Historic York County York, PA United States 717.502.1281
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Silk, Civil War Battle Flag of the Green Mountain Boys

Documentation Signed
Origin United States, Vermont
Period 19th Century
Materials Silk.
W. 91 in; H. 66.5 in;
W. 231.14 cm; H. 168.91 cm;
Creation Date 1861-1865 Civil War.

Frame Size (H x L): 66.5" x 91"
Flag Size (H x L): 53.5" x 79"

Entirely hand-sewn, silk, Civil War presentation battle flag of Vermont's Green Mountain Boys, with whimsical gold text surrounded by a southern-exclusionary count of 20-stars. A portrait of George Washington was painted on a separate piece of the same blue silk at a later date and appliqued within the ring of stars, covering the Green Mountain Boys text. This was probably done for a parade, in honor of the 1876 centennial of our nation's independence, or else to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of Washington's inauguration in 1889. Our conservation staff carefully removed the portrait to reveal the lettering underneath, then placed it on top of the field of stripes in the lower register.

The flag has a painted eagle on the reverse with an arch of 13 stars over head. It survives as one of the most rare and exceptional, American, Civil War flags in private hands.

The flag was discovered in a home in Washington, D.C., in an attic, by a woman who was cleaning out the attic in the estate of an elderly friend. The presence of the Green Mountain Boys text was unknown at the time, because the portrait of Washington had been appliqued on over top of it using the finest stitching that I have ever encountered on an early flag. The initial presumption was that the painting was original to the flag. I assumed that it was executed on a separate piece of fabric, simply because it was commissioned from an artist--perhaps a sign painter--who was located some distance from the town where the flag was being made.

A flag of this nature would have been made or purchased by local individuals in order that it could be presented to a local unit as it mustered for service and left Vermont for war. Presentation flags might be sewn by local women, or they might be purchased from a professional flag-maker, or they might be constructed in part locally and in part elsewhere. Any desired embellishment, in the form of fancy painted elements, might be commissioned from an outside source if the necessary skills were not present in the local community. So theoretically it was no great surprise to see a painting carefully appliqued in the center of the canton, on the blue same exact blue fabric, especially on a flag that was obviously produced in an especially rural area.

A flag collector that came in contact with the flag, following its discovery, automatically presumed that the 20 stars dated the textile to the period between 1818 and 1819, when we had 20 states. Given the entirely hand-sewn, silk construction and the use of gold stars, this was a logical assumption. But the painting of Washington exhibits characteristics peculiar to the Victorian era, in particular his rosy cheeks, and the painted eagle is not in a form that one would expect to find during the federal period. Federal eagles often have a turkey or snake-head form and are stylistically quite different on the whole than Civil War period eagle images. Further, the metallic paint used in the eagle and the stars was not what one would expect in the early 19th century. Such paint isn't seen regularly in American objects until the Civil War era and afterwards. And it was not what one would expect from a professional flag-maker in any period. Commercially-made examples would have gilded or gilt-painted stars, which are more refined. These were instead painted to look like gilded stars, which is consistent with Vermont's rural location. And finally, the silk appeared to be weighted with mineral salts or some other agent, that caused vertical splits and associated breakdown. This condition is common in post-1860 silk flags, but unusual in those made prior to that time. All of these traits pointed toward a Civil War date and the use of 20 stars as a Southern-exclusionary number.

Upon my recommendation, the flag was taken to a leading museum, where it was examined at a textile lab. During the examination, a lighted scope with a camera was passed down between the two pieces of blue silk that together composed the canton. Silk flags with painted elements usually employ two pieces of silk, because the pain soaks through to the other side. The two lengths are sewn back-to-back; that was the case with this flag. The scope revealed the final piece in the puzzle created by its construction and imagery: the fantastic, serpentine, "Green Mountain Boys" text behind Washington's image.

The 20 stars on this particular flag may represent the 35 total states between 1863 and 1864, less the 15 Slave States. Or it may represent the count of 36 states near the end of the war, less the 11 states that officially seceded by way of popular vote, ratified by the respective state congresses, less the 5 states which at that time were considered Border States and held a significant population that supported the Southern cause.

While the specific unit this flag was made for remains a mystery, as far as I am aware, this is the only known, Green Mountain Boys, Civil War battle flag in private hands.

Construction: Entirely hand-sewn silk canton and stripes with gold painted stars, text, and eagle. There are hand-sewn silk ties along the hoist. The portrait is painted in oil on silk.

Mounting: This is a sandwich mount between U.V. protective acrylic and 100% cotton twill. The black cotton has been washed to reduce excess dye. An acid-free agent was added to the wash to further set the dye and the fabric was heat-treated for the same purpose. Fabric of similar coloration was placed behind the flag for masking purposes. The mount was placed in a black-painted, hand-gilded and distressed Italian molding.

Condition: There is significant fading of the red stripes to a salmon color. As described above, the use of weighted white and red silk resulted in minor to moderate fabric breakdown throughout these two colors. There are several, period, stitched repairs. The seam between the two pieces of silk that form the canton has separated along the top. One of the silk ties along the hoist end (the red one) is probably a 19th century replacement. The condition of the flag is similar to many other silk battle flags of the period, most of which are made of weighted silk. The flag presents well and its great rarity warrants practically any condition.

Collector Level: Flags for the truest Patriots. My best offerings
Flag Type: Sewn flag
Star Count: 20
Earliest Date of Origin: 1863
Latest Date of Origin: 1864
State/Affiliation: Vermont
War Association: 1861-1865 Civil War
Price: By phone only, call (717) 676-0545 or (717) 502-1281
Styles / Movements Americana, Folk Art, Traditional
Dealer Reference Number 20j-806
Incollect Reference Number 113888
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