Thursday, March 09, 2006

Tennessee, Tennessee / There ain't no place I'd rather be / Baby won't you carry me / Back to Tennessee

"Tennessee Jed," words by Robert Hunter;
music by Jerry Garcia
, copyright Ice Nine Publishing

Old Glory is back in town. What is purported to be the original "Old Glory" flag from the 1820s the first U.S. flag to fly over a recaptured secessionist state capitol building has returned to Nashville after a century. It's about time.

Intrepid battlefield trampers from The Civil War Forum will be descending upon Tennessee two weeks from now to cover Stones River, Spring Hill, Franklin, and Nashville (and there are still a few seats available on the tour bus). We don't have the Tennessee State Museum on the itinerary, but I hope to find time to take it in between the close of the conference on Sunday and my flight back to the Left Coast, but I need to be realistic. I have a bad habit — whenever I have occasion to fly into a city I don't know or rarely visit — of trying to fit in one-too-many stops at some local historic site. Two times I have had occasion to fly into and out of Nashville, and both times I overreached and tried to take in Andrew Jackson's Hermitage before returning the rental car. Both times I made it as far as the Hermitage parking lot, where I studied my watch and made precise risk/reward calculations before deciding I was cutting it too close, and shot off in a high-speed trail of tears to the airport. Either the third time will be a charm, or I'm writing off Old Hickory for good.

And maybe there will be time for Old Glory, too. She's on loan from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, the flag will be on exhibit at the Tennessee State Museum from March 17 to November 12. More information from the museum's website:

The nickname for the United States flag, Old Glory, was originally attached to a flag made in 1824 for a young sea captain, William Driver (1803-1886) from Salem, Massachusetts . When first gazing at the flag, Driver was supposedly moved to call it "Old Glory," a name he used to describe the flag throughout his lifetime.

Old Glory gained its notoriety during the Civil War when Driver, who had moved to Nashville in 1837 after his wife died, raised the flag at the State Capitol after Nashville was captured by the Union Army.

"We are extraordinarily proud to have Old Glory return to Nashville where its fame originated before spreading across America ," said Lois Riggins-Ezzell, executive director of the Tennessee State Museum . "This is a singular opportunity to see a treasured artifact of Tennessee and U.S. history, and we hope the people of Tennessee and surrounding states will take advantage of this rare chance."

Old Glory was originally flown from Driver's merchant ship in the 1820s/1830s. When in Nashville , he hoisted it across the street at each national holiday and on his birthday of March 17. As the Civil War drew near and sentiment for the Confederacy grew in Nashville.

Driver, a staunch Unionist, reportedly hid Old Glory by having it sewn into a quilt. The war divided Driver's family as his two sons fought for the Confederacy and one son was killed at the Battle of Perryville.

In 1862 Nashville became the first state capital in the Confederacy to fall to Union troops. Upon the arrival of Union soldiers, Driver removed Old Glory from its hiding place and flew it from the State Capitol.

The newspapers of the time ran stories of Old Glory being brought out of hiding. Before long, people began referring to all U.S. flags as Old Glory.

Originally a 24-star flag when it was created for Driver, Old Glory was re-sewn around 1860, adding 10 more stars for the states that had joined the Union after the flag was originally constructed. An anchor was also added on the canton of the flag, which referred to Driver's experiences as a sea captain.

Old Glory remained in the Driver family until 1922 when it was presented by his daughter, Mary Jane Roland, to President Warren G. Harding. The flag was in a very delicate condition, and it essentially remained in storage until 1981 when Tennesseans raised the funds necessary to begin conservation efforts.

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