Spectacular and well-documented pair of fragments from the actual 'Star Spangled Banner' flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write America's national anthem after witnessing the bombardment of Fort McHenry by British ships during the War of 1812, during which an American flag continued to fly strong over the fort. These originate from the family of General Cornelius Gilbert Attwood, a general in the 25th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War. The remnants of the Fort McHenry flag consist of a white swatch measuring 2 x 3.25 and a red swatch measuring 1.5 x 1.25, originally separate but sewn together as part of a flag relic display. The additional swatches, one consisting of red and white and the other of blue with white fringe, originate from flags of the 25th Massachusetts Volunteers used during the Civil War. These are all affixed to a mount that was long ago calligraphically inscribed across the top by a family member, “Flags: 25th Mass. Vols.—1861 to 1865 & Fort McHenry, 1812,” and framed to an overall size of 11 x 9.75. In very good to fine condition.
Accompanied by a letter of provenance from a descendant of General Attwood describing the history of the piece. In part: “General Attwood was my great grandfather and his daughter, Harriet, was my grandmother…All holidays were spent at ‘Red House’…The interior of ‘Red House’ appeared to us kids to be more of a museum and less of a home…Swords, muskets and small arms were available for us…The General’s old war uniforms were still displayed on mannequins in the parlor and there were many plaques and posters commemorating Cornelius’s achievements and promotions. In a prominent place that was easily available for viewing was the framed collage of the three flag remnants: the Star Spangled Banner, and the two pieces from the flags of the 25th Mass. Volunteers…After the passing of the Attwoods my mother, Esther, became the family historian and she continued to develop her interest in preserving family artifacts. I can recall that as a child I often overheard conversations about things of historical interest…It was in those early years that I first remember the name Commodore Preble being mentioned in respect to a relationship he had with General Attwood. Later when I was older mother mentioned the probability of Preble being the source of the Star Spangled Banner Fragment…Both these men were high ranking military notables and both were lecturers in the Boston area during the 1870s. There is no doubt that they knew each other. It was also spoken of that the Star Spangled Banner fragment was in actuality two separate fragments of the flag that were joined together when my uncle Gilbert (Cornelius Gilbert Attwood, Jr.) created the frame with the flag remnants.”
Commodore George Preble served as the caretaker of the Fort McHenry flag in the 1870s and is known to have distributed clippings of it as souvenir relics; clippings of this sort were something of a tradition and several owners of the flag are believed to have done the same before it was donated to the Smithsonian in the early 1900s. When the flag was given to the Smithsonian, eight feet were missing from the fly and a portion had been cut from the canton, these pieces having been cut and given away over the course of a century; nevertheless, these swatches are exceedingly rare today. Rarely does the opportunity arise to obtain such an iconic piece of American history.
Terms and abbreviations used in our descriptions.