35 STARS IN A DOUBLE-ELLIPSE MEDALLION, 1863-1865, A FORKED SWALLOWTAIL GUIDON OF THE CIVIL WAR PERIOD, BROUGHT HOME BY GEORGE STONE, WHO RODE WITH THE 3RD, 14TH AND 18TH NEW YORK CAVALRIES:
35 star, swallowtail, Civil War guidon, with spectacular graphic qualities, presumed to have been brought home by Captain George Stone of Griffin Corners, New York (Delaware County), who served with the 3rd, 14th, and 18th New York Cavalries, as well as the 83rd U.S. Colored Troops. Acquired from Stone’s descendents, the flag, which is made of silk, has gilt-painted stars that are arranged in a stunning elliptical medallion, as well as a more prominent forked taper than some examples of its kind, which lends it a more whimsical appearance.
Stone mustered in at Elmira, NY with Company E of the 3rd NY Cavalry on August 22nd, 1861. After more than 150 engagements, he was discharged in order that he may recruit for the 14th NY Cavalry, which he joined as 1st Lieutenant of Company B on July 12, 1863 and served on staff duty. In November he was promoted to Lt. Colonel, in order that he may recruit for the 83rd U.S. Colored Infantry. In February of 1864, after the unit was raised, he requested a return to the 14th Cavalry and was installed in the field at the rank of 1st Lieutenant. On April 8th of that year, in just his third engagement, he was captured at Mansfield, Louisiana by the Confederate Army and imprisoned for just under seven months at Camp Ford, Tyler, Texas. Released in a prisoner exchange in October, 1864, he returned to service with Company B of the 18th Regiment, New York Cavalry, where he remained for the balance of the war. On June 28th of 1865, about a month after the last Confederate General surrendered, he was promoted to Captain of Company E of the 18th NY Cavalry. Detached from the main body in August to serve in command of the Arsenal at San Antonio, on the staff of General Wesley Merritt, he finally mustered out on the 31st of May, 1866, with the rest of the 18th, approximately a year after the war’s official end.
This guidon was found among the possessions of George Stone and acquired from his descendents. There are several possibilities regarding its origins, but the 18th New York Cavalry is the most likely source. West Virginia entered the Union as the 35th state on June 20th, 1863, and the 35th star was added to the flag on July 4th of that year. But a unit would not receive new colors unless it was deemed necessary, and while this particular flag has seen some degree of use, the overall condition could be considered excellent for a field-carried flag. So its use was apparently limited.
Though most flag-making that was not done under military contract would have included a 36th star after the addition of Nevada on October 31st, 1864, the 36th star was not officially added until July 4th, 1865 and stores of flags were such that it wasn’t necessary to produce 36 star flags for military use during wartime. Rare exceptions are known, but for all practical purposes, 36 star flags were not carried by Civil War regiments. In any event, 34 star flags were probably plentiful enough in stores that most war-production 35 star flags, produced for roughly a year-and-a-half, didn’t come into play until 1864 and 1865.
Another possibility is that the flag was acquired by Stone while recruiting for either the 14th NY Cavalry or the 83rd U.S. Colored troops. But since Stone joined the staff of the 14th just 8 days after the 35 star flag became official, it seems unlikely that he was presented with a new flag for his personal use as a newly promoted 1st Lieutenant. He may more likely have received it when promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel to recruit the 83rd, but the relationship of the star pattern on the guidon to others of the NY Cavalry units suggests that it belonged to the 18th NY. These facts are consistent with the theory that this is a late war flag. As Captain of Company E, he may have been presented with the flag when he mustered out in 1866 at Victoria, Texas.
Many New York units had mustered out immediately following Lee’s surrender and had turned in their colors to the State for preservation. A book entitled “Presentation of Flags of New-York Volunteer Regiments July 4, 1865, to the Governor” was produced by Lockwood L. Doty, Chief of Bureau of Military Records in Albany. The 18th Cavalry wasn’t back by that date, however, left behind in Texas to fulfill duties in a war that hadn’t completely ended, despite the official surrender of top Confederate brass. It is for this reason that the fate of the flags of the 18th were not recorded in the text. That said, two flank guidons from the Regiment are now held in the collections of the New York State Military Museum. These are not Stars & Stripes, but rectangular, blue flank markers with red painted and gilded insignia and gold fringe and are without company designations.*
The stars on the Stone guidon are beautiful beyond the measure of any other swallowtail guidon that I have either owned or seen offered for sale. This is because they are arranged in an upright, double-ellipse, instead the circular, double-wreath that represents the classic format on such flags during the Civil War period. In all, twelve identified, Stars & Stripes, Cavalry unit guidons are held in the New York State Military Museum collection. Of these, five have a very similar star configuration to this flag, if slightly more compressed and narrow, and five others were probably in the same format, yet have been deprived of their star fields due to fabric loss. Another slight difference in the Stone guidon is its more severe swallowtail, the crook of which comes nearer to the canton than other guidons I have seen of this period, but the flag is otherwise unmistakably related to the ten similar flags at the museum which belonged to other NY Cavalry units.
Some New York infantry and artillery regiments carried swallowtail guidons also, but the star patterns of most of these, held by the museum, have two stars instead of one at the top and bottom of the inner ellipse, as well as at the top of the outer ellipse. This flattens its points in such a manner that the star patterns are both distinctly different and less attractive. Of the remaining two Cavalry guidons that I have not mentions, one has the same, flattened elliptical pattern as the infantry and artillery guidons and the other has standard, circular wreaths and was therefore probably acquired from a different supply depot. It seems likely that it was the Philadelphia Depot that produced both varieties elliptical star patterns, as its national colors often had similarly distinctive, vertical, oval wreaths. The patterns were bound to change slightly from one order to the next, as the cantons were hand-painted. An example of such variance can be seen on many Pennsylvania national colors, which bear the state crest in their cantons. All manner of differences are seen in these hand-painted flags, even in their most significant elements, such as the color of the rearing horses that flank the central medallion.
More about George Stone:
George Stone’s leadership capabilities, sharp mind, and strong interest in civil engineering lent well to his 17-year post-military career in the railroad business in the American West, where he began with Union Pacific. Eventually settling in California, Stone became head of the Grand Army of the Republic for the California and Nevada regions and served as the Deputy Director of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion. Active in Republican politics, he was elected President of the Union League Club in San Franciso. Brevetted Brigadier General, Stone served as Adjunct General of the State of California from 1901 to 1904 and was appointed as Receiver of Federal Money of the U.S. Land Office in 1908, before being appointed by President Taft as Naval Officer of U.S. Customs at San Francisco in 1910.
Civil War period, military-issued Stars & Stripes flags seldom come available for sale in today’s market. Their rarity and desirability, as well as their beauty, especially the dynamic star configuration and profile of this particular flag, plus its association with George Stone, cause it to fall among the best Civil War examples that I have had the privilege to own.
Construction: The canton and stripes of the flag are made of silk, pieced with treadle stitching. The sleeve was created by folding back a section of the stripes and canton, which was bound so that a staff would slip directly through this open portion if the hoist. The stars are gilt painted and gold in color.
Mounting: This is a pressure mount between 100% cotton and u.v. protective acrylic. Some stitching was used along the hoist for additional support. The background fabric was washed to reduce excess dye. An acid-free agent was added to the wash to further set the dye and the fabric was heat-treated for the same purpose. The mount was placed in an outstanding gilded frame that dates to the period between 1830 and 1870.
Condition: There are various losses throughout, the most significant of which is at the top, fly-end corner. If you desire to own a military-issue, Civil War-carried flag and have reservations about the condition, however, put them aside now. This is exceptional condition for such a flag that was produced almost 150 years ago, during the bloodiest war ever witnessed on American soil. And this fact is particularly true for land-use, Union, Civil War battle flags and guidons, which, like this flag, were made of silk with painted stars and other elements. Use is one reason for losses and another is the acidity of paint and weighting agents in the silk fabric. If you have ever walked into an armory and seen the state of Civil War period Union flags rolled on their staffs and displayed in glass cases, know that a combination of hard outdoor use, manner of construction, and manner of storage accounts for their present condition, which, more often than not, is fragmentary and in no way comparable to the state of this particular swallowtail guidon.
* source: http://www.dmna.state.ny.us/historic/btlflags/cavalry/18thCavMarkers.htm