Silk Flag Banner designed by Leutze, created by Tiffany & Co., and presented to General John A. Dix
at a public ceremony on the evening of April 23, 1864, at the close of the NY Metropolitan Fair in Aid of the U.S. Sanitary Commission. Framed to 78¼ in. x 68¼ in.
This unique presentation flag celebrates one of the most famous orders of the Civil War, issued by Dix on January 29, 1861: "If Captain Breshwood, after arrest, undertakes to interfere with the command of the cutter, tell Lieutenant Caldwell to consider him as a mutineer... If anyone attempts to haul down the American flag, shoot him on the spot."
John A. Dix (1798-1879) joined the Artillery as a cadet at the age of 14, just in time to serve in the War of 1812; was a Democratic senator from New York in the 1840s; and was appointed by Buchanan in early 1861 to Secretary of the Treasury. Dix secured $5 million in federal borrowing from Eastern bankers, and nearly alone amongst Buchanan's Cabinet, forcefully supported the Union.
A few days after the Battle of Gettysburg, just as the first draft in American history was scheduled to begin, riots erupted in New York City. Between July 13-16, 1863, some 1,000 people – mostly African American – were killed, hundreds more were injured, and more than a million dollars of damage was done to property. Lincoln responded on July 17, 1863, by sending Dix to relieve General Wool as commander of the Department of the East. On July 18th, immediately after the riots subsided, Dix arrived in New York armed with wide-ranging powers from Lincoln. His successful management of a still explosive situation, by negotiating with city and state political authorities, as well speaking to the public, is credited with preventing the riots from resuming when the draft was reinstated in mid-August. Governor Seymour, who argued against reinstating the draft, balked at using militia troops to enforce order and help carry it out. Dix appealed for federal troops, and on August 17th, issued a proclamation to the citizens of New York giving a well-reasoned argument in support of the morality, necessity, and legality of the draft.
Privately, Dix had already informed Secretary of War Edward Stanton that he was prepared to "promptly declare the martial law and suspend the civil authority" in the event of interference by state authorities. But nowhere in his own proclamation, in his Memoirs, or in any of his other published correspondence did Dix reveal that Lincoln had given him the power to do so when sending him to New York on July 17th. Dix was able to keep that powerful weapon in his holster. In fact, Dix handled that authority so discretely that Lincoln's proclamation to Dix was unknown until sold by Dix's descendants, and acquired by us in 2007.
The day after Thanksgiving, 1864, with the help of Major Thomas T. Eckert and a Confederate double-agent working in Canada, Dix and his men thwarted a massive terrorist plot to simultaneously burn at least a dozen New York City hotels, just as the blazes were lit. (Bates, 300)
The artist, Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze (1816-1868), a German-born painter of Jewish heritage, specialized in American patriotic images. His most famous works are Washington Crossing the Delaware and Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way (or Westward Ho!). Leutze donated his time for the design of this flag.
The manufacturer, Tiffany & Co., was established in 1837, by Charles Lewis Tiffany (1812-1902) and John B. Young, as a stationery and fancy goods store in lower Manhattan. The company supplied the Union Army with swords, flags and surgical implements throughout the war, and was known for its gemstone-laden presentation swords, including those made for Generals Grant and Sherman, and Admiral Farragut.
The benefactor, Mrs. Abbie B. Blodgett (1828-1904), was the wife of William Tilden Blodgett (1823-1875), a varnish and real estate tycoon. Mr. Blodgett was an obsessive European and American art collector, and a principal founder of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Dix's Historic 1861 Order
In his last month as President, January, 1861, according to Dix, James Buchanan, under pressure from Wall Street, appointed John Dix Secretary of the Treasury. Dix gave a fascinating history of the revenue cutter McClelland
incident, with the stipulation that it not be published during his or Buchanan's lifetime: "Forts, arsenals, and revenue-cutters in the Southern States had been seized by the local authorities… On the 18th of January, three days after I entered on my duties, I sent a special messenger…to New Orleans, for the purpose of saving the revenue-cutters in that city…then…Mobile and Galveston… My orders were to provision them and send them to New York. Though indignant at the course of the Southern States, and the men about him who had betrayed his confidence—Cobb, Floyd, and others—one leading idea had taken possession of his [President Buchanan's] mind, that in the civil contest which threatened to break out the North must not shed the first drop of blood. This idea is the key to his submission to much which should have been met with prompt and vigorous resistance."
Three days later at a Cabinet meeting, "I said to him, 'Mr. President, I fear we have lost some more of our revenue-cutters.' 'Ah!' said he, 'how is that?' I then told him what had occurred down to the receipt of the despatch from Mr. Jones, informing me that Captain Breshwood refused to obey my order. 'Well,' said he, 'what did you do?' I then repeated to him, slowly and distinctly, the order I had sent. When I came to the words, 'Shoot him on the spot,' he started suddenly, and said, with a good deal of emotion, 'Did you write that?' 'No, sir,' I said, 'I did not write it, but I telegraphed it.' He made no answer; nor do I remember that he ever referred to it afterward. It was manifest, as I had presupposed, that the order would never have been given if I had consulted him."
"A conviction of the right course to be taken was as instantaneous as a flash of light; and I did not think…that I was doing anything specially worthy of remembrance. It touched the public mind and heart strongly, no doubt, because the blood of all patriotic men was boiling with indignation at the humiliation which we were enduring; and I claim no other merit than that of having thought rightly, and of having expressed strongly what I felt in common with the great body of my countrymen."
In Dix's report to Congress he wrote: "[T]he flag of the Union, since 1777, when it was devised and adopted by the founders of the Republic, had never until a recent day been hauled down, except by honorable hands in manly conflict, no hesitation was felt in attempting to uphold it at any cost against an act of treachery, as the ensign of the public authority and the emblem of unnumbered victories by land and sea."
The U.S. Sanitary Commission (USSC) "established in the major cities…of the North by… leading clergymen, businessmen, and civic leaders…aimed to improve society… It organized thousands of relief groups and employed hundreds of paid agents [to help sick and wounded soldiers]. It combined charity with the desire to return the men to their units rapidly. It counseled control of individual attachments and each soldier's body. 'The Sanitary' also served as an army watchdog for camps, hospitals, even kitchens, and demanded sensible waste disposal, clean drinking water, and proper drainage. It held fairs and raised millions of dollar, mostly for medical supplies but, when needed, for food as well." (Boritt, 17)
The committee for New York's Metropolitan USSC Fair, held April 4-23, 1864, included: Mrs. John Jacob Astor, Albert Bierstadt, Matthew B. Brady, Mrs. Ambrose Burnside, Capt. John Ericsson, Mrs. Hamilton Fish, Mrs. Alexander Hamilton, Jr., Mrs. John Jay, Eastman Johnson, Leutze, Mrs. George B. McClellan, James A. Roosevelt, and Mr. & Mrs. George Templeton Strong. For the opening, "Dix ordered a review of the troops that afternoon; there were three thousand regulars and some seven thousand men of the First Division of the New York State National Guard." At the close of the fair, amidst much pomp and circumstance, New York's grateful civic leaders, with "a large and brilliant audience, including General Anderson, General de Trobriand, Mr. [George] Bancroft, and other distinguished persons," presented Dix (president of the fair association) with this spectacular banner.
General Dix was escorted to the gallery while the band played Hail to the Chief. Charles Tracy delivered the address, describing the circumstances of the famous order, and the presentation flag, and the actual Union and Confederate standards from the McClelland, all on display. Giving credit to Mr. Leutze and Mrs. Blodgett for their generous gift, Tracy then presented Dix with an autograph book to commemorate the occasion, signed prior to the event by Lincoln, Johnson, General Winfield Scott, Judges of the Supreme Court of the United States, members of the Cabinet, Senators, Representatives in Congress, and then by attendees of the fair, who "gladly enrolled themselves among the friends and admirers of a brave heart and a ready hand in the day of oppression and danger." ("After the President had thus written his name, without title, a gentleman present hinted, might it not be well to add, "President of the United States?" Mr. Lincoln, resting his head on his right hand, meditated a moment, and then replied, "No, I think I'll not write under it, 'This is a horse.'")
Unveiling the Leutze-Tiffany flag, Tracy pronounced: "You perceive the design. It is the figure of Liberty, rising from her seat, grasping the American flag with one hand and holding the thunder-bolts with the other, and the motto is in the immortal words of General Dix himself… The flag…is of the richest materials, elaborately wrought, and is in all respects in the highest style of the decorative art."
Dix was by all accounts greatly moved, stating that the items "will be preserved by me and my family as a possession of inestimable value; as significant memorials of the greatest crisis in our history, and as a grateful memento of those with whom I have had the happiness of being associated in this noble enterprise for the relief of the gallant soldiers who have become disabled in their country's cause." He later wrote Mrs. Blodgett, "[I am] so much your debtor. I can never forget that I owe to your kindness the most valuable testimonial of my public services that I have ever received." Dix's family retained the flag for more than 100 years.
With a cache of 1864–66 papers from philanthropists Abbie B. Blodgett (1828–1904) and William Tilden Blodgett (1823–1875), related to the Metropolitan Fair, including a 7-page manuscript by Gen. Dix recounting the detailed history of his 1861 order:
A) [METROPOLITAN SANITARY FAIR]. Printed Document Filled in Manuscript, Receipt for Donation of $11,730 to Metropolitan Fair, in Aid of the U.S. Sanitary Commission, by MRS. ABBIE B. BLODGETT, May 23, 1864, signed by Finance Committee Chairman John H. Gourlie. 1 p., 9½ x 4½ in. This donation may have included payment for the Leutze-Tiffany flag.
B) JOHN A. DIX. Autograph Letter Signed, to Mrs. Abbie B. Blodgett, August 15, 1864, New York Head Quarters, Department of the East. 2 pp., 5 x 8 in. With autograph envelope addressed only to Mrs. Blodgett, 5th Avenue. "I take the liberty of sending you a copy of New Speeches & c.… [including] a history of a certain order which you have done so much to make memorable, and of which I am to give you the private details..."
Dix published two volumes entitled Speeches and Occasional Addresses
in 1864 with D. Appleton and Company of New York. Together numbering more than nine hundred pages, the two volumes included a forty-two-page chapter on "The Rebellion in Louisiana." This chapter includes an account of Louisiana's seizure of the federal customs-house, the branch mint, and the marine hospital in New Orleans, federal lighthouses in Louisiana, and detailed correspondence regarding the US revenue cutter Robert McClelland at New Orleans, about which Dix issued his famous order.
Among the interesting details in Dix's report are the intelligence that Francis H. Hatch (1815-1884), the disloyal collector at New Orleans, had ordered the revenue-cutter Robert McClelland, "one of the largest and finest in the service, and recently refitted," to sail upriver from the mouth of the Mississippi to New Orleans, seventy-two miles above Forts St. Philip and Jackson, then under the control of Louisiana forces.
It also includes a transcription of special agent William Hemphill Jones' telegram to Secretary Dix of January 29, 1861: "Captain Breshwood has refused positively, in writing, to obey any instructions of the department; in this I am sure he is sustained by the collector, and I believe acts by his advice. What must I do?" Dix responded within hours with his famous telegram. Dix also informed Congress that in the thousand miles between Washington and New Orleans, telegrams were received and rewritten at Augusta, Georgia; and at Montgomery and Mobile, Alabama. His report reveals that Andrew B. Moore (1807-1873), the governor of Alabama, intercepted Dix's telegram in Montgomery and forwarded it to John T. Monroe (1822-1871), the secessionist mayor of New Orleans. It appeared in New Orleans newspapers the next day, January 30. Jones learned of the order from Dix from the New Orleans newspapers.
By February 4, the telegram had made its way into New York, Chicago, and Baltimore newspapers. In his full report filed on February 15, Special Agent Jones sadly informed Dix, "I was therefore under the necessity of witnessing the transfer of this fine vessel, her stores and armament, to the State of Louisiana, and report to you that she is no longer in the United States revenue service." The report also revealed that not only Captain John G. Breshwood of the Robert McClelland
but also Lieutenants Samuel B. Caldwell (the recipient, through Jones, of Dix's order) and Thomas D. Fister had surrendered the ship to the State of Louisiana. In response, Dix dismissed all three officers from the revenue service.
On February 5, the National Republican in Washington published the telegram under the heading "A Little Fast" and declared that "Bravery is a good thing, but not with the lives of others. It is a great responsibility for a superior to issue and order, the execution of which must cost the life of an inferior.... The cutter was in the midst of enemies, and hopelessly lost...." National Republican (Washington, DC), February 5, 1861, 2:1. That same evening, the members of the Republican Central Club in New York City resolved to "approve and applaud the instructions of John A. Dix." The New-York Times, February 6, 1861, 1:5.
C) JOHN A. DIX. Autograph Manuscript Signed, to Mrs. Abbie B. Blodgett, April 3, 1865, New York. 7 pp., 7¾ x 9¾ in. With envelope, "official business" crossed out, autograph address to Mrs. Blodgett, 27 West 25th St. General Dix adds private details to the story of his famous order to protect the flag.
New York, 3. April. 1865.
My dear Mrs. Blodgett:
I fulfill the promise made to you last summer to give you the history of the order issued while I was Secretary of the Treasury, to shoot any man who should attempt to haul down the American Flag. The only request I make is that no publicity may be given to it during Mr. Buchanan's life or mine.
I was requested by Mr. Buchanan early in January, 1861, to see him in Washington. He received me very cordially, and said he wished me to take a place in his Cabinet. He offered me the War Department, which I declined. Mr. Holt, Post-Master General, was acting Secretary of War, and I told the President I could do nothing in that office, to which the incumbent was not fully adequate. But I said to him that if he thought I could be of any service to him in the Treasury Department, I would not refuse it. He replied that he thought he could make the arrangement; and I left Washington for New York. Before I reached home, I saw my appointment in the newspapers.
Howell Cobb had resigned as Secretary of the Treasury a few weeks before and returned to Georgia for the purpose of co-operating with that State in the attempt to break up the Union. Philip F. Thomas of Maryland had been appointed in his place, but had not responded to the expectations of the President or the country in restoring the credit of the government, which had fallen to a low ebb under his predecessor.
I entered on my duties on the 15th day of January, 1861, and at Mr. Buchanan's urgent request I stayed with him at the President's house. Forts, arsenals and revenue-cutters in the Southern States had been seized by the local authorities. No effort had been made by the government to secure its property; and there was an apparent indifference in the public mind to these outrages quite incomprehensible to me.
On the 19th day of January, four days after I entered on my duties, I sent Mr. Wm. Hemphill Jones, who was Chief Clerk in one of the bureaus of the Treasury Department, to New Orleans for the purpose of saving the revenue-cutters in that station. He was then to proceed to Mobile and try to save the revenue cutter there. My orders were to provision them and send them to New York. I knew if they remained at the south, that the state authorities would take possession of them.
I received from Mr. Jones on the 29th of January the despatch published on page 448, 2 vol. of my speeches, advising me that Capt. Breshwood of the revenue cutter McClelland refused to obey my order. It was about seven o'clock in the evening. I had dined, and was at the Department, as usual, transacting business. The moment I read it, I wrote the order, the facsimile of which faces the title-page of the volume above referred to. Not a word was altered; but the original was handed to the clerk charged with the custody of my telegraphic despatches, copied by him, and the copy was signed by me and sent to the office of the telegraph company. Before I sent it, however, a question of military etiquette arose in my mind in regard to the arrest of Capt. Breshwood, and I took a carriage and drove to the lodgings of Lieut.-Gen. Scott to consult him concerning it. Mr. Stanton was then Attorney General. My relations with him were of the most intimate character; and as he resided near General Scott, I drove to his house first and showed the dispatch to him. He approved of it, and made some remark complimentary to it. General Scott said I was right on the question of etiquette, and I think expressed his gratification that I had taken a decided stand against southern invasions of the authority of the government. I immediately returned to the Department and sent the dispatch to its destination. General Scott, Mr. Stanton, and Mr. Handy, the clerk, who copied it, were the only persons who saw it.
It was on Tuesday evening, the weekly drawing-room evening of Miss Lane, and before nine o'clock I was with her visitors.
I decided when I wrote the order to say nothing to the President about it. I was satisfied that, if he was consulted, he would not permit it to be sent. Though indignant at the course of the southern states and the men about him who had betrayed his confidence, — Cobb, Floyd, and others — one leading idea had taken possession of his mind — that, in the civil contest, which seemed to be impending, the North must not shed the first drop of blood. This idea furnishes a key to his submission to much which should have been met with a prompt and vigorous resistance. During the seven weeks I was with him he rarely failed to come to my room, before going to his own for the night, and converse with me for an hour on the great questions of the day. I was strongly impressed with his conscientiousness. But he was timid and credulous. His confidence was easily gained, and it was not difficult for an artful man to deceive him. But I remember no instance, in my unreserved intercourse with him, in which I had reason to doubt his uprightness.
Tuesdays and Fridays were cabinet days. The members met at the President's house in the morning without special notice. My order was given, as I have stated, on Tuesday evening. I said nothing to the President about it, though I was with him every evening, until Friday. When the members of the Cabinet were all assembled and the President was about to call our attention to the business of the day, I said to him, "Mr. President, I fear we have lost some more of our revenue cutters." "Ah!" said he, "how is that?" I then told him what had occurred including the despatch from Mr. Jones, informing me that Capt. Breshwood refused to obey my order. "Well," said he, "what did you do?" I then repeated to him, slowly and distinctly, the order I had sent. When I came to the words — "shoot him on the spot," he started suddenly and said, with a good deal of emotion, "Did you write that?" "No, sir," I replied, "I did not write it, but I telegraphed it." He made no answer, nor do I remember that he ever referred to it afterwards. It was manifest, as I had pre-supposed, that the order would never have been sent to its destination, if I had consulted him.
It only remains for me to say that the order was not the result of any premeditation — scarcely of any thought. A conviction of the right course to be taken was as instantaneous as a flash of light. And I did not think, when I seized the nearest pen, (a very bad one, as the fac simile shows) and wrote the order, in as little time as it would take to read it, that I was doing anything particularly worthy of remembrance. It touched the public mind and heart strongly, no doubt, because the blood of all patriotic men, in spite of the placid exterior, was boiling with indignation and shame at the humiliation we were enduring; and I claim no other merit than that of having thought rightly and acted promptly as the majority of my countrymen would have done under similar circumstances.
It gives me great pleasure, my dear Mrs. Blodgett, to place in your hands this plain history of an official act, which has made me so much your debtor. I can never forget that I owe to your kindness the most valuable testimonial of my public services that I have ever received. The obligation is the more grateful to me, because you seem of all others to be the least conscious of the value of what you have conferred.
With the sincerest regard,
Your friend, / John A. Dix
D) ABBIE B. BLODGETT. Autograph Letter Signed, to John A. Dix, April 6, 1865, New York. 4 pp., 5 x 7½ in. "I can not express my gratification at being the recipient of your confidence in the form of a letter containing the private history of an event in our nation's life, at a time when a few great and good men like yourself stepped forward to the support of our government- and gave us the key vote of confidence. / Your immortal order the history of which in your consideration and kindness you have confided to my care thrilled every heart- and inspired us with the belief that all was not lost- that there were those at the helm to guide our glorious ship of state through the storm and darkness enveloping all that we hold most dear…"
E) WILLIAM T. BLODGETT. Autograph Document Signed, May 8, 1865, New York. 1 p., 5 x 8 in. With Blodgett autograph note signed on envelope, 8¾ x 4 in. "The special injunctions connected with the history of General Dix are that the MSS. shall not be published until the decease of Mr. Buchanan and the General..."
F) JOHN A. DIX. Autograph Letter Signed, to Mrs. Abbie B. Blodgett, October 25, 1866, New York. 3 pp., 4½ x 7 in. With autograph envelope addressed to Mrs. Wm T. Blodgett, 25th St. "I send you the article I mentioned the other day. It is from the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin of the 3rd inst. Please lay it aside with the paper from me giving the history of the order to 'shoot' &c. / It seems very hard to give the right version of the order. Even Judge Holt misquotes it. I did not say, 'If any man hauls down'; but I said, 'If any man attempts to haul down' &c.'shoot him on the spot' & did not intend that they should wait till he had done it. / This is the second time unscrupulous persons have tried to deprive me of the credit, if there was any, of giving the order. In the first instance it was ascribed to Mr. Stanton, who repelled the injustice as pointedly as Judge Holt. The misrepresentation in both cases originated in political jealousy on the one hand or subserviency on the other; and the authors were alike mistaken in the character of the men they intended to flatter. Is there any thing so groveling & low as party politicks? I think not."
G) Also with a Typed transcript of a letter to My Dear --- , by H.T.T. (likely the author Henry T. Tuckerman) December 27, 1864, describing a dinner at the Blodgett's house with Admiral Farragut, General Anderson, General Dix, General Scott, the artist [Frederick E.] Church, et al. Of note is a description of specially made confectionary honoring the guests. Noted on the verso, "Copy of letter written to Mrs [Harris Street?] by Mr Henry T. Tuckerman the copy of which was sent indirectly to my mother." And with undated letter by John Hay to Mrs. Blodgett and a carte-de-visite size photograph of Dix.
Purchased at a circa 1970 auction of items stored in outbuildings at the Dix estate on Orange Road, Mt. Kisco, New York.
At some point before or shortly after the 1970 sale, the central design element was removed from its original navy blue silk backing, and placed on an aqua fabric. In 2008, it was treated at the Conservation Center at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, New York. Along with other conservation and archival framing, the inappropriate backing was removed and replaced by a new silk backing matching its' original color. (Inventory #: 21240)