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Great Stars in which the smaller stars are arranged to form a single large star, are among the rarest patterns found on early American flags. The height of the use of the Great Star pattern coincides with the period of the American Civil War.  To Northerners, the pattern symbolized their determination to preserve the Union, and demonstrated that every state, including the southern states in rebellion, were still part of the whole of the United States.  This spectacular 34 star flag dates to the opening years of the Civil War.  One would think that the simplicity of this pattern--a large star made of smaller stars--would result in designs of the type that are all uniform, but among the very few surviving Great Star flags that I'm aware of, each possesses its own unique variation on the theme. 

On this particular flag, the striking feature is the presence of four large center stars, surrounded by the Great Star of 30 smaller stars.  In many years of collecting, I've found that inevitably there are American flags with encoded symbolism in the designs.  There are obvious symbols, such as stars that form the peace symbol on protest flags of the late 1960's and early 1970's.  There are more subtle symbols such as three center stars that seem to form a Masonic compass.  When a flag has an unusual trait, such as this flag, it leads me to wonder if the maker intended some meaning beyond just an imaginative and unique design.  It's not possible to know for sure, but in this case it's very possible the four center stars represent the four "Border States" of Delaware, Maryland, Missouri and Kentucky.  Both the Union and the Confederacy contended for these states, hoping to sway them firmly into either camp.  Ultimately, all four remained loyal to the Union, but some of the states even sent troops to both the North and the South during the war from region sympathetic to one side or the other.  On many early flags, single large "Center Stars" often represent the state that is newly admitted the Union, and they are surrounded by rest of the field of smaller stars to represent the rest of the states.  Perhaps the symbolism of this flag is a welcoming, or a hope of unity, with the four contended states whose loyalties were most strained by the separation.  We will never know for sure what the flag maker intended by adding the four large center stars, but even our speculation into its meaning highlights a little known but historically fascinating dynamic from this profoundly difficult time in our nation's history.

The flag has all of the indications of being a manufactured flag made by any of a number of cottage industry flag makers at the opening of the war.  Its wool bunting canton and stripes, fine coloration, cotton stars, and hoist with metal grommets are all consistent with Civil War period construction. The entire flag is hand sewn. It is a beautiful and rare example of the type made some time during the first two years of the war.


 
Learn more about Great Star flags. Star Count:  34

Date:  1861-1863

War Era:  Civil War

Statehood:  Kansas

Construction:  Wool Bunting with Cotton Stars

Catalog Number:  IAS-00383

Click here to see a gallery of Great Star flags.

Next:
A Civil War Era 36 Star Flag
Homemade Medallion, Lancaster, PA


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