Thursday, 25 January 2018

Confederate Flags

Last year, my cousin (twice-removed) David Walker passed away. As far as I can remember, I never actually met the man – maybe when I was very young – but we did trade correspondence on a couple of occasions. Both David and I were interested in the American Civil War, and specifically, our shared ancestor Maj. John Stewart Walker who fought for the Confederacy and was killed at the battle of Malvern Hill.

A few months after his death, I saw my cousin (once-removed) Lucy, and shave gave me the little painting seen here. She said she took it from the wall of David Walker’s house after everything else had been removed. Likely, no one in the family wanted the responsibility of what to do with this obviously old, but slightly…(actually, I’m not sure of the word I’m looking for here) piece of history. Lucy said she felt bad that it had been abandoned, and knowing my interested in the Civil War she took it for me.

For those who aren’t in the know about such things, the centre flag was the first official flag of the Confederacy. However, because of its similarities to the US Flag, it was soon replaced by the Confederate Battle Flag (the flag on the right) for military operations. The flag on the left is the third and final ‘official flag of the Confederacy’, and was only used for a few months before the Confederacy’s collapse.

While it’s nicely painted in most places, it has been somewhat crudely ‘cleaned’ with white paint in some spots.

When Lucy gave it to me, it was in a frame, and on the back was a little sticker that read:

Ernest Young
Art Store
3 N. Sevent St.
Phone 2656
Richmond, VA

I feel safe in assuming this is the company that framed it. I suppose, if I was really interested, I could get a sense of when it was framed by figuring out when Richmond would have used 4 digit phone numbers, but I’m not sure what this would really tell me about the piece.

Hoping to learn more, I took the painting out of its frame. Unfortunately, the frame was so old, it crumbled away during the process, and the endeavour proved mostly for naught. On the back of the painting, in pencil, are the numbers ‘9 x 11’ which is just the size of the piece, probably written by the framers, and one little line of illegible script in pencil, which may also be from the framers.

I fear it will remain a mystery. At a guess, I would say the painting was done by one of the wives or children of one of the Stewart brothers (At least 3 of whom fought for the Confederacy). I think it is old enough to date back to the war. More to the point, the further one gets in time from the war, the less likely it seems that anyone would paint such a piece.

So, now I am left with the question of what to do with it. I admit it, while I would feel no particular shame in hanging this on my wall (especially in a country where it would have little recognition or meaning) I feel no compulsion to do so. In fact, I’ve already got a photo of another of my Confederate ancestors on the wall – that’s probably enough for one war.

For now, I think I shall just put it away in my filing cabinet. Perhaps to save for another generation to ponder over.

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