Flags of the American Civil War period are among the most sought-after of all American flags. Prior to the Civil War, Americans rarely displayed the flag for personal use. The events of the Civil War marked a turning point in both the surge of patriotism and the production and display of the American flag. The flags of this period also featured a variety of star patterns, since the flag’s canton design was not regulated until the early 20th century.
Civil War-era flags span across three different star counts. The first flag of the Civil War had 34 stars, signifying the addition of Kansas to the Union. It was admitted on January 29th, 1861, about two-and-a-half months before the first shots of the Civil War were fired. Kansas was admitted to the Union as a free state, and the struggle between pro and anti-slave forces in Kansas played a major role in the eruption of the Civil War. Tension over free and slave states took root in Kansas, resulting in the violence known as “Bleeding Kansas,” which was practically a preview to the events of the Civil War. The 34-star flag officially flew from July 4, 1861 to July 3, 1863. However, with states actively leaving the Union, few 34-star flags were produced. Since the United States saw secession from the Union as illegal, the flag continued to bear the stars of all the states of the Union, including the southern states. This extremely rare 34-star flag features small stars arranged in a larger star pattern.
West Virginia joined the Union next on June 20, 1863 as the 35th state. 35-star flags were produced for less than a year and a half. As a result, they are extremely rare and desired among flag collectors. Additionally, the 35-star flag is the only star count that falls squarely into the active period of the Civil War. We at The Great Republic have sold very few 35-star flags, and whenever we do find them and offer them for sale, they are bought up quickly by avid collectors.
The last flag to fall into the Civil War period represents the addition of Nevada to the Union, with 36 stars. Nevada became a state while the Civil War was in progress, on October 31st, 1864. However, Congress did not officially add its star to the flag until July 4, 1865, as was common practice, which was several months after the war was over. So while many consider 36-star flags “Reconstruction flags” given their official fly time, the actual period of the 36-star flag spans almost six months into the end of the Civil War and the final surrender at Appomattox Court House. 36-star flags were officially issued to Army regiments that required new flags during those last six months of fighting. 36-star flags were also used in jubilant parades nationwide to celebrate the end of the Civil War, as well as in more solemn ceremonies mourning the death of President Lincoln and fallen soldiers. The 36-star flag flew until July 3, 1867.