Civil War Envelopes Featuring the Star-Spangled Banner | History | Smithsonian
Current Issue
July / August 2014  magazine cover
Subscribe

Save 81% off the newsstand price!

The American flag with the second stanza from Francis Scott Key's poem, "Defence of Fort McHenry." Addressed to Michael Fox Esq., Marlboro, Stark Co., Ohio. (Liljenquist Family Collection, Library of Congress)
George Washington standing at Mount Vernon and an angel with the American flag. Addressed to Mr. S.H. Haggy, Etna, Licking Co., Ohio. (Liljenquist Family collection, Library of Congress)
An envelope showing American flags, a eagle with laurel branches, and a shield. Addressed to Mr. Asa Foote, Fowler, Trumbull Co., Ohio (Liljenquist Family collection, Library of Congress)
An eagle and American flags atop an arch listing Union states with Pennsylvania in the keystone. Addressed to Rev. C. L. Ehrenfeld, Altoona, Pa.; postmarked Johnstown, Pa. (Liljenquist Family collection, Library of Congress)
An eagle atop arrows and a drum with the American flag, cannon, and rifles. Addressed to Misses H. Close, Mayfield, Fulton Co., N.Y. (Liljenquist Family collection, Library of Congress)
A sailor climbing up a flagpole to the American flag with lines from the poem, "The American Flag" by Joseph Rodman Drake. Addressed to Miss Adelia Fries, Philadelphia, No. 931 North Tenth Street; postmarked Alexandria, Va. (Liljenquist Family collection, Library of Congress)
An eagle with an American flag as a 7-star Confederate flag is hit by lightning. Addressed to Mr. Benjamin, F. Delenbaugh, Pulaski, Williams Co., Ohio. (Liljenquist Family collection, Library of Congress)
Columbia with flag, Massachusetts state seal, and Phrygian cap bearing message "Loyal to the Union." Addressed to Mrs. Leander M., North Middlebor-, Mass. (Liljenquist Family collection, Library of Congress)
Addressed to Miss Mary A. Davis, Hawleyville, Conn. Postmarked in New Orleans, Louisiana, May 1862. (Liljenquist Family collection, Library of Congress)
A Civil War envelope showing a 34-star American flag. Addressed to William A. Boyce, Barre, Vermont. (Liljenquist Family collection, Library of Congress)
Columbia holding a sword and the American flag. Addressed to Mr. W.F. McClinton, Biggsvill., Ills. (Liljenquist Family collection, Library of Congress)
Addressed to Mr. Lewis Pfieffer, Mechanicsburg, Cumberland Co., Pa., from Philopolis, Ind., Jan. 29, '62. (Liljenquist Family collection, Library of Congress)
Columbia with an eagle, the American flag, and a cornucopia with lines from John Savage's poem, "The starry flag." Addressed to Mr. Thos. Van Sichin, Metuchin, New Jersey. Postmarked in Washington, D.C. (Liljenquist Family collection, Library of Congress)
An eagle with American flags, a shield, arrows, and a laurel branch with the first stanza from Joseph Rodman Drake's poem, "The American Flag." Addressed to L. A. Godey, 323 Chestnut Str., Philadelphia, Pa. (Liljenquist Family collection, Library of Congres)
Soldier with a woman in stars and stripes dress, with the message "The girl I left behind me" and a verse from the song "A Soldier's Tear" by Thomas Haynes Bayly. Addressed to Mr. G.C. Merrifield, Mishamaka, Ind. (Liljenquist Family collection, Library of Congress)
Addressed to Miss Charlotte Smith, North Chili P.O., Monroe County, N.Y. (Liljenquist Family collection, Library of Congress)
A soldier holding a 51st Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment flag. Addressed to Mrs. Danl. A. Wheeler, Perkinsville, Windsor County, Vermont. (Liljenquist Family collection, Library of Congress)
An eagle atop a shield and a border of stars with state names. Addressed to Mr. Benj. Carpenter, Esq., Lockport, Niagara Co., N.Y. (Liljenquist Family collection, Library of Congress)

Civil War Envelopes Featuring the Star-Spangled Banner

Supporters of the Union and the Confederacy alike used envelopes like these to advance political and social issues

smithsonian.com

The red, white and blue Star-Spangled Banner has long been a symbol of patriotism in the United States, and by the mid-19th century, envelopes adorned with patriotic symbols began to find their way into Americans' mail boxes. Civil War envelopes showing the flag with 34 stars, used by the Union to illustrate its rejection of the Confederacy's secession and to signify the constancy of the Union. With message and lyrics such as, “Not a Star Must Fall,” and “we must keep the Flag where it e’er has stood,” these envelopes filled the country with pro-Union propaganda. Conversely, the Confederacy used phrases such as “Liberty or Death,” and “Southern Independence” to support the division of the country. Images of Jefferson Davis were paired with lyrics such as, “stand firmly by your cannon. Let ball and grape-shot fly. Trust in God and Davis, and keep your Powder dry,” instead of poems praising the Union and the Star-Spangled Banner.

In 1943, an article in American Collector explained that the flags first appeared in the mid-1850s, and were indeed used for mail, but by 1861, the envelopes had become collectors' items. There was even a book for sale that would hold 100 illustrated envelopes. 

During the Civil War, over 15,000 different patriotic envelopes were published, most of them pro-Union. More than 100 known printers in 39 cities created them, and some northern printers even made early Confederate patriotic envelopes. According to Steven R. Boyd in his book, Patriotic Envelopes of the Civil War: The Iconography of Union and Confederate Covers“these prints encompassed an array of images, with the flags of the two nations among the most plentiful.” He explains that in the North, the Star-Spangled Banner became a symbol of the nation. He argues that by showcasing Old Glory patriotic envelopes, “symbolically deny the legality of the Southern states’ secession and the legitimacy of the Confederate government.”

Tags

Comment on this Story

comments powered by Disqus