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Civil War-era flag to tie in with exhibit at West Overton Village in Scottdale

| Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, 12:08 a.m.
Evan R. Sanders | Daily Courier
West Overton Village & Museums managing director Jessica Kadie-Barclay (left) and volunteers Megan Cunningham (back) and Stephanie Koller examine a 34-star flag on Nov. 14, 2013. The flag, circa 1861-63, recently was found in storage at the museum near Scottdale.

When the director of West Overton Village in Scottdale and a group of volunteers found a large American flag in a storage room, they thought it dated to the 1840s.

They had counted 30 stars.

The women unfurled the 12-by-18-foot flag on the floor of the distillery room, where there is enough open space. Wearing white cotton gloves to prevent damage to the fabric, Director Jessica Kadie-Barclay and the three volunteers carefully unfolded the flag onto a white cloth.

“Whoa, I think our calculations were wrong,” said volunteer Stephanie Koller of Pittsburgh.

They found an extra row of four stars along the edge of the blue field. The 34 stars mean the flag dates to the 1861-63 time period, the Civil War era.

“We didn't see that last row of stars,” said volunteer Kathy Paeszak of Scottdale, who along with Megan Cunningham of West Newton, helped with the two flags recently discovered in storage.

They had thought the larger flag, one of two donated decades ago, was made 20 years before the Civil War. Kadie-Barclay said the West Overton collection includes unrelated documents signed by President James K. Polk, the only president to serve under a flag of 30 stars.

It is not known where the flags were displayed, if at all, during the Civil War. They were too large to carry into battle but may have been raised at a fort or military post, Kadie-Barclay said.

The 34-star flag appears to have been patched, but it is not apparent whether the patches cover areas damaged by artillery or bullets.

Some writing on the white border of the flag is no longer legible.

The two flags will tie in with a traveling Civil War exhibit, scheduled for a stop in West Overton in September 2014. The distillery museum highlights the industries of the village between 1800 and 1919: coverlet weaving, coal and coke production, and distillation of Old Farm Rye and other whiskey.

“We will have ‘The Civil War in Pennsylvania,' the traveling exhibit, currently at the Heinz (History Center),” Kadie-Barclay said. “We will have a portion of that coming down here, and we will be supplementing that with information and artifacts directly related to people from here.”

The Civil War dates jibe with the military background of the father of donor Anne Briggs. Capt. James Jones Briggs of Ligonier was a member of Company E, 11th Pennsylvania Volunteers. He served from 1861 through 1865 in the company, which had been recruited in Latrobe and Ligonier.

According to the website, Briggs had been “promoted from Hospital Steward 11th Regiment to 2d Lt., March 28, 1864; to lst Lt., October 30, 1864; to Captain December 26, 1864; wounded at Wilderness; mustered out with Company, July 1, 1865.”

First mustered in as three-month volunteers, the regiment quickly picked up the nickname of “The Bloody 11th” at the Battle of Falling Waters, Va. (now West Virginia), on July 2, 1861. It was later reorganized as a three-year regiment.

The 11th fought in most of the major battles in the eastern theater of the war, including Second Bull Run, Antietam, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Petersburg and the Appomattox campaign.

One famous member of the regiment was its mascot Sallie, a brindle bull terrier. She lay down with the dead of the regiment after the first day at Gettysburg. Others in the regiment found her, near death, on the day after the battle. She was nursed back to health but was killed at Hatchers Run in February 1865.

A bronze statue of Sallie stands at the base of the regiment's monument on the battlefield at Gettysburg.

Karl Polacek is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 724-626-3538.

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