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American Flag History

The National Flag
The Origin of The Stars and Stripes
Flags of the Confederate States
The President's Standard

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The National Flag

The National Flag of the United States of America, which is also the Ensign and the Merchant Flag, is known as "The Star-Spangled Banner", "Old Glory", or the "Stars and Stripes". The stars, white on blue, in the canton, represent the number of States forming the Union; this is now fifty, in nine alternate rows of six and five. The thirteen red and white stripes in the fly represent the original states from which the Union grew.

The U. S. Jack, sometimes called the "Union" and sometimes even the "Union Jack", is identical with the canton. The Warship Pennant bears seven stars, white on blue, at the head; for the rest of its length it is divided horizontally, red over white, and it ends in a long "swallow-tail".

The display of the Stars and Stripes is strictly regulated by the Flag Code. Except where for special reasons, as at the Capital, it is kept flying day and night, it is flown only during the hours of daylight. Solely as a signal of dire distress is it to be inverted, and no other flag, except during Divine Service, the Naval Church Pennant (a blue Latin Cross placed horizontally on a white field), may be flown above it. When the National flag is ceremonially paraded or hoisted or lowered, all present must face it and stand to attention: those in uniform salute, others place the right hand over the heart, men holding the hat in the right hand. Foreigners, however, should stand to attention. On suitable occasions the Pledge to the Flag is to be repeated:

I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and
justice for all.

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The Origin of The Stars and Stripes

When the American colonists rose in armed protest against the British Government, the emblem they first adopted signified both their unity and the loyalty, which they still retained towards the Mother Country. Their Great Union Flag, also known as the Congress Flag and the Cambridge Flag, bore thirteen red and white stripes, but the contemporary British Union Flag formed its canton. This was similar to the flag of the East India Company, but whether it was deliberately adopted from this is unknown. When, however, the Americans decided on a complete severance from Britain, they needed a new flag to symbolize their independence. While retaining the thirteen stripes in the fly, they replaced the Union in the canton by "thirteen stars white on a blue field representing a new constellation". The exact arrangement of the stars in the first American Flag is uncertain, but it is reputed to have been a circle so that one should have no precedence over the other. Many may refer to this style as the Betsy Ross flag.  

As new States were admitted to the Union, the number of Stars and Stripes was increased accordingly, and during the second Anglo-American war the flag displayed fifteen stars and fifteen stripes. It was the sight of this "Star-Spangled Banner" still flying, after a night's bombardment, over fort McHenry "in the dawn's early light" which led Francis Scott Key to compose what became the National Anthem of the United States. The increase in the number of stripes threatened however to destroy the flag's effectiveness. So, in 1818, congress decided to revert to the original thirteen stripes but to indicate the admission of a new State by displaying an additional white star in the canton.

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Flags of the Confederate States

During the Civil War the Southern Confederacy adopted a new flag which, while differing markedly from the Stars and Stripes, still generally resembled it in design. The Stars and Bars bore in its blue canton a circle of seven white stars symbolizing the first States to secede from the Union, but merged the red and white of the fly into a bold tricolor. This flag was found to resemble the Stars and Stripes too closely, and was therefore replaced by an emblem, which retained the traditional American colors but arranged them very differently. The Southern Cross, the Confederate Battle Flag, displayed thirteen white stars on a blue saltire, fimbriated in white, on a red field. As this could not be inverted in case of need as a flag of distress, it later formed the canton of a flag with a white field; then, lest this be mistaken for a flag of truce, a broad red stripe was added down its fly. The original Southern Cross is still used, unofficially, as the "Flag of the South".

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The President's Standard

The standard of the President of the United States is dark blue and bears, with in a circle of stars, one for each state, a replica of the design on the Presidential Seal. The American Eagle is shown with its head turned towards its right talon, which holds an olive branch, while the left talon holds a bundle of arrows - the emblems of peace and war. Above and beside the head are thirteen white stars, representing the Founder States of the Union, and a scroll bears the motto E Pluibus Unum, " One out of Many".

 History of Flags Used in the United States

St. George Cross
The design a simple red cross on a white background flag was carried to the New World by most of the early English explorers. The design itself has been in use since the crusades and traced back to 1277 in Britain. You can learn more about Saint George for whom the flag is named at Wikipedia.
kings colors flag The Kings Colors
Used by British colonial troops after 1743 this flag is a combination of the St. George Cross with the Scottish Cross of St. Andrew. This was the standard raised by the Jamestown settlers in 1607. Although very similar this is NOT the current British flag. The current British standard can be found here.

British Red Ensign
The Red Ensign or "Red Duster" is a flag that originated in 1707 under the rule of Queen Anne as the English ensign flown by the Royal Navy and later specifically by British Merchant Seamen (The British Merchant Navy). Corwallis surrendered under this flag at Yorktown in 1781.It is currently used as the civil ensign of the United Kingdom.

Colonel John Trumbull's painting, "The Death of Warren," now at the Yale University Art Gallery, shows the red Continental Flag to be one of those used by American forces at the Battle of Bunker Hill, June 17, 1775. American troops rebuffed the British Regulars three times stopping the British charge.
Named after Colonel Christopher Gadsden of South Carolina, this flag was flown early in 1776 by Commodore Esek Hopkins of Rhode Island, first Commander-in-chief of the Continental Fleet. Its inscription represented a warning by the colonists to the British.Also knows as the Don't Tread on Me flag, the Gadsden flag is a popular symbol even today for freedom in the U.S.
Grand Union
Margaret Manny created the first (unofficial) national flag of the United States. The American colonists' first hoisted the Grand Union flag on the colonial warship USS Alfred, in the harbor on the western shore of the Delaware River at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on December 3, 1775, by newly-appointed Lieutenant John Paul Jones of the formative Continental Navy. It was also raised in 1776 to celebrate the official status of the newly formed Continental Army by General George Washington, whose camp was in Cambridge. The flag is also known as the Cambridge flag or Continental colors.
Betsy Ross
The first official United States flag, adopted by an Act of Congress on June 14, 1777. According to legend, a group headed by George Washington commissioned Philadelphia seamstress Betsy Ross to execute their design for presentation to Congress. Though some historians dispute this legend Ross did indeed make flags, as evidenced by a receipt for the sum of more than 14 pounds paid to her on May 29, 1777, by the Pennsylvania State Navy Board for making “ships colours.” No official documentation has been found to confirm that Betsy Ross was responsible for creating the very first flag, but it is conceivable that Colonel George Ross—the uncle of Betsy’s recently deceased husband, John, recommended her for the job as a favor to his relative. 
The Bennington flag is a version of the American flag associated with the American Revolution Battle of Bennington, from which it derives its name.Believed by many authorities to be the first Stars and Stripes used by American land troops. Flown over the military stores at Bennington on August 16, 1777 when General John Stark's militia led Americans to victory over British raiding force. The original flag is preserved in the Bennington, Vermont Museum.
Guilford Courthouse
This unusual flag was made with thirteen 8-point stars in a wide field. Historical records report this flag carried by North Carolina militiamen at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse on March 17, 1781. The unique colors and dimensions are sometimes described as showing a lack of uniformity in a young nation at war, with a poor infrastructure and bad communication. However, it was common practice during the Revolution for military units to carry flags that featured common American symbols (such as stripes and stars), but to make them uniquely identifiable for use as a company or regimental flag. As such, this flag was probably never intended for use as a national flag.
Star Spangled Banner
Shortly before the War of 1812, two new states were added to the Union and a flag consisting of 15 stars and 15 stripes was created. The Star Spangled Banner, flying over Fort McHenry during a British naval bombardment, inspired Francis Scott Key to compose what later becomes our National Anthem. This design, born with the Second Flag Act on January 13,1794, is our only official flag ever to have more than thirteen stripes. The badly damaged flag now hangs in the Smithsonian but the damage was not all from the bombardment of Ft. McHenry. Learn more at The Star-Spangled Banner website from the Smithsonian.
Confederate Battle "Jack"
The "Jack" was the flag of the Confederate Navy. It is a rectangular rather than square flag and omits the thin white border around the outside. This flag was used mainly by the Confederate Navy but also by some ground troops. Some historians say that the battle flag was adopted because during the first contest of the Civil War troops became confused by the Stars and Bars and the Union flag looking similar in the fog of war. It is said many "friendly fire" incidents occured due to the flag's similarities.

Bonnie Blue
On September 23, 1810 Florida dragoons raised their Bonnie Blue flag over the Fort of Baton Rouge after its capture. Three days later the president of the West Florida Convention, signed a Declaration of Independence and the flag became the emblem of a new republic. With this rebellion in mind, this flag was used by the Republic of Texas from 1836 to 1839. On January 9, 1861 the convention of the People of Mississippi adopted an Ordinance of Secession. With this announcement the Bonnie Blue flag was raised over the capitol in Jackson. The Confederate government did not adopt this flag but the people did and the lone star flags were adopted in some form in five of the southern States that adopted new flags in 1861.
Stars and Bars
The first flag of the Confederacy. Although less well known than the Confederate Battle Flag, the Stars and Bars was used as the official flag of the confederacy from March 1861 until May 1863. The first iteration shown here has 7 stars representing the first 7 states to join the Confederacy. By 1863 the Stars and Bars had as few as 4 stars and as many as 17 stars.
Second Confederate
Adopted on May 1, 1863 this flag displays the Battle Flag or "Southern Cross" on the canton. The white field is symbolic for the purity of the cause which it represented.This second design was sometimes called "the Stainless Banner" and is sometimes referred to as the "Stonewall Jackson Flag" because its first use was to cover Stonewall Jackson's coffin at his funeral. The nickname "stainless" referred to the pure white field. This design was also used as the Confederate Naval Ensign between 1863-1865. The original flag is now on display in the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia.
Third Confederate
Due to the fact that the 2nd National's pure white field could be mistaken for a flag of surrender, on March 4, 1865 this last flag of the Confederacy was adopted. This design added a red bar to the end of the "Stainless" flag. This flag flew for thirty-six days in 1865 until the South surrendered on April 9th. Despite the short life the flag was reported in Richmond newspapers in December of 1864 and by January of 1865, and were flying over Richmond hospitals and units of the James River Squadron.
General Lee's Headquarters
This version of the Confederate Flag, with its unusual 13 star arrangement, was adopted by General Lee for use at his headquarters. The unusual star arrangement is believed to have been designed by his wife Mary to reflect the Biblical Arch of the Covenant. According to legend this flag was actually hand-made by Mary Custis and their daughters. The General's original flag is on display at the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia.
Civil War Flag (34 Stars)
During the Civil War period, the Union forces used four official flags... the 33, 34, 35 and 36 star U.S. flag. The 34 star U.S. flag was one of the flags flown most extensively during this time in our nation's history. From 1861 to 1863, it was the official flag of the United States.
Old Glory (48 Stars) -WW II
On July 4, 1912, the U.S. flag grew to 48 stars. This flag was official for 47 years, through two World Wars and the emergence of the United States of America as the leading nation of the world. No two incidents better reflects the courage and valor of those who fought and died than the raising of the 48 star flag over Mount Suribachi. This dramatic scene occurred on Iwo Jima in 1945 and is replicated forever as a statue near Washington, DC. This flag also flew on all U.S. warships during the battle of Pearl Harbor.
You can find all of these Historical U.S. flags and others in our Historial Flags shop.


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