Since the year 1818, the national flag of the United States has contained 13 stripes, symbolizing the original 13 colonies, and a number of stars equaling the number of states in the country. During the Civil War, President Lincoln had to choose either to keep the existing U.S. flag or to reduce the number of stars on the flag to symbolize the secession of the Southern states. He chose to keep the flag the same.
All Civil-War era U.S. flags have thirteen stripes, alternating red and white. They also all have white stars on a blue field. The number of stars, however, changed twice during the war. At the beginning of the war, the number was 33. When Kansas was admitted to the Union in 1861, a 34th star was added. A 35th was added in 1863 for West Virginia.
Though the stars on the flag were most commonly arranged in a grid-like pattern, other star patterns did exist. Because flags were usually made by hand, either by family members or by volunteer organizations, we see some variation in flag design, both intentional and unintentional. For example, the 33-star flag sometimes had the stars arranged into one large star shape, called the Great Star Design. A variation of the 34-star flag was the Great Cluster Design. This design arranges the stars to form a Saint Andrew's Cross, an x-shaped design, and a Saint George's Cross, a plus-shaped cross. Variations like these were common but not officially sanctioned.
The Army supplied its forts with two sizes of flags. The larger flag was called the garrison flag. Forts flew the garrison flag during sunny days so that the flag could be seen from a great distance. The second flag was a smaller and more tightly sewn flag called a storm flag. If the day was rainy or the winds were high, the fort would take down the garrison flag and run up the storm flag.
At the start of the war, each Union Army company had its own flag under which it would go to battle. The number of flag designs soon became too great for field officers to keep track of. The Army, therefore, dictated that Union soldiers would carry only two flags into battle. The first was the Stars and Stripes, the official U.S. flag. The second was the regimental flag. If the regiment was comprised mainly of soldiers from a single state, the Army allowed the regimental flag to contain the state crest.
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