A brief American flag history from 1777-1927 is presented in celebration of Independence Day. In the March 1927 issue of Proceedings, an article was published with a chronology of some “firsts” for the American flag. Another “first” not included in the following article: On July 4, 1777, John Paul Jones and the crew of the Sloop-of-War Ranger hoisted the first “Stars and Stripes” flag to be flown on board a continental warship.
Adventures 0f “Old Glory”
By William E. Beard
The flag of the United States, adopted June 14, 1777, was thereafter in the Revolution thirteen stars and thirteen stripes. The War of 1812 was fought under a flag of fifteen stars and fifteen stripes. Effective July 4. 1818, the original number of stripes, thirteen, was restored, and the number of stars was made to depend upon the number of states. The flag of the Mexican War bore twenty-nine stars; that of the Civil War, thirty-one to thirty-five; of the Spanish American war, forty-five, and of the World War, forty-eight.
Displayed in battle for first time. The United States flag was displayed in battle for the first time on August 3, 1777, at Fort Stanwix, or Fort Schuyler (the present site of Rome, New York), by the command of Colonel Peter Gansevoort on the appearance of a force of British, Tories and Indians led by Colonel Barry St. Leger, who was acting in concert with Burgoyne in the latter’s ill-fated invasion of New York. The record reads: “Aug. 3d. Early this morning a Continental flag made by the officers of Colonel Gansevoort’s regiment was hoisted and a cannon levelled at the enemy camp was fired on the occasion.” The improvised flag continued to flaunt a defiance to St. Leger’s blood curdling threats, though the fort was closely beset and an expedition commanded by Gen. Nicholas Herkimer failed, after a furious woodland battle, to relieve it. The siege was not raised until August 22, 1777, when the enemy decamped on the approach of an American brigade led by Arnold. The brave Gansevoort died in 1812 still remembered as “The hero of Fort Schuyler.”
Flag’s first salute from a foreign power. The first salute for the flag from a foreign power was given by the French Admiral, La Motte Piquet, on February 14, 1778, in Quiberon Bay on the coast of France, the flag saluted being that of John Paul Jones’ famous ship, Ranger.
Ranger, 13th. February, 1778, off Quiberon.
My Dear Sir: You will confer a singular obligation upon me by presenting my respects to the French Admiral whom I mean to salute with thirteen guns under American colours provided he will accept the compliment and return gun for gun-this proposal I hope will be the more acceptable as it may be a prelude to future amity between the United States and his court.
I shall be happy to see you here as soon as possible after you have the Admiral’s answer; meantime pray excuse this trouble.
I am, my dear sir, with sentiments of esteem and respect, Your very obliged and obedient
Most Humble servant,
Jno. P. Jones.
(William Carmichael, American Representative at Quiberon.)
Replying to Jones’ proposal the French admiral offered to return a salute of nine guns, four less than the number given, or the salute he was authorized to give an admiral of Holland, or any other republic. “After a very particular inquiry on the 14th, finding that he really told the truth,” Jones’ statement says, he decided to accept the nine gun salute, and after sunset that day, the movements of the Ranger being delayed by contrary winds, the guns of the historic sloop-of-war roared thirteen times in honor of the French admiral, the latter’s fleet replying with nine guns.
The flag carried around the World. The flag was first carried around the world by the Columbia, the ship whose name is perpetuated by the great river of the northwest. The vessel, commanded by Captain John Kendrick, and the sloop Washington, Captain Robert Gray, sailed from Boston September 30, 1787, doubled the Horn and spent the winter of 1788-1789 in Nootka Sound. Gray, now in command of the Columbia, then sailed for Canton, China, with the furs they had collected, selling the furs there and taking on a cargo of tea. The Columbia reached Boston August 10, 1790, “having carried the thirteen stars and thirteen stripes for the first time around the world.”
Flag hoisted in Louisiana December 20, 1803. Writing from Martha’s Vineyard, near Natchez, Miss., September 27, 1843, to present to the editors of the Concordia, La., Intelligencer some matters connected with the history of Louisiana, John F. H. Claiborne, said:
On the 17th of September, 1803, Mr. Jefferson communicated this treaty [the Louisiana Purchase treaty] to the Senate. It was speedily ratified, and Wm. C. C. Claiborne, then Governor of the Mississippi Territory and General James Wilkinson were appointed to receive the provinces, which were still in the hands of Spain, owing to the non-compliance of France with certain stipulations of the treaty of St. Ildefonso. The government of Madrid threw every obstacle in the way of the American diplomatists, and its Minister at Washington, the Marquis de Caso Yrujo, remonstrated earnestly against the transfer, in the name of his King, as being in direct contravention of the treaty of St. Ildefonso, and upon the ground that the title to Louisiana was still in the Crown of Spain. Mr. Madison [Secretary of State] communicated these remonstrances to M. Pichon, ambassador from the French republic, and received from him every assurance that his government guaranteed the treaty, and would allow no obstacle to its execution. The impression generally prevailed that the Spanish authorities would resist the delivery of the province, and, on the 24th October, 1803, Mr. Madison thus wrote to Mr. Monroe, “It remains to be seen how far Spain will persist in her remonstrances, and how far she will add to them resistance by force. Should the latter course be taken, it can lead to nothing but a forcible for a peaceable possession. Having now a clear and honest title, acquired in a mode pointed out by Spain herself, it will, without a doubt, be maintained with a decision becoming our national character, and required by the importance of the object.”
In pursuance of the resolution so calmly, yet firmly expressed in this dispatch, the American Commissioners were instructed to get possession at all hazards; to seize New Orleans by a coup de main, if necessary, and for this purpose the regular troops at Fort Adams were placed at their disposal, and the militia of Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, and the Mississippi Territory ordered to be in readiness. A detachment of troops from Tennessee descended to Natchez, eager for the contest, for the whole west was embittered against the Spaniards, owing to the exactions levied on its commerce. No occasion, however, arose for its services. Before the Commissioners reached New Orleans, the Spanish authorities had surrendered the province to M. Laussat, colonial prefect and commissary of the French Republic. On the 20th December, 1803, he formally transferred it to the American Commissioners, and the flag of the Union was, for the first time, unfurled in the city of New Orleans.
St. Louis under three flags in one day. The formal transfer of Upper Louisiana did not take place until nearly three months after the raising of the United States flag in New Orleans. When the time arrived for its tranfer to the United States, the transfer of sovereignty from Spain to France remained to be made, and Captain Amos Stoddard, U.S.A., who had been assigned to receive the country from France, was delegated by the latter country to represent it in the transfer from Spain. The ceremony took place at St. Louis. During the morning of March 9, 1804, the Spanish flag was hauled down and that of France was raised. Major H. M. Chittenden’s account says:
The people, although conscious that the sovereignty of France was being resumed but for a moment and simply as a necessary formality in the final transfer, nevertheless could not restrain their joy at seeing float over them once more the standard which even forty years of the mild sway of Spain had not estranged from their memories. So deep was the feeling that when the customary hour came for lowering the flag the people besought Captain Stoddard that it might remain up all night. The request was granted and the flag of France floated for twenty-four hours over the city from which it was about to be withdrawn forever.
The following morning, March 10, 1804, the French flag was lowered and in its place that of the United States was raised, waving for the first time over Upper Louisiana.
Waves from old world fortress. The Stars and Stripes waved for the first time from an old world fortress on April 27, 1805. A half dozen marines, a handful of cannoneers, and some thirty odd Greeks, led by Lieutenant Presley N. O’Bannon, U. S. Marine Corps, a Kentuckian, stormed a battery defending the city of Derne, Tripoli, and captured it. O’Banncon planted the American flag upon the ramparts of Derne, and turned the captured battery on the fleeing enemy. O’Bannon’s ashes now rest in the state cemetery at Frankfort, KentuckY. The historic engagement in which he figured was the climax of the activities of General William Eaton in Tripoli.
Francis Scott Key’s “Star Spangled Banner”. At sunrise, September 13, 1814, the bombardment of Fort McHenry, Baltimore, by the British fleet began, to continue for twenty-five hours, the original “Star Spangled Banner,” which floated over the fort, being cut eleven times by British shot. It was from the deck of one of Ferguson’s Norfolk packets, in plain view of Fort McHenry, that J. S. Skinner, American agent for flags of truce, and Francis Scott Key, Washington attorney, present to secure the release of Dr. William Beans, who had been taken captive on the British retreat from Washington, witnessed through an anxious day and night “the rocket’s red glare” and “the bombs bursting in air.” “And,” says an account written by Mr. Skinner over seventy-five years ago, “the song [the national air] which was written the night after we got back into Baltimore, in the hotel then kept at the corner of Hanover and Market Streets, was but a versified and almost literal transcript of our expressed hopes and apprehensions through that ever memorable period of anxiety to all, but never despair. Calling upon its accomplished author the next morning he handed it to the undersigned, who passed it to the Baltimore Patriot, and through it to immortality.”
Raised over the Halls of the Montezumas. During the night of September 13, 1847, General Santa Anna with his troops abandoned the city of Mexico, the castle of Chapultepec, two miles distant, having been stormed and carried during the day by the troops of Pillow’s and Quitman’s divisions. Early in the morning of the fourteenth, General John A. Quitman marched his column to the grand plaza of the city. While the division was being formed in the plaza, several non-commissioned officers carrying regimental colors made a break for the palace to hoist them there. “No, my brave fellows,” cried the General, “take back your colors. The first flag on that palace must be the flag of our country.”
Captain Benjamin Stone Roberts, a Vermonter, of the Mounted Rifles, who had led the advance of Quitman’s storming party at Chapultepec, was directed by General Quitman to bring forward a stand of national colors and plant them on the palace. The flag first raised over the “Halls of the Montezumas” was that which had been carried at Chapultepec by Quitman’s storming party. At precisely 7:00 A.M., September 14, 1847, it was saluted by the division, and an hour later, the commander-in-chief, General Winfield Scott, accompanied by a brilliantly accoutred staff and escorted by cavalry entered the city with the band of the Second Dragoons playing “Hail Columbia.” General Scott’s staff that day included among others Mansfield Lovell and Cadmus M. Wilcox, both lieutenants, later to become major generals in the Confederate Army.
Jurisdiction of country follows flag. In 1858, England’s activities against the slave trade were extended to the waters about Cuba, the only market remaining to the slave trader, and in the course of operations in that quarter American merchant vessels were repeatedly halted by British gunboats, some of them by gun fire, boarded and searched by British officers. By a treaty of 1842, the United States and Great Britain were committed to the maintenance of a blockade against slavers along the coast of Africa, but that treaty contained no provision for the search of each other’s ships. The action of the British gunboats resulted in a storm at Washington. There was vigorous agitation in Congress, remonstrances were addressed to the British government against these violations of American rights of sovereignty, and a naval force was ordered to Cuban waters with directions to protect all vessels of the United States on the high seas from search or detention by war ships of any other nation.
On June 16, 1858, the United States Senate in a resolution regarding the “British outrages,” announced the principle:
Resolved (as the judgment of the Senate) that American vessels on the high seas, in time of peace, bearing the American flag, remain under the jurisdiction of the country to which they belong, and therefore any visitation, molestation, or detention of such vessel by force, or by the exhibition of force on the part of a foreign power is in derogation of the sovereignty of the United States.
The resolution was one which had been prepared by the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, and was introduced by Senator James M. Mason of Virginia, who, it will be recalled, three years later, with John Slidell, was taken from the British mail steamer Trent by officers of the U.S.S. San Jacinto, while en route to Europe as Confederate Commissioners respectively to England and France, but released on remonstrances from Great Britain.
The protests of the United States in 1858 put a stop to the searching of American ships by British officers, but the Senate resolution was revived in 1873, and cited by President Grant, when the Spanish gunboat Tornado seized the Virginius and carried her into Santiago, where a number of her passengers and crew were summarily executed.
“Star of the West’s” flag fired on. Six days after the formal secession of South Carolina from the Union, Major Robert Anderson, commanding the post, suddenly tranferred the garrison of Fort Moultrie, Sullivan’s Island, Charleston harbor, to Fort Sumter, out in the harbor. The move was the result of his fears that his inadequate force, two companies of the First U.S. Artillery, would be attacked by South Carolina troops. Early in January, by direction of Lieutenant General Winfield Scott, general-in-chief of the Army, the chartered steamer Star of the West was secretly dispatched from New York to Charleston carrying provisions, ammunition and 200 recruits to reenforce the garrison of Fort Sumter. Just before day on the morning of January 9, 1861, the relief vessel while lying off the bar at Charleston harbor was discovered by a steamer on guard there. The latter, receiving no answer to her signal lights, promptly steamed up the main ship channel of Charleston harbor, firing rockets and burning lights as she went. The Star of the West crossed the bar and followed her in.
When the Star of the West had arrived within a mile and three-quarters of Fort Sumter, a shot across her bow, a signal to stop, was fired by a masked battery near the north end of Morris Island, about five-eighths of a mile distant. The Star of the West had entered the harbor with the American flag flying from her flagstaff, and at the sound of the shot a full sized garrison flag was displayed at her fore, the vessel meanwhile, however, proceeding on her way. The masked battery, near which was flying a red palmetto flag, then began firing at the vessel. Most of the cannon balls passed over the Star of the West, one just missing the machinery, another striking a few feet from the rudder, while still another, a ricochet shot, struck the vessel in the forechains two feet above the water line. Deeming it impossible to take his command to Fort Sumter, Lieutenant Charles R. Woods, Ninth Infantry, commanding the relief expedition, ordered the ship to turn about and get out of the harbor before her retreat was cut off. The Star of the West reached New York without mishap three days later.
The War Department at Washington characterized the shots of the Morris Island masked battery at the Star of the West as “an act of war.” On the other hand Governor Francis W. Pickens of South Carolina maintained that the relief expedition was a hostile act toward South Carolina, and that the shots of the battery were entirely justified.
Tragic lowering at the flag at Fort Sumter. On Sunday afternoon, April 14, 1861, Major Robert Anderson and the garrison of Fort Sumter marched out of the works with colors flying and drums beating, bringing away company and private property, and saluting the flag of the fort with fifty guns as it was being lowered. The defenders of the fort had capitulated the day before after enduring the bombardment of the Confederate batteries about Charleston harbor for thirty-three hours. Generous terms had been granted by General G. T. Beauregard, Confederate commander, in recognition of the little garrison’s gallant defense. In connection with the bombardment the casualties on both sides had been trivial, but in the salute to Fort Sumter’s flag as it was being hauled down, the premature discharge of a gun and the explosion of a pile of cartridges resulted in the death of one of the United States soldiers, the first fatality of the Civil War, and the wounding of five others. General Beauregard ordered the dead soldier bried in the parade of Fort Sumter with all the honors of war, and soldiers of the Palmetto Guard (South Carolina) prepared an appropriate marker for his grave.
“Old Glory” raised over Nashville. On Tuesday morning, February 25, 1862, a gunboat and a number of transports loaded with troops of Nelson’s division of the Army of the Ohio reached Nashville; Fort Donelson, a hundred miles down the Cumberland the main defense of Tennessee’s capital having surrendered to General U. S. Grant nine days before. When the transports landed at Nashville, the Sixth Ohio Volunteers disembarked and marched up Cedar Street to the state capitol, where General William Nelson, in the name of the United States took military possession of the building at 8:45 o’clock. A few minutes later a United States flag floated from the flagstaff of the capitol. The first flag hoisted was that of the Ohio regiment, but directly it was hauled down and in its place went up “Old Glory.” “Old Glory” was so named by Captain William Driver, Salem, Massachusetts, sea captain, in 1831, when this particular flag was presented him by a company of ladies in recognition of an act of kindness and was hoisted by him on his ship, the brig Charles Doggett. Captain Driver, at the time of the occupation of Nashville, retired from the sea and residing in the Tennessee city, had sacredly preserved his flag during the exciting times of secession and had the distinction of raising it with his own hands over the state house. Nashville thus became the only City over which the original “Old Glory” ever floated as an emblem of war.
Stars and Stripes restored to Fort Sumter. Fort Sumter, taken by the Confederates on April 14, 1861, was successfully defended by them, despite the most vigorous efforts to recapture it by the land and naval forces of the United States, until February 17, 1865, when it was evacuated. In honor of the restoration of the Stars and Stripes to the fort by that time reduced by repeated bombardments to a mere earthwork, it was ordered that on Washington’s birthday, 1865, a national salute be fired at West Point and at every fort, arsenal and army headquarters in the Union. General Order No. 50, Ajutant General’s Office, Washington, Issued March 27, 1865, in further celebration, provided:
That at the hour of noon on the 14th day of April, 1865, Brevet Major General Anderson will raise and plant upon the ruins of Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor, the same U.S. flag which floated over the battlements of that fort during the rebel assault, and which was lowered and saluted by him and the small force of his command when the works were evacuated on the 14th day of April, 1861.
That the flag, when raised, be saluted by 100 guns from Fort Sumter, and by a national salute from every fort and rebel battery that fired upon Fort Sumter.
The order further provided for the delivery of a public address by the Reverend Henry Ward Beecher, as a part of the ceremomies.
American flag raised over Santiago. The city of Santiago, Cuba, namesake of the patron saint of Spain became the scene of the military operations of the Spanish American War on the western hemisphere when, on a beautiful May morning (the nineteenth), the Spanish fleet, commanded by Rear Admiral Pascual Cervera which had sailed from the Cape Verde Islands on April 29, 1898, anchored in the harbor there. Blockade of the mouth of the harbor by the American fleet began as soon as the fleet’s presence there was discovered and stirring events began to occur: Lieutenant Richmond Pearson Hobson’s effort to seal the exit of the harbor with the Merrimac; the landing of Major General W. R. Shafter’s army of 17,000 officers and men at Daiquiri; a fight at Las Guasimas and battles at San Juan Hill and El Caney. On July 3, in obedience to orders from Havana the Spanish fleet went out of the harbor, its admiral leading the way in his flag ship, and was forthwith destroyed by the American warships. On July 17, the city of Santiago was surrendered. Of the events attending the lowering of the Spanish flag at Santiago, where it had waved so long, the journal of Lieutenant Jose Muller Y Tejeiro, second in command of the Spanish naval forces in Santiago province, reads:
July 17 -In conformity with the terms of the capitulation, the surrender of the city to the American army took place today. At 9 A.M. the Spanish flag was hoisted on Punta Blanca Fort and saluted by twenty-one guns; shortly after it was lowered. At 9:30 Generals Toral and Shafter, commanders-in-chief of the Spanish and American forces, respectively, the latter accompanied by his staff and many of the commanders and officers of the American fleet, witnessed the marching by, under arms, of a company of the former, representing all the Spanish forces as it was difficult to assemble them. The American forces presented arms and beat a march.
The heights of Conosa were the theater of this sad scene. The morning was very beautiful, and the clearness of the sky formed a singular contrast With the gloom that enwrapped the spirit of our troops. When the march was ended, the American forces remained at their posts, while ours left the trenches and proceeded to the city for the purpose of depositing their arms.
The forces of the Socapa and Punta Gorda were taken by sea, in the steamer Reina de Los Angeles, to Las Cruces pier, and from there they marched to the Artillery Park, where they delivered arms and ammunition. Without them, they proceeded to the camp outside of the city, where all the forces were to assemble until the arrival of the vessels which, as agreed upon, were to convey them to Spanish soil. The other troops did the same thing, after depositing their arms at points designated beforehand.
The troops having evacuated the city, 1,000 men of the United States Army entered it, hoisting the flag of that nation at the Palace and Morro Castle. It [the flag at the Palace] is the only flag that has been raised in the city. No insurgent forces, nor individuals belonging to the same have entered the city with arms. The situation remained the same till the day when the army embarked for Spain.
The American flag was raised over the governor’s palace in the city exactly at noon, in the presence of a crowd estimated at 12,000, the American troops participating in the ceremony being the Ninth Infantry and a squadron of the Second Cavalry. Capron’s Battery fired a salute of twentyone guns as Captain William H. McKittrick hoisted the Stars and Stripes over the palace, and the Sixth Cavalry band played the national air.
Surrender of Manila. The United States headed for the acquisition of its Philippine question when on April 24, 1898, John D. Long, President McKinley’s Secretary of the Navy, cabled Commodore George Dewey at Hong Kong to proceed at once to the islands and capture or destroy the vessels of the Spanish fleet. One week later the future admiral was able to send a message to Hong Kong to be cabled to Washington announcing that the orders of April 24 had been executed to the letter. However, it was not until August 13, the day after the protocol of agreement embodying the terms of peace between Spain and the United States was signed, that the Stars and Stripes succeeded the flag of Spain over Manila. The news of the city’s capture was conveyed in the following official dispatch:
Manila, August 13. Secretary Navy, Washington: Manila surrendered today to the American land and naval forces, after a combined attack. A division of the squadron shelled the forts and entrenchments at Malate on the south side of the city, driving back the enemy, our army advancing from that side at the same time. City surrendered about 5 o’clock, the American flag being hoisted by Lieutenant Frank H. Brumby. About 7,000 prisoners were taken. The squadron had no casualties; none of the vessels were injured.
On August 7, General Wesley Merritt and I formally demanded the surrender of the city, which the Spanish General refused.
Lieutenant Brumby, who raised the flag, was Commodore Dewey’s flag lieutenant.
Carried to North Pole by Peary. “Indian Head Harbor, via Cape Ray, N. F., September 6, 1909. To Associated Press, New York: Stars and Stripes nailed to North Pole. Peary.” Robert E. Peary, civil engineer, U.S. Navy, reached the North Pole, a goal he had sought for twenty years, on April 6, 1909, for which achievement the United States government gave him the rank of rear admiral to date from the day of his discovery of the Pole, with the highest retired pay of the grade under the existing law. He was also given the thanks of Congress.
The flag which Peary carried to the Pole was a silken American flag, one given him by his wife fifteen years before, and had been carried by him on all his polar expeditions after he had received it. At each of his “farthest norths,” he had left a fragment to mark the spot. By the time it reached the Pole, his account says, the flag was “somewhat worn and discolored.”
Four other flags shared the distinction with the Stars and Stripes of going to the North Pole and waving for a space over the icy wastes. They were the Delta Kappa Epsilon colors, the World’s Ensign of Liberty and Peace, the Navy League flag, and the Red Cross flag.
With the explorer at the time were Matthew Henson, colored, and four Eskimos. When he planted the American flag on the top of the world, Peary records that Henson, under his instructions, led the Eskimos in three rousing cheers, following which ceremony the discoverer shook hands all around with his companions.
Between the ice blocks of a pressure ridge he deposited in a glass bottle a diagonal of his travel worn flag with records of his discovery and claims to possession of the entire region in the name of the President of the United States. 1
Waves over parliament building. On April 20, 1917, the flag of the United States waved from the victory tower of the parliament building in London, being the first foreign flag to fly there. On that day the British people and the Americans then resident in London celebrated the United States’ partnership in the World War, entered into on April 6. A religious service was held at St. Paul’s Cathedral, attended by King George, Queen Mary, other members of the royal family of England, the official heads of the British government, and an immense congregation. There was a great display of American flags in London, and in other cities and towns as well. “Old Glory” floated that day not only from the tallest spire of the parliament building but also from all government buildings in the British capital.
Even before that formal welcome of the United States into the partnership of blood and death and ultimate victory, the country’s flag had made its appearance informally upon the battlefields of western Europe, history recording that in the British assaults beginning on April 9, 1917, at least one American flag was carried up the slopes of Vimy Ridge in the ranks of the Canadians.
(I)-On May 12, 1926, at I A.M., (Norwegian time), the Stars and Stripes again became associated with polar history when the American flag, the Norwegian flag and the Italian flag were dropped by the Amundsen-Ellsworth party from the Italian built dirigible Norge in the flight over the top of the world from Kings Bay, Spitzbergen, to Teller, Alaska.