June 12-13, 2019 Edged Weapon, Armor, & Militaria
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This lot is closed for bidding. Bidding ended on 6/13/2019
Simply stated this U.S. Colored Troops (USCT) regimental battle flag is a vital and unique part of American history. Likely the last remaining Pennsylvania USCT battle flag, painted by the pioneering and influential artist David Bustill Bowser, it has significance and impact unlike any other. With meticulous attention to detail in restoration, the vibrant banner represents the epic struggle, valor, and patriotism of the African-American troops during the Civil War. The Regiment The 127th USCT Regiment was one of 11 African-American regiments raised in Pennsylvania through the Union League by the Supervisory Committee for the Enlistment of Colored Troops. This regiment was formed from enlisted and drafted African-American males from the State of Pennsylvania, to serve one, two, and three years. Recruited in the Delaware Valley Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and surrounding region, the regiment organized and trained at Camp William Penn in Chelten Hills or Camptown (now La Mott), Pennsylvania; today Cheltenham Township, just northwest of Philadelphia between August 23 and September 10, 1864. The Commanding Officer was Colonel Benjamin F. Tracy. This was Pennsylvania’s only training camp for African American soldiers, and was the largest of 18 such camps in operation during the Civil War. After the short training period the regiment was deployed. Upon arriving at the front In City Point, Virginia in September, 1864, the regiment was attached to 1st Brigade, 3rd Division, 10th Corps, Army of the James, in November, 1864. The regiment transferred to the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Division, 10th Corps, in December, 1864. Finally, it was sent to the 2nd Brigade, 2nd Division, 25th Corps and the Department of Texas, in October, 1865. The regiment was primarily used to construct fortifications and perform guard duty. The official Army register of Colored Troops shows that the only battle in which this regiment participated, was at Deep Bottom, Virginia on April 2nd, 1865; and saw one man killed in this battle. More apparently died due to disease. In addition, combat service records indicate that the regiment was involved in siege operations against Petersburg, VA and Richmond, VA from September 1864 to April, 1865. The regiment saw action in the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm, New Market Heights September 29-30, 1864; Fort Harrison September 29, 1864; Darbytown Road October 13, 1864; Battle of Fair Oaks October 27-28, 1864; and duty in trenches north of the James River before Richmond until March, 1865. The regiment moved to Hatcher's Run March 27-28, 1865; the Appomattox Campaign March 28-April 9, 1865; Hatcher's Run March 29-31, 1865; Fall of Petersburg April 2, 1865, and the Pursuit of Lee April 3-9, 1865. The regiment was present at the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865. After the close of hostilities in the east, the regiment was sent to Brazos Santiago, Texas, June and July, 1865; and performed duties at various Mexican frontier points on the Rio Grande River until October, 1865. On September 11, 1865, the regiment was consolidated into a battalion of three companies, and the men and officers whose term of service had expired, were discharged. The battalion was mustered out of service on October 20, 1865. The Flag Artist The flag was painted by Famed Philadelphia African-American artist David Bustill Bowser, born in Philadelphia January 16, 1820 to fugitive slave Jeremiah Bowser. Jeremiah had married into the prominent Bustill family, whose patriarch was himself born a slave but purchased his own freedom. Quoting from the David Bustill Bowser Historical Marker site of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, During the Civil War, hundreds of thousands of soldiers, and thousands more civilians who witnessed their parades, were familiar with the magnificent battle flags that David Bustill Bowser designed for eleven African-American regiments. When opposition to the choice of Bowser as the artist to paint the flags developed within the Supervisory Committee of the camp, Bowser persuaded John Forney, a powerful Republican Philadelphia politician and newspaper owner, to argue that "he is a poor man, and certainly professes very remarkable talent. He has been active in the cause and is himself a colored man, and it seems to me there would be peculiar hardship in taking away this little job from him and giving it to a wealthy house." Today, we only know what seven of Bowser's flags looked like from photographs. Kept in storage after the war, the originals were sent to the military museum at West Point in 1906, and then thrown out in the 1940s. The seven whose images remain are extraordinarily powerful. The 127th and 3rd regiments marched carrying banners reading "We Will Prove Ourselves Men" and "Rather Die Freemen, Than Live To Be Slaves." Beneath these, black soldiers protect white women representing Columbia, the symbol of the republic. Bowser's works were the first widely viewed, positive images of African Americans painted by an African American. Although relatively unknown today, Bowser was a well-known member of Philadelphia's thriving African American community, the nation's most prominent in the mid-nineteenth century. The cousin of famous abolitionist Frederick Douglass, Bowser had studied art with his cousin Robert Douglass, Jr., an African-American pupil of Thomas Sully. When his cousin moved to Haiti in 1837, Bowser probably went west to work as a barber, a trade he began to practice in Philadelphia in 1842. Once back in Philadelphia, Bowser soon resumed painting, executing banners for the Native American (Know Nothing) Party's parades, and completing a portrait of Jacob C. White, a rare, commissioned portrait of a mid-nineteenth-century black barber who had become a prominent real estate developer and black abolitionist. This portrait was the exception that proved the rule: few members of the African-American community had enough money to commission portraits; whites would not employ black artists, and educated whites did not believe African Americans capable of being "artists." In Philadelphia, Bowser also joined in African-American politics, especially the 1848 drive to repeal the clause in the Pennsylvania constitution that prohibited blacks from voting. Ten years later, John Brown stayed at the Bowser house, a stop on the Underground Railroad, between his expeditions to Kansas and Harpers Ferry. At this time, Bowser painted a portrait of Brown and "The Firebell in the Night." His portrait of Abraham Lincoln copies the image on the post-Civil War five-dollar bill. After the Civil War, Bowser became involved in black fraternal orders, rising to the position of secretary of the Grand and United Odd Fellows. He never again received a major commission, and devoted himself to designing costumes and banners for societies like this. Had it not been for his Civil War banners and a handful of paintings, the world would have no remembrance of this talented African-American artist. Like the symbols of womanhood, Liberty, the flag, and the eagle that he so powerfully connected with heroic black soldiers in his designs, Bowser realized that such symbols instilled pride and loyalty to a nation that desperately needed the help of African Americans to preserve it; African Americans who in turn desperately needed (but did not receive) recognition of their abilities and efforts in the face of prevailing stereotypes. See additional details regarding the life of David Bustill Bowser in the book, African Americans in the Visual Arts by Steven Otfinoski. The book also describes his 21 oil paintings and retouched photographs of Abraham Lincoln, one of which Lincoln himself is said to have purchased. Additional mention of Bowser appears in the Volume 2 Encyclopedia of African American History, 1619-1895, Paul Finkelman Editor in Chief. Bowser, who died July 2, 1900, was an inspiration to other African American artists including Henry Ossawa Tanner, the greatest black painter of the 19th century. Flag History & Restoration Mr. Charles Gibbons, Esq., founding member of the Union League and the Supervisory Committee for the Recruitment of Colored Troops, presented the flag to the regiment in an impressive ceremony at Camp William Penn on September 15, 1864. Lieutenant Colonel James Givin, representing the regiment, received the flag. See the “Flag Presentation at Camp William Penn – Speech of Brigadier-General Birney and Others” (Philadelphia Inquirer, September 16, 1864, page 8) for a detailed account of the presentation. Colonel Louis Wagner was the camp commander. These flags, along with a standard U.S. flag, would be carried into battle by a designated color guard to help troops distinguish one another in the heat of a battle and minimize friendly-fire incidents. Regimental flags were not unique to the USCT, but USCT flags were distinct in form. White regiments generally chose images of eagles or variations on the U.S. flag to decorate their regimental colors. By contrast, the USCT flags featured images of African American soldiers and the figure of Columbia, a feminized version of Columbus, who is the goddess of liberty and the personification of America. With The formation of the Grand Army of the Republic in 1866, Post 2 of Philadelphia received one of the first GAR charters. The Post purchased a formidable building at 667 North 12th Street, near center city Philadelphia, which was named Memorial Hall. As the veterans aged and passed away, GAR posts began to dissolve; and many posts sent their individual collections to Memorial Hall. There was a regulation by the Pennsylvania Department of the GAR Commandery that all posts dissolving should send their possessions, records, relics, flags, etc., to the headquarters of the Pennsylvania Department of the GAR located at Post 2. The GAR used this building to store treasured relics, records, photographs, documents, books and other remembrances that they were able to save and secure from posts and local Civil War veterans. The 127th Regiment USCT Regimental Battle Flag appeared on an inventory (circa 1914) of the battle flag collection in possession of the headquarters, along with approximately 30 other flags of units and GAR posts. In 1914, the battle flags of the Pennsylvania regiments that were held by the state were paraded on Flag Day in Harrisburg. The USCT regimental flags were not among them. Since the USCT soldiers were technically under the authority of the 'Colored Troop Bureau' and were thus considered U.S. Troops, they were not considered Pennsylvania Volunteers. In the early 1960’s, the building was sold, and a portion of the vast and historic collection was saved by members of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW) organization. With few financial resources, the members of the SUVCW were able to purchase a building at 4278 Griscom Street, Philadelphia. In the 1980’s due to the efforts of Margaret and Elmer “Bud” Atkinson and a number of interested volunteers, the Grand Army of the Republic Civil War Museum and Library was founded. Flags that were issued by either the state or the federal government had to be returned. However, it is believed that many of the flags of the USCT regiments were made through donations from friends, family, abolitionists and others. Most if not all of the USCT flags came into existence this way. When the USCT regiments were discharged and disbanded, they turned in their flags at their place of muster, i.e. Camp William Penn. Colonel Wagner was still the commander there when the 127th mustered out in October, 1865. He was a great supporter of the Colored Troops and knew David Bustill Bowser. Andrew Waskie, Ph.D., the GAR Civil War Museum and Library Historian believes, but we cannot confirm, that Wagner transferred the flag to Bowser after the unit was mustered out. It is documented that Bowser was a member of GAR Post 103 (Sumner Post). The flag was displayed at Decoration Day (Memorial Day) services at which Bowser was a speaker. Thus, it is the belief of Waskie that Bowser donated the flag to his GAR Post, which after it dissolved, transferred its flags to Post 2 as described above. All the other flags of the USCT units were sent to the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1906 and were, tragically near the beginning of WWII in 1942, all discarded and destroyed. This would have been the fate of the 127th Regiment USCT Regimental Battle Flag had it not been given to Bowser by Wagner, and then to the GAR, and ultimately to the GAR Civil War Museum and Library. Clearly one of the great treasures at the GAR Civil War Museum and Library from the original Post 2 Memorial Hall collection was this 127th Regiment USCT Regimental Battle Flag. The flag was kept in a wooden display case and displayed in the first floor exhibit room of the museum. Dr. Rick Sauers, author of Advance the Colors! Pennsylvania Civil War Battle Flags and Waskie were present in 1984, prior to the restoration, when all the flags in possession of the GAR Civil War Museum were unwrapped, opened, examined, documented and re-wrapped in acid free material. At that time, the painted center charge of the flag appeared to be largely souvenired. Recently the GAR Civil War Museum board discovered a large number of painted charge sections of the flag. These sections became part of the restoration project, and positively confirm the identity of the flag. Funded by generous supporters of the Grand Army of the Republic Civil War Museum and Library, the flag received a meticulous restoration to its current glory and grandeur. The multi-step restoration process report is available upon request. Original and restoration field sections, and original charge sections, are stitched in place to mesh netting. The hand-painted central flag charge restoration is stitched around its perimeter and at locations throughout, mounted also to the netting of the field. After the original restoration strainer frame placement, the GAR has invested in an upgraded mounting system and frame to improve viewer experience, flag stability, movement security, and overall historical preservation longevity. A report of this upgrade is also available upon request. The reverse has a window that allows visual access to the eagle in the center of the charge, with the remainder of the reverse now not visible other than through the photographs for auction. To our knowledge, it is the only remaining Bowser hand-painted Pennsylvania USCT regimental battle flag of any form. Description and Condition The field of this exceptional double-sided silk flag is a deep indigo blue, with approximately 90 percent of the field in place. The majority of the charge, front and back, is restoration. The painted charge on the obverse of the flag depicts a fully equipped Colored Soldier who bids adieu to the Columbia, Goddess of Liberty. A field of green with shadows falling behind indicate the soldier moving toward the sun. A military camp (possibly Camp William Penn) with breaking clouds appears in the background. The motto on the scroll above the painting reads “WE WILL PROVE OURSELVES MEN” and links with 24 gold leaves, 12 on each side, to the bottom scroll registering “127.TH REGT. U.S. COLORED TROOPS” The painted charge on the reverse of the flag proudly presents, inside the same scrolls and leaves as the front, a lone American eagle clutching an arrow in in its talons. In its beak is a scroll that reads “E. PLURIBUS UNUM” and on its breast is a shield with American flag colors, a blue band across the top and 13 alternating red and white vertical stripes (7 red, 6 white). In the field are 34 small 5-point stars, golden-yellow in color, indicating the number of states in the country at the outbreak of the Civil War. The flag has a horizontal length of 72 inches and a width of 55-1/4 inches, excluding the fringe. The gold silk fringe, which is along the top and bottom horizontal length and the fly width, is slightly under 2” in length. The fringe, a majority of it being original, is stitched to the larger mesh around the three sides noted. The hoist width has no fringe as expected. The approximate overall dimensions of the mounted flag in the frame are 79-1/4” horizontal length by 64-5/8” inches width and 2 inches depth of case. A depiction of the painting can be found in Advance the Colors - Pennsylvania Civil War Battle Flags Vol. I; Richard A. Sauers. Capitol Preservation Committee. Library of Congress image - http://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/cph.3a24165/ Such an iconic flag, rich in significance, will likely never come to auction again. The owner’s opportunities to expand and deepen knowledge about the flag, its artist, the soldiers who served under it, its trail of struggle, triumph, and restoration; and relation to titanic figures in the history of the Civil War are almost limitless.

This is not a standard shippable item and will require 3rd party shipping or pickup arrangements to be made.
Restoration document
Current Bidding
Minimum Bid: $75,000.00
Final prices include buyers premium: $192,000.00
Estimate: $150,000 - $250,000
Number Bids: 12
Auction closed on Thursday, June 13, 2019.
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