy.
Nearly every company and regiment that marched off to War was presented with a flag by the ladies of the town or county where the unit was raised or by the ladies of the town they were defending. These presentations followed a regular form, the men would be drawn up in formation and one of the ladies would make a presentation speech. The speech would generally exhort the men to defend the South and Southern womanhood’s honor to their dying breath, all couched in flowery prose. A typical flag presentation speech, taken from page 242 of the Southern Historical Society Papers follows:
Officers and Ladies of the First Regiment North Carolina Volunteers:
“It is with mingled feelings of pride and pleasure that I find myself addressing a North Carolina regiment upon the soil of Virginia—the home of Washington—and that, too, near the battlefield of Yorktown, where in the days of the Revolution the clarion voice of the Father of his Country was heard, leading our noble sires to glory, to victory and renown. Aye, it was on this spot, in the days that tried men’s souls, that the smoke of battle might have been seen ascending from the valley and the hill top; it was here that Cornwallis, the pet of the lion King of Great Britain, surrendered his sword to the leader of that little Spartan band who were then in mortal strife for their homes, their firesides and for liberty, that inestimable boon which they have given us as an inheritance, and which we so highly prize, that anathema would be pronounced upon any degenerate son who would essay to name its equivalent.
Is it not, my friends, a remarkable coincidence that you are here today, in this boasted age of progress in civil and religious liberty, near the same spot, prompted by the same motives and actuated by the same feelings that animated the breasts of your noble ancestors, in making red with blood the field of Yorktown and consecrating it to liberty, and as it was their mission then so it is yours today to lay bleaching upon the plains of Virginia the bones of the invader who is seeking to rob you of your birthright, to subjugate, devastate, lay waste and utterly destroy, aye, everything that is near and dear to the heart of an American freeman. Continue, my friends, to meet them as you have begun upon the threshold; meet them, as I know you will do, like men; let their blood be upon their own hands; let their graves be in Virginia.
As to how you have acquitted yourselves as soldiers thus far, I must be permitted to say that you have discharged your every duty with a conscientious regard for the welfare of your country, which will ever endear you to every true Southron. With characteristic patience and cheerfulness you have submitted to the many hardships and inconveniences which must ever be attendant upon the tented field; and you have yielded implicit confidence and obedience to the orders of your superior officers, which is the first duty of soldiers, and by so doing you have gained the applause of our entire army as being one of the best disciplined, best officered regiments now in the tented field; and your many friends at home feel that while you have a Magruder, a Hill, a Lee, a Lane, et als of the same stamp to lead you, that they have nothing to fear. The results of the battle of Bethel have spoken, and do speak for themselves; it was then that all the resources of your minds were called into requisition, and there was naught that you would not have cheerfully sacrificed to attain the ends of your superior officers, and give success and éclat to the confederate arms. And I trust I may be pardoned for mentioning the fact that I but echo the Bethel; they congratulate you, whose glorious privilege it was to participate in that ever to be remembered struggle; and they desire to assure you that Bethel Church will ever stand as a monument to the unflinching courage and bravery of the twin sister states of Virginia and North Carolina; and that it will be the pride and boast of your children in all time to come to say that on the memorable 10th of June, 1861, my father was at Bethel. Need I tell you that the struggle in which you are engaged is one of gigantic importance, and that the single issue presented to you is literally “liberty or death;” need I remind you that in this contest the God of battles has already given you unmistakable evidence that He is with you— “and if He be for you who can be against you.” Need I say to you that at dewy morn and sultry eve, the prayers of loved ones at home are offered up to the throne on high to guide, protect and defend each and every one of you, and if it be His will, when you have accomplished your mission here, that you may return in safety to the bosoms of your families and friends, whose hearthstones have been made desolate by the footfall of the invader—homes in the sunny South, where the best feelings of our nature have been won to cluster. And as an earnest that you have the approving smiles, tender sympathies and undying confidence of those noble Spartan women that you have left behind, they present to you this beautiful regimental flag, upon which you will find inscribed (by authority of the Old North State) the word “Bethel,” the talismanic influence of which simple word must ever inspire you with renewed vigor and courage; and they desire that you never cease to strike while Southern soil is polluted by the footprints of the invader; and, if needs be, that the ample folds of this flag may float gaily o’er the dome of the Federal Capitol.”
After this presentation a worthy, chosen for his oratory skills, would be chosen from the ranks to make a reply for the regiment.
“The officers and men of the First Regiment, North Carolina Volunteers, gratefully acknowledge the kind remembrance in which the ladies of Fayetteville have held them. No proof was needed to any Southern soldier that Southern women possess as well the zeal and patriotism which prompted such a gift, as the taste and skill which its workmanship displays. It is much, however, in alleviation of the necessary hardships of the service, far the greatest of which is the separation from our homes, and the fair spirits which minister there, to know that we are not forgotten, but that the pure and lovely women; whom it is our greatest glory to protect, are mindful of us in our absence. Something, perhaps, the regiment has done; if the opportunity occurs, it will gladly do, to justify, if possible, the estimation which this gift evinces.
The fair donors may rest assured that the regiment will return with the flag to North Carolina, if the regiment itself returns.”
The flag did return, but of the 800 men of the “Bethel Regiment” only 12 were left to surrender at Appomattox.
It is unknown what fair hands made the 5’ 6” by 7’ flag shown here, nor do we know what brave hands bore it, but we can discern much of its history by its configuration. The flag is made entirely of silk; the reverse is identical to the obverse shown here. The flag attached to the pole by means of a sleeve along the hoist edge. The canton bears eleven stars, which date the flag between May 20, 1861 when the eleventh state, North Carolina, seceded from the Union, and August 5, 1861 when Missouri, the twelfth state, withdrew from the Union. Each star is bordered with gold braid. The flag is a beautiful work of art in its own right, but what really sets it apart as a presentation battle flag is the painted motto “We Will Do Our Duty.” Notice the period at the end of the word Duty; this period served as an exclamation point during the era in which this flag was made. This noble declaration leaves no doubt that this extraordinary silk Confederate First National flag is true presentation battle flag.
The flag is in exceptionally good condition for a silk flag. The silk of the canton, the upper red bar, the middle white bar are virtually perfect. The lower red bar was deteriorating prior to professional conservation and the lower right corner is partially missing and what is left of that corner is fractured. This can be seen in the accompanying photograph. The flag has now been properly restored and conserved and is ready to hang. The painted motto needed no restoration at all and is in totally original near perfect condition.
The flag comes from the private collection of one of the most respected Confederate collections in the world. It has been microscopically and chemically analyzed to assure that it is an authentic flag from the War Between the States.