Our Banner in the Sky
Our Banner in the Sky is a patriotic and artistic response to the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter in April 1861. This first battle of the Civil War led Abraham Lincoln to call for 75,000 militiamen to put down what he called an "insurrection" in the South. Here, artist Frederic Edwin Church painted a vividly colored American flag in the sky as a dynamic part of nature at sunrise. Look at how the short brushstrokes and glow of the clouds form the stripes and the deep blue sky between the clouds is dotted with stars. Above a tree that stands like a flagpole, an eagle-the national bird of the United States-soars through the sky.
Church created an American flag in the heavens, as if the Union was guided by a higher purpose. (The American flag had figured prominently in the battle, as Confederates shot at it during the bombardment and Union troops eventually lowered it when they surrendered to rebel forces.) By responding to the attack on Fort Sumter in this way, Church makes a political statement in defense of the Union which was shared by Northerners like himself. He also followed a landscape painting tradition in which nature is used to communicate more than what meets the eye; in this case, he wanted to refer to concepts important to nineteenth-century Americans, such as national identity, destiny, and progress.