Friday, September 12, 2014

A Thirteen-Star Flag from the Civil War

By Joseph Judge
Hampton Roads Naval Museum Curator

The museum always tries to highlight a unique artifact during the annual CPO Heritage Days event in August. This year we displayed one of the highlights of the collection, recently transferred to HRNM from the (now closed) Supply Corps Museum.

The artifact is a 13-star American flag, made during the Civil War. Gunner’s Mate James Smith made this flag while on board USS Hartford, Admiral Farragut’s flagship. Of course, the American flag carried 33 stars at the beginning of the war, and later more as Kansas and West Virginia joined the Union. But the impulse to celebrate the Revolutionary generation was strong during the crisis years of the Civil War. Both North and South looked to America’s eighteenth century for intellectual and emotional justification for the actions of the 1860s.

As for James Smith, little is known about the Sailor who decided to celebrate American history during America’s greatest crisis. A US Navy gunner’s mate named James Smith was at the Battle of Mobile Bay – but aboard USS Richmond, where he earned the Medal of Honor. The citation reads (in part): “As captain of a gun on board the U.S.S. Richmond … Despite damage to his ship and the loss of several men on board as enemy fire raked her decks, Smith fought his gun with skill and courage throughout the prolonged battle which resulted in the surrender of the rebel ram Tennessee and in the successful attacks carried out on Fort Morgan.”

It would be tempting, but unfortunately unjustified, to claim that the USS Richmond’s James Smith is the maker of the USS Hartford 13-star flag. A future, and very thorough, archival search will be required to establish a real connection, if one exists.

We do know how the flag came into the Navy’s collection. It was donated in 1991 by the former Chief of the Navy’s Supply Corps, Rear Admiral Daniel McKinnon, Jr. Admiral McKinnon was described by “The Supply Line,” a Navy newsletter of the day, as “a history buff” who “had been holding on to some treasures.” 


Anonymous said...

What are the dimensions of this flag, please? It was very common for small boat flags to carry only 13 stars, due to the lack of space in the canton.

Laura Orr said...

Good morning, the dimensions of the flag are 24" high x 37" wide. Thanks so much for your comment!