The Curlew’s Flag

The Curlew’s nine-star, first pattern Confederate flag is extremely rare. First national flags rarely had stars in rows. Making it doubly rare is the use of nine stars, as there were nine Confederate states for only 3 days. Arkansas was admitted on the 18th of May of 1861; North Carolina followed on the 21st of May 1861. The Curlew was commissioned on that same day, 21 May 1861.

During the battle of Roanoke Island, the CSS Curlew was sunk around 4 p.m. on February 7th when a shot from the USS Southfield passed through the hurricane deck and knocked out one of the 1/4 inch iron plates that formed her hull. Commander Thomas T. Hunter ran her aground in front of Fort Forrest, unwittingly masking the fort’s seven 32-pounders.

The CSS Forrest had become disabled by the displacement of her shaft at about the same time and had taken refuge under the fort’s guns. Lt. James Cooke, commanding the CSS Ellis, replenished his ammunition from the Forrest. Soon expending all she had, he replenished his stores from the Curlew and continued the battle.

Around 4:30, as the Confederate fleet was withdrawing, Cooke was ordered to remove ordinance, ordinance stores, and other useful materials from the Curlew to the CSS Black Warrior by Flag Officer Lynch. The two 32-pounders were removed and mounted on the schooner (formerly the M.C. Etheridge of Plymouth, NC). Among the items removed from the Curlew were two flags, one British and the other the nine-star 1st national Confederate flag.

On 10 February 1862, the CSS Ellis was captured during the battle of Elizabeth City and the two flags from the Curlew fell into Union hands through unofficial channels. Apparently a Union sailor or marine took the flags as souvenirs. The Ellis’s flag ended up in official hands and currently hangs in a dining hall at the U.S. Naval Academy.

The Curlew flags ended up traveling northward, where they eventually ended up in the vast collection of Lt. James W. Etheridge of Hartford, Connecticut. In 1910, the flags were sold at auction. In 1918, the flag was donated to the Chicago Historical Society, where they remained until 1975. Chicago military dealer Arnold Chernoff bought them in 1975. After passing through several hands, the flags were purchased by Civil War naval collector Paul DeHaan in 1977. The flags remained in his possession until he sold them to another collector in the 2000’s.


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