An Erie Flag
Nestled away in the Galena History Museum in Galena, Il is this wonderful gem. Though most of the artifacts and exhibits have to do with General Grant the War of 1812 is represented. The flag in the picture above survived the Battle of Lake Erie.
In 1812 US and British forces vied for control of the Great Lakes as the war raged on. The origins of the conflict lay in the murkiness of maritime rights and unresolved issues stemming from the Revolution. With Great Britain thousands of miles away, Canada became the main target of the US Army. With a long shared border made mostly at the time of lakes and rivers, the naval battles almost overshadowed the land battles.
In September 1813 the American Navy struck at the British on Lake Erie. Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry commanded, in his flagship the Lawerence, led the American fleet of 9 ships against a British squadron of 6 ships. Though outnumbered, the British outclassed the Americans in weaponry and training. For almost 4 hours the fleets engaged in a closely contested battle. The Lawerence took the brunt of the British fire, eventually leading Perry to abandon ship, but not before taking the flag with him. Raising that same flag on the Niagra, Perry took it as his flagship.
Perry doubled down and caused the British squadron to surrender. The victory was complete. In one of the more famous dispatches of the war, Perry exclaimed, “We have met the enemy and they are ours…” The British were forced to surrender Detroit and with it control of the Great Lakes.
At some point during the war Hezekiah Gear, a Galena resident was given the flag as an honor for his service during the war. Hezekiah brought it home with him when his service ended. From Lake Erie to Galena this flag certainly has a tale to tell.
In April 1775 when the American Revolution became an armed conflict the people of America were torn. For the most part, the conflict was not against the King or the Empire, but against Parliment. They saw themselves mostly still as loyal subjects and Englishmen.
In August of that year that the King issued A Proclamation for Suppressing Rebellion and Sedition. He formally declared the colonies in rebellion. The people in America who thought the king may be an ally, now realized he was NOT on their side. From there the true independence movement began to grow.
Many of the early flags of the rebellious colonies show the mixed emotions of the time. Feeling like they were still British, the Union Jack showed prominently in the corner of the flags. The solid colored field varied from colony to colony.
It was not until The Continental Congress passed the Flag Resolution on June 14, 1777, that the now familiar United States flag began to make an appearance. Thirteen white stars on a blue field, red and white stripes alternating. The idea of still being British was cast off as the new nation struggled for independence. A new flag symbolized a new destiny.
The flag in the picture above is one of the earliest surviving flags. It has been dated back to 1775-76 and was passed down through the hands of a Pennsylvania family. Reportedly it was flown in combat at the Battle of Monmouth in 1778. From that, it has taken the name of the “Monmouth Flag.”
“The Stainless Banner”
On May 1, 1863, the flag you see above became the official national flag of the Confederate States of America. The version seen in the picture above has a slightly different design for use as a naval ensign. The flag above flew over one of the ships of the Confederate Navy.
The name “The Stainless Banner” came from the large white field that takes up most of the flag. White, seen as a symbol of purity, was chosen by the designer to symbolize the “supremacy of the white man” and he referred to it as “The White Man’s Flag”. (Even typing his words makes my skin crawl.) That man, William T. Thompson, was a newspaper editor in Savannah, GA who also doubled as a blockade runner.
His design for the new flag was submitted to Congress and his newspaper was sued to rally support for the new standard. Eventually, thanks to the Richmond papers carrying his editorials, approval for the design gained momentum. Some have implied that he was the creator of the more familiar “battle flag” of the Confederacy but that preexisted the second national flag and was only used by Thompson.
When the Confederate Congress passed the official act naming that design as the national flag, it seemed well received by the public. Before long though it was thought to be, ironically, “too white”. Having the battle flag sitting on top of a white flag was sending a bit of a mixed message. A white flag generally indicated surrender. not a good thing to be flying over the battlefield.
In 1865, near the end of the war, the design was changed to include a red vertical stripe at the far edge. This “bloodline” symbolized those lost in the war.
The flag was last flown in an official capacity on the CSS Shenandoah that was based out of Liverpool, England. On November 7, 1865, it was lowered but lives on as a symbol. One thing is for sure, 150 years later the flag still has an impact.
The Rising Sun
It is known by several names but the most widely used is Hinomaru, “circle of the sun”. Like many flags through history, it has seen its share of good and bad. This flag has represented Japan since 1870. Even before that the sun motif was used to represent Japan and the history of the Japanese people. During WWII it became a symbol of empire and domination. Since the end of the war, it has become a symbol of a past that many would soon forget.
It has been a long road since the war ended. Mainly among the Japanese themselves who turned away from their militaristic past and have tried to distance themselves from it. For a period the flag was seldom used, almost hidden from sight but once Japan sought to rejoin the world it could no longer be hidden raising the question on the validity of having such a symbol representing their nation.
Protests at home and abroad have sought the removal of the flag for generations now. The issues of displaying it in their schools have divided the people. In many places across the country, it is never seen flying, even on national holidays. Yet there are many that see it as a symbol of pride and strength, and while many wrongs were done under it they question the validity of attempting to erase the history that it represents.
In August 1999 the Diet, Japan’s ruling body, officially passed legislation making the Hinomaru the official national flag of Japan. It would seem that it was decided that the best way to avoid repeating the past is to never forget it.
We all know the story. April 14th, 1865 the Civil War was all but over and President Lincoln decides (OK, Mary decides) that they need so enjoy a night at the theater. Originally General Grant and his wife we supposed to accompany them, but using many skills I assume he learned on the battle field, Grant was able to get out of going. Instead it would be Henry Rathbone and his fiance that would accompany the Lincolns to the Ford Theater and “Our American Cousin.”
Joining that night would also be John Wilkes Booth, a famous actor and Southern sympathizer that wanted Lincoln dead. His story goes well beyond the scope of this brief article, but the important thing is that during the play he found himself with unfettered access to the President’s box and the man himself. A small pistol in one hand and a dagger in the other he looked to “avenge” the Confederacy.
Sneaking into the box he moved behind Lincoln and fired his pistol, jumped onto the ledge of the box and by most accounts yelled, “Sic Semper Tyrannis!” and leaps from the box to the stage. It would have been perfect if he had not caught his spur on one of the bunting flags that hung on the outside of the box. That snag of his boot caused him to land awkwardly and severely injury his leg. From that point on the story is well-known.
In the photo above is the flag from the box that Booth snagged his spur on. If not for that flag and the injury that Booth sustained, it is very possible that he may have avoided capture. That makes that relic pretty darn cool.
This the monumental 100th post on this blog. That means we have reached almost a year of telling stories and sharing some of the military of this great nation. Thank you all for your support.
Flags have been in the news a lot lately, and oddly enough if you look back through you will see that we have been talking about flags before it became fashionable. See, flags have meaning, they are symbols. The problem is that sometimes the symbols don’t mean the same thing to everyone.
The flag in this photo above should be very familiar to you. Take a close look though and you will that it is a little different.
Did you see it?
There are 48 stars. See this flag is from the WWII era and for the most part during that time if you saw this flag it meant one of two things.
To our friends it was a symbol of hope, it was a symbol that the big dog had entered the fight and we were going to be doing everything possible to win the war. For ourselves, for our friends and for the sake of the world. Many Americans and our allies died for that flag and many more since have for the very same reasons.
To our enemies it was a symbol of dread. They say the flag and knew that the fight was on. We would not quit, we would not stop until they were defeated. Early in the war our enemies underestimated us and that was to their detriment. Many enemies died in the shadow of that flag, and they still do today.
So same flag different meanings. Weird how that happens, eh?
Thanks for the first 100. Stay tuned for the next 100.