DescriptionThe Belle Boyd First National Confederate States of America Flag Presented by the "Siren of the Shenandoah" on June 10, 1862, at Front Royal, Never Before Sold in the United States. (1861) Confederate States of America flag. First National pattern. Eleven stars on reverse canton, one star on obverse canton. 159 x 98.5 cm, or over 5 x 3 feet. Large and impressive, this pristine flag bears unparalleled provenance to one of the most remarkable figures of the Civil War. Before emerging from a Swiss castle in 2015, this flag descended among the family of Frederic Sears Grand d' Hauteville since 1862. D' Hauteville, then a captain on the staff of General Nathaniel Banks, was given this flag by the legendary Rebel spy Belle Boyd, the Siren of the Shenandoah, in Front Royal, Virginia, on June 10, 1862.
Born in Boston to a wealthy American mother and an aristocratic Swiss father, d' Hauteville graduated Harvard with the Class of 1862, but only after he had volunteered to serve on the staff of General Nathaniel Banks. "I enlisted as a private in the Fourth Battalion of the Massachusetts State Infantry ... at Boston Harbor, Fort Independence, in May 1861," d' Hauteville recorded in his diary of the war years. He stayed in Boston on garrison duty until November 1861, when he joined Banks' staff at Darnestown, Maryland, between the Potomac River and Gaithersburg. Appointed aide-de-camp with a rank of captain, d' Hauteville first saw the Confederacy in early March 1862, as Banks and the 5th Corps crossed at Harper's Ferry and marched to Winchester. According to d' Hauteville's diary, Winchester was occupied on March 10. Crossing what d' Hauteville called "lovely country," Banks and his men pursued Stonewall Jackson up the Valley of Virginia, finally meeting the General and his men at the Battle of Winchester on May 25. Following the engagement, the V Corps turned for Front Royal, where d' Hauteville met one of the most enchanting characters of the entire conflict, Belle Boyd.
"June 10. Reached Front Royal. I met then the famous and very handsome rebel spy, Belle Boyd, who gave to me the rebel flag, waving which, she led the attack upon Kenly in May."
The mention in d' Hauteville's diary is corroborated in a letter written home by an even more famous officer under General Nathaniel Banks' command. Robert Gould Shaw, immortalized in bronze by Augustus Saint-Gaudens and on film in the movie Glory, wrote home to his mother in Boston on July 28, 1862 and described the flag his brother-in-arms had been given:
"Perhaps you have seen some accounts of a young lady at Front Royal, named Belle Boyd. There was quite a long and ridiculous letter about her copied into the 'Evening Post' the other day. I have seen her several times, but never had any conversation with her. Other men who have talked with her, tell me that she never asked for any information about our army, or gave them the slightest reason to suppose her a spy; and they were probably as capable of judging as the correspondent who wrote about her. She gave Fred. d' Hauteville a very pretty Secession flag, which she said she carried when she went out to meet Jackson's troops coming into Front Royal."
Shaw's choice of words, "which she said she carried when she went out to meet Jackson's troops," perhaps reveals some knowledge of the woman in question. While Boyd told d' Hauteville that she carried this very flag across the field of battle to meet Stonewall Jackson, the truth is more complex.
Belle Boyd (1844-1900) had just turned 18 when Frederic d' Hauteville came through Front Royal, where Boyd had been staying with relatives following the Union occupation of her hometown of Martinsburg (now West Virginia). Boyd's compelling story of how she became a Confederate spy starts there, on July 4, 1861, when her love for the Confederate flag was discovered by Union troops who had captured the town. She described the moment in her 1866 memoir:
"A party of soldiers, conspicuous, even on that day, for violence, broke into our house and commenced their depredations; this occupation, however, they presently discontinued, for the purpose of hunting for 'rebel flags,' with which they had been informed my room was decorated. Fortunately for us, although without my orders, my negro maid promptly rushed upstairs, tore down the obnoxious emblem, and, before our enemies could get possession of it, burned it."
Given the mix of plural and singular in Boyd's account, one wonders if she had multiple Confederate flags at that time, perhaps even including this one.
As the Union soldiers attempted to raise a Federal flag over Boyd's home, Boyd claimed she "drew out my pistol and shot him. He was carried away mortally wounded, and soon after expired." Like most of the stories Boyd told, as well as the stories the popular press told about her during the war, this one is nearly impossible to prove. Details shift and change, aided by Boyd's infatuation with her newfound fame and the Northern press that called her the "Siren of the Shenandoah," "Cleopatra of the Secession," and more as they described her daring exploits. Despite her exaggerations, Belle Boyd was honest about her central place among the war's most notable figures on both sides. Confederate officers sought her out for companionship and intelligence, and Union troops could not help but feel attracted to her passion, personality, and wiles.
Boyd's greatest fame came after Stonewall Jackson and his men appeared in Front Royal in May 1862. Boyd offered Jackson solid information about Union troop strength, helping him choose an appropriate time to meet his enemy at what became known as the Battle of Front Royal. Boyd claimed to have led Jackson and his men across the field of battle, perhaps an exaggeration of the truth, though multiple contemporary sources do place her on the battlefield as Jackson and his men approached.
This flag was given to Frederic d' Hauteville under the guise of being the flag she waved as she met Stonewall Jackson; both d' Hauteville's diary and Robert Gould Shaw's letter say so. Meanwhile, other witnesses like Lt. Henry Kyd Douglas place Boyd on the field of battle waving her white bonnet, a tidbit that Boyd herself testifies to in her memoir, writing "As I neared our line I waved my bonnet to our soldiers, to intimate that they should press forward." Douglas' recollections, which came from his wartime diary but were compiled later as I Rode With Stonewall, echoed Boyd's words: "[Boyd] seemed, when I saw her, to heed neither weeds nor fences, but waved a bonnet as she came on."
Boyd was a savvy enough manipulator of men, both soldiers and journalists, to know the image of her waving a Confederate flag was far richer than that of her waving a bonnet. Clearly Frederic d' Hauteville was taken with her and her stories, just as was the national imagination.
Stonewall Jackson captured victory over Col. John R. Kenly (mentioned in the flag entry of d' Hauteville's diary) at Front Royal on May 23, 1862, barely two weeks before this flag was gifted by Belle Boyd. The battle was a Confederate rout, catapulting Jackson back into the national consciousness following the fame he found at First Bull Run and the setback to his reputation at Kernstown in March 1862. Boyd's actions at Front Royal, promulgated through the popular press, made her a nationally renowned figure and the foremost heroine of the Rebel cause.
With suspicions of her spying now taken as fact, Boyd was arrested in July 1862, less than a month after she gave this flag to Frederic d' Hauteville. Taken to Washington under orders from Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, her imprisonment was brief and she was soon exchanged. Boyd would be arrested again in 1863, spending several months in a Washington prison, and tried to escape the country on a blockade runner in 1864. When the ship she was on was stopped by Union forces, she was again placed in custody, but the officer charged with holding her instead fell for her and proposed marriage. They fled together to England, where Boyd remained until after the war. While abroad, she attempted to capitalize on her international notoriety by publishing a memoir that mixed truth and tall tales in equal proportion. When she returned, Boyd turned the book into a traveling one-woman show, enabling her legend to spread even further as she toured from coast to coast. Her mental capacity was questioned, and her veracity was often doubted, but her stories of flirtation, spycraft, and escape made her perhaps the most famous female character of the entire Civil War.
In August 1862, d' Hauteville survived a near-miss at the Battle of Cedar Mountain, though his saddle blanket "was pierced by one ball, making more than a dozen holes." He saw heavy fire at the front at Antietam while serving on the staff of General Samuel Crawford, who was severely wounded at the battle. Two months after resigning his commission, d' Hauteville married Elizabeth Stuyvesant Fish on June 4, 1863. Fish, the daughter of the former governor of New York and future Secretary of State, died precisely one year after d' Hauteville resigned his commission and just 10 months into their marriage. She was 24. Though he maintained a residence in Newport, Rhode Island, most of d' Hauteville's days were spent at the family chateau overlooking Lake Geneva, where this flag was stowed away until its sale in 2015.
Eleven star flags of this pattern are generally dated in the brief timespan from July 1861, when Tennessee and North Carolina joined the Confederacy, until November 28, 1861, when two additional stars were added to the flag to mark the establishment of Confederate governments in Missouri and Kentucky. Made sometime in that timespan, perhaps even by Boyd herself, this flag was packed away and preserved before it was even a year old. The flag exhibits an unusual canton configuration. While one side features the eleven stars in a circle, typical of First National flags, the other side has but a single star in the center of the canton. Noted flag authority James Ferrigan has suggested that this was most likely a tribute to one of the first Confederate flags, the beloved "Bonnie blue flag that bears the single star." The tradition of the single star as a symbol of defiance and independence, however, goes back much farther.
In a little known episode of American history, English speaking residents of Spanish-controlled areas now known as Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana rose up in rebellion in 1810, creating an entity they named the Republic of West Florida. While the Republic lasted only three months, it did adopt a flag--a single star on a plain field--as a symbol of their defiance. When Texans rose in rebellion against Mexico in 1836 their Congress adopted a similar design, known as the Burnet Flag, doubtless at least in part as a tribute to that earlier revolt. The Burnet Flag remained the official flag of the Republic until 1839, when a red, white and blue design--still featuring a single star in the center of the blue canton--was adopted. The design is strikingly similar to this First National Flag, doubtless not simply by coincidence. When Mississippi left the Union in 1861 it adopted a single-star flag patterned on the Republic of West Florida and Burnet flags. Small wonder that a Confederate patriot like Belle Boy, or whoever hand-made the present flag, would be inspired to include a tribute to those earlier banners when designing it.
Its condition has remained immaculate, retaining the short ribbons along its hoist and showing no tears, holes, fraying, loss, or staining. A small handwritten note has been loosely stitched to the flag, testifying to its provenance. The note reads: "Confederate flag. Taken by F.S.G d'H. and given by him to E.S.F. in 1862 (?). To be given to Freddie d' Hauteville when he is fifteen." The handwriting is that of Frederic d' Hauteville, who has spelled out his name in initials. E.S.F. represents the initials of his late wife, Elizabeth Stuyvesant Fish. Freddy, his son by his second wife, was born in 1873, thus dating this note some years before his 15th birthday in 1888.
Accompanying this flag is Frederic d' Hauteville's war diary, including his firsthand account of receiving the flag from Belle Boyd along with other commentary on his service. The notebook is perfect bound in black leather, stamped in blind and gilt, with marbled endpapers and lined pages. Titled in manuscript "The War of Secession, 1861," this diary appears to have been assembled after the war from his various jottings during the conflict. Its appearance is essentially new, with the gilt decoration still bright, the leather still lustrous, and the pages still fresh. Several additional notes, including one on letterhead marked "Newport," are tipped in. Two are initialed F d'H in Frederic d' Hauteville's hand.
It is unlikely a finer condition First National Pattern Confederate flag exists. Few boast a provenance as fascinating or well attested. While J.E.B. Stuart's battle flag holds the record for a Confederate flag sold at auction, having brought $956,000 in our sale of December 2006, this flag should set a new record for a flag of this pattern. Belle Boyd's position as the most famous Confederate spy has been unquestioned since she first commanded national headlines during the Civil War. As it was her dedication to this flag that made her famous, there can be no more important artifact to be associated with the legendary Siren of the Shenandoah. If one believes Boyd's claim that she carried this flag as she led troops into battle, it can be placed in the exalted company of Civil War battle flags.
In addition to the fascinating and beautifully written journal, the lot also includes three original Civil War photographs which belonged to Captain d' Hauteville:
1. A carte de visite of General Nathaniel Banks by Allen & Horton Photographers, Boston. Period identification on verso.
2. A carte de visite of d' Hauteville in full uniform by Black, Boston. The coat with captain's shoulder boards is no doubt one of those in the accompanying lots.
3. A rare albumen image, 5.75" x 4.25" including mount, with period identifications of Major Savage, Captain (Robert Gould) Shaw (who would later command the famous 54th Massachusetts regiment of African-American troops), Major Copeland and Captain H.S. Russell, taken at "Shenandoah Valley (Virginia) 1862." Written in later beside Savage's name is "killed at Cedar Mountain," and by Shaw's, "killed at (Fort) Wagner." All four men had attended d' Hauteville's alma mater, Harvard. When this photo was taken, Copeland was serving on General Banks' staff along with d' Hauteville.
All three photos are in excellent condition but for a diagonal crease on the Shenandoah Valley image.
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