Happy Independence Day!

Happy 4th of July! We’ve made it a tradition to begin flying a historic American flag each July 4th. In 2018, it was the “Betsy Ross” flag. In 2019 we flew the Bennington Flag. Then came the Star-Spangled Banner and the Bunker Hill flag. This year we’re flying the flag that flew over Fort Sumter in 1961.

The Fort Sumter flag is a 33-star variant with the stars in a striking pattern. Twenty-five stars are arranged in a diamond centered in the canton with the remaining 8 placed in the four corners in pairs.

The historical significance of the flag is, of course, obvious. Two flags of this type flew over Fort Sumter during the bombardment marking the Civil War’s first engagement, the Garrison Flag and the smaller storm flag.

Major Robert Anderson was allowed to lower the flags and take them with him when he surrendered the fort on 13 April 1861. The stripes of the garrison flag were in tatters but in an impressive happenstance of symbolism, the canton, representing the union of the then 33 states, remained virtually untouched. The coincidence defies belief but certainly foreshadows the end of the war; that the union would persevere.

The storm flag, in better condition, became a patriotic symbol. Major Anderson brought the flag to a rally in New York City on 20 April. With more than 100,000 people in attendance, it was the largest gathering in the U.S. up until that time.

This flag was brought from city to city after this and used, not just to inspire patriotic fervor but as a fundraising tool. The flag was “auctioned” to raise money for the war with the understanding that the winner would donate the flag back to the country so the process could repeat itself in the next town. The storm flag became a famous and salient patriotic symbol for the Union over the course of the war.

Almost exactly 4 years after the surrender of Fort Sumter, Robert Anderson, now a Major General, raised the flag over the fort once again. Henry Ward Beecher, the main speaker at the event, expressed a hope now embodied in the flag.

…Terrible in battle, may it be beneficent in peace [and] as long as the sun endures, or the stars, may it wave over a nation neither enslaved nor enslaving…. We lift up our banner, and dedicate it to peace, Union, and liberty, now and forevermore.”

Rev. Henry Ward Beecher

Both flags are in the care of the National Park Service and the Storm Flag is on display at the Fort Sumter Museum.

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