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Stars on U.S. flags

Last modified: 2010-08-21 by rick wyatt
Keywords: united states | star | five-pointed star | gold |
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Five-pointed stars on flags

I remember that I read somewhere that five-pointed stars are introduced (or reintroduced) in heraldry and vexicology by the Stars and Stripes. Not that the pentagramme was unknown before 18th century, but that its popularity grew afterwards. It seems unbelievable that this, now worldwide symbol, was not used so long, and today it is a part of many flags. The usual symbol for the star before was a six-pointed star.
Željko Heimer, 4 December 1995

Gold stars on pre-20th Century U.S. flags

Gold painted stars were, indeed, used on U.S. Army and State Regimental flags during the war. I do not know when the Army specifications began to call for gold stars, but the earliest U.S. Army Standards from the late 18th century use gold. I suspect it came about because in order to paint the stars white on a silk flag, then silver paint would be a likely first choice. Silver, of course, tarnishes, so you would soon have a flag of red, white, blue, and black. Gold stays bright (maybe another case of one-upmanship of Army over Navy? Navy had no problem sewing white wool or cotton stars onto huge wool bunting flags.)
Nick Artimovich, 14 January 1997

Gold painted stars were very common in the National and Regimental colors of U.S. regiments of the American Civil War - far more so than white.

The purpose was for them to be better seen in the context of the flags. Also - battle honors and unit designations were painted on in gold lettering. The star patterns of the various National flags varied according to the contractor who made the flags - and the Union Army had several on a regional basis that supplied the troops within their regions. The Confederates did the same by the way.

Please see the excellent book "Arms and Equipment of the Union Army: Echoes of Glory" in the Time-Life series. There are dozens of color photos of actual U.S. battle flags - and most of the various styles are displayed.

Greg Biggs, 15 January 1997

This is an interesting question and, as usual when dealing with the Civil War era, there's no simple answer.

Properly speaking, the flag shown in the film *Glory* is a military color. All infantry regiments of the Federal Army were supposed to have carried two flags: a National Color (the Stars and Stripes) and a Regimental Color.

The infantry Regimental Color was dark blue with yellow fringe, six feet at the hoist by six feet six inches on the fly, with the Coat of Arms of the U.S. in proper colors. Above the arms was a scroll inscribed "E PLURIBUS UNUM" and below it was a scroll inscribed with the regimental title, e.g. "5th REGT U.S. INFANTRY".

The National Color had the same dimensions as the Regimental Color, with yellow fringe and mixed blue/white tassels. The regimental title was inscribed in black on the middle (fourth) red stripe. Battle honors were sometimes added above and below the regimental title. There were 33 stars (later 34 and 35 as Kansas and then West Virginia were admitted to the Union) in the blue canton. The stars were arranged in various designs: in rows, in a circle, in an oval, in the shape of a star, etc.; and the stars themselves varied in design and color. Seven-pointed stars were sometimes used, and silver or gold in place of white.

Regiments of the Regular Army were most likely to carry colors of the official pattern (the National Color with white stars arranged in rows); but it must be remembered that most Union regiments were State-raised, and these corps quite frequently ignored War Department regulations. State regiments tended to carry the National Flag and a State flag (as does the 54th Regiment of Infantry, Massachusetts Volunteers, in the film *Glory*). Quite often, regimental colors were presented to newly-raised volunteer regiments by local patriotic and civic groups and, in the absence of a precise law governing the design and display of the Stars and Stripes, there were many fanciful variations (such as gold stars).

Tom Gregg, 15 January 1997