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Object Record

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Object Name FLAG
Catalog Number 0985.13.00499
Description Pattern: First National flag; wool, cotton. Conserved.
Stars: Thirteen white cotton, 5-pointed. Arranged in "Ark of the Covenant" or "Bread of Life" pattern.
Border: 1 inch white cotton on hoist edge.
Attachment: Eyelets (14, whipped).
Unit Designation: None.
Battle Honors: None.
Stitching: Hand-stitched.
Material Wool/Cotton
Dimensions H-52 W-78 inches
Owned Robert E. Lee
Made Mary Anna Custis Lee [Mrs. Robert E. Lee]; Lee daughters
Event evacuation of Richmond, April 2-3, 1865
Provenance Headquarters flag of Robert E. Lee. Believed used as Gen. Lee's Headquarters flag from June 1862 through summer 1863. Believed made by his wife, Mary Custis Lee, and his daughters. Upon the evacuation of Richmond in April 1865, the flag was packed with other government records of the Adjutant and Inspector General's office, and forwarded over the Richmond & Danville Railroad to Charlotte, NC, where they were stored in an office just below the old U.S. Mint building. Lee had sent the flag to Richmond to be forwarded with these records. Just before Gen. Joseph E. Johnston's surrender in North Carolina, the officials of the CS Government opened this box while looking for important papers. This flag was found and, before the delivery of all the records to the Union army, was appropriated by Capt. John F. Mayer and brought home.

It is unknown when Lee began using it -- perhaps some time shortly after taking command of the Army of Northern Virginia (June/July 1862). He used it through the Gettysburg campaign (July 1863) and for some time afterward, until the fall of 1863 or winter of 1864 when it was retired and replaced with a new national flag (the Second National pattern) adopted by Congress on 1 May 1863.

According to the historian Joseph H. Crute Jr. the pattern represents the Ark of the Covenant and was "symbolic of the Bread of Life which is the symbol of spiritual nourishment." The scholar Robert N. Rosen further argues that such imagery is "consistent with Southerners' fascination with ancient Israel" and Old Testament symbols.
People Lee, Robert E.
Lee, Mary Anna Randolph Custis [Mrs. Robert E.]
Custis, Mary Anna Randolph
Lee family
Mayer, John F.
Search Terms Richmond, Virginia
Evacuation of Richmond, April 2-3, 1865
items hidden from Union soldiers
Subjects women