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A NATION DIVIDED

 

The 35th Star was added to our flag when West Virginia became a state on June 20, 1863.   Many people believe in error that the split in the Virginias was a direct result of differences in allegiances as our Nation entered civil war.  Actually, the differences between the two regions were more cultural than philosophical and had existed for many years before the Civil War began.

The rugged western regions of Virginia were settled by a hardy, independent breed of men and women, quite unlike the aristocracy that populated the rich plantations of the east.  These "frontiersmen" owned few slaves and survived primarily on farming and livestock.   By Virginia statute, slaves were taxed at a lower rate than were livestock; but were counted as "persons" when determining how state legislators would be apportioned.  This meant that the residents of the western area of Virginia paid HIGHER taxes, but received a LOWER degree of representation in the Virginia legislature.   Talk of separation had begun in this growing region as early as the 1820s, and the advent of steam shipping on the Ohio and Mississippi made western farmers less reliant on eastern shipping.  When Virginia voted to sever itself from the United States in 1861, inhabitants of the area not only opposed the action but held a citizens' convention to consider separation from Virginia and requesting of statehood from the United States.   The people of West Virginia voted 18,408 to 781 to establish their own state, separate from Virginia.  On April 3, 1862 they adopted a new constitution and two and a half months later were admitted as our 35th State.

 


"We, the people of South Carolina, in convention assembled, do declare and ordain....

that the union now subsisting between South Carolina and other states under the name of the United States of America is hereby dissolved."

December 20, 1860

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flag_csa.gif (5349 bytes)With that declaration, South Carolina attempted to remove itself from the Union.  States rights flags, consisting of a simple banner with a single large star in the center, were paraded through the cities to demonstrate the new freedom from the United States that South Carolina claimed.  By the following March five more states declared their independence, and by June 8th Tennessee became the 11th state to leave the union and join a confederacy under a new president and a separate flag. 

The admission of West Virginia more than two years after the battle at Fort Sumter called for a new design in the Union's flag.  Despite the fact that eleven states had declared themselves dissolved from the Union and were waging war with the United States under a new flag of 11 stars, President Lincoln refused to remove those stars from the flag.  Thus, for most of the Civil War, Union troops fought under a flag of 35 stars.

The Civil war was America's costliest and bloodiest war.  Much of the fighting was hand to hand as soldiers clashed combatively in close quarters.  Throughout the battles, the flag was a key focal point.

As we discussed earlier, the flag was an important part of victory or defeat.  To capture the flag of the enemy was tantamount to capturing an entire unit, and to preserve the flag of your own unit was like saving your entire unit from defeat.  So long as the flag waved, no matter how battered and scarred it might be, its mere presence signaled hope.

During the Civil War Congress established the Medal of Honor to recognize acts of courage and valor.  Of the 1520 Medals of Honor awarded:
326 were awarded for capturing the enemy flag
138 were awarded for actions involving the saving or planting of the Union flag.

cw_chickamauga.jpg (12538 bytes) This famous painting from the Granger Collection depicts not only the intensity of close combat at Chickamauga, but the importance of the flag leading the way for both sides of the battle.

As you can see from the Granger painting here, often the flags were very large so as to be highly visible.  A "color detail" was usually assigned to each unit for the express purpose of insuring that the flag was properly displayed at the head of the unit, and great sacrifice was made to insure the safety of the flag.  If you stopped in the archives to read the story of Arthur MacArthur's flag, you can see just how important the flag was to the brave soldiers...on both sides. 

flag_cav.gif (11232 bytes)The unwieldy size of the battle flags usually carried by infantry units wasn't suitable for the swiftly moving mounted cavalry soldier.  For this reason many of them adopted a different design for the flag...the SWALLOW TAIL flag, often with gold stars instead of white.  Flags such as this one became a cavalry tradition and continued to be used throughout the Indian campaigns in the west.  General George Custer and his cavalry carried this flag for decades after the Civil War.

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Before continuing on the tour, I'd like to invite you to join me in the archives for a truly inspirational story about:

Sergeant Carney's Flag

Just click on me at the left to hear a wonderful story about a real Civil War Hero.

 

Click on the NEXT arrow to go to the next page is this series on the history of our Flag.  If you ever get lost along the way, you can click on the compass to go to our hyper-linked Site Map for the Hall of Heroes.


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20th Century Flags

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[History of the Flag]  [13 Star Flag] [15 Star Flag] [Pre-Civil War Flags]
[Civil War Flags][20th Century Flags][Our 50 Star Flag] [Flag Day]
[Arthur MacArthur's Flag] [William Carney's Flag] [FDR's Flag of Liberation]


FLAG DAY           STATE FLAGS

How to Display the Flag The National Anthem The Pledge of Allegiance
The American Creed The Seal of our Nation Our National Symbol

 

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Sources:
OUR FLAG, Joint Committee on Printing, United States Congress. 1989
Chronicle of America 1997 Dorling Kindersley
Family Encyclopedia of American History 1975 The Reader's Digest Association, Inc.
The Citizens Flag Alliance, Inc.