Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Flag of Michigan and the Michigan 24th

The State Flag of Michigan, first seen at Gettysburg
On the 26th day of January in 1837, Michigan became the 26th state.

Less than 25 years later...

In the Spring of 1861, Fort Sumter falls. 
President Lincoln responds with a call to arms. Michigan replies with an initial enlistment of 10 companies.  

President Lincoln's response was succinct: "Thank God for Michigan!" (
Battlefield memorial to the Michigan 24th
By the following December, Michigan had sent an additional 16,000 men into battle. By war's end, the number of Michigan soldiers totaled 97,729. This was nearly a quarter of Michigan's entire male population. Of all these men, 1 in 6 would die: Their numbers are the 6th highest of Union Army war dead (

Michigan soldiers were at some of the worst fighting of the Civil War: Antietam. Gettysburg. Chancellorsville. The list goes on.
At Gettysburg, the 24th Michigan, part of the Iron Brigade of cavalry from the western states, lost 56% of its company. The Iron Brigade took some of the heaviest losses during the war, including some of the fiercest fighting during the three days of Gettysburg. 
Even before the war was over, Gettysburg was made into a soldier's cemetery to honor the war dead from both sides. (This picture of the battlefield memorial to the Michigan 24th is from Gettysburg.) It was here, at The Soldiers Cemetery at Gettysburg in 1863, that President Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address. And it was here, July 4, 1865, that the Michigan state flag was "unfurled" for the very first time ( 

The Michigan flag is inspired by the state seal and includes an adaptation of the seal against  a blue field. The state seal was designed in 1835 by Lewis Cass, a territorial governor, but takes its inspiration from the Hudson Bay Company's seal which features two rampant moose beside a shield with a red cross and a beaver in each quadrant. A fox atop a crown rests above the shield. The moose are standing on a banner with the rather wry Latin motto proclaiming "skin for skin" (Manitoba Historical Society).
Original Hudson Bay Company shield

The flag is a proud blending of national symbolism as well as state identity. At the top is a red banner. Below this is an American eagle holding three arrows and an olive branch. The olive branch has 13 olives or "fruits" symbolizing the original 13 colonies. 

Under the eagle is a shield with a rampant elk and a moose on either side. Below the shield is a patch of green and below that, two white banners. The shield depicts Michigan's land and great waterways. It also includes a man with one hand raised in peace and the other hand holding a gun.

The Michigan flag contains 3 Latin mottoes: Inside the red banner it reads, "E Pluribus Unum." Sound familiar? Translation: Out of many, one. The prominent second motto reads: "Tuebor." Translation: I will defend. Together, they state there is one nation out of many states and I will defend it. It is clear that Michigan did so unstintingly.

The third Latin motto is the official state motto and reads: "Si Quæris Peninsulam Amœnam Circumspice." Translation: If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you. This refers to Michigan's amazing inland relationship to water: It is the only state to touch four out of the five Great Lakes and has 36,000 miles of rivers and streams. With over 56,000 square miles, one is always "within 85 miles of a Great Lake anywhere in the state" (

Artist's version of Lincoln giving the Gettysburg Address
The Gettysburg Address
November 19, 1863

When Lincoln arrived by train the evening before, the station platform was lined with coffins of soldiers who had not yet been re-interred in the memorial cemetery (  

The crowds that gathered the next day, had not come to hear the president speak. The had come to listen to the great orator, Edward Everett who spoke for over two hours. Lincoln's speech, which took less than five minutes to give, remains one of the world's great speeches. If you have never had the opportunity to read the entire speech, here it is in all of its oratorical brilliance:

"Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure.

The Soldiers National Cemetery at Gettysburg, PA
"We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

"But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.

"It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they, who fought here, have thus far so nobly advanced. 
Battle flag of the 4th Michigan

"It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth."

To view the original Gettysburg Address and for more information about the Battle of Gettysburg, check out this link @

Did you know...
It was a Michigan unit, the 4th Michigan Cavalry under Col. Benjamin Pritchard, that captured Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

The State Flag of Michigan is unchanged since 1911.
Let it fly!


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