The American flag, often referred to as the ‘Stars and Stripes’; the ‘Star Spangled Banner’; ‘Old Glory’ and ‘Red, White and Blue’ was first conceived as a thirteen star version in 1777, and since then has been altered twenty six times over the course of history. The Civil War flag offered here represents a period of momentous change in American history, as Kansas joined the Union on 29th January 1861 as the 34th state (Oregon being the 33rd state to join on 14 February 1859), shortly before the Confederate’s assault on Fort Sumter (12-14th April 1861), which marked the commencement of the Civil War. 1861 was also the year of Abraham Lincoln’s election to President, which witnessed a growth of American patriotism and the formation of a national identity, that the flag so embodies.
Most flags during the Civil War were produced for military use. A more precise dating of this flag’s manufacture is possible as new flags were typically manufactured when a new state joined the Union; this flag being made at some point after Kansas joined, but not after West Virigina joined as the thirty-fifth state in June 1863. Traditionally flag makers tended to incorporate an additional star as soon as a new state joined the Union, although the official date of commencement was marked on 4th July. This flag is composed of four rows of eight stars press dyed onto a bolt of fabric and additional stars cut from the same bolt and appliqued within the canton. This particular flag has a left over blue bunting along the hoist end which has been folded over and stitched beneath the heavy cotton twill binding, but still some of the excess is visible, apparently this was common practice during the Civil War period, as the excess could always be used to repair damages. The extra also allowed for the hoist once the flag was in position and for additional stars to be added when news states were incorporated. The renowned flag specialist, the late Howard Madaus, has suggested most flags were produced by the Annin Company, New York City (est. 1830s), who still manufacture today.
It is quite unique to find signatures on a such a flag, although precise ownership of this flag is a little ambivalent as numerous Civil War officers with the surname of Tobais had enlisted by 1862, whereas only one surname Ekstrom is recorded in both the Union and Confederate forces. The closest link to the latter is Axel F. Ekstrom (d.1903), from Andalusia, Illinois who enlisted as a 1st Sergeant on 10th February 1862 and mustered into B Company of the 65th Illinois Infantry on 15th March 1862. He worked his way up the ranks to be a Captain by 15th May 1863, although he left the army by 25th April 1865, he remained a member of the Reynolds, Illinois Chapter (no. 559) of the Grand Arm of the Republic. Tobais can be linked to two options, firstly John C. Tobais of Middleport, who enlisted on 22nd April 1861, as a 2nd Lieutenant and on 14th June he was commissioned into Company I of the 20th Illinois Infantry but resigned on 31st January 1862. The second one, Sauel H. Tobais, from Washington town enlisted on 16th August 1861 as a Sergeant and was mustered into Company B of the 47th Illinois Infantry, but discharged due to disability on 12 October 1862. Either one of these Tobais’s could be a strong candidate as they both left the army in the year inscribed on the flag.