This battle flag belonged to John Rodgers, a Maryland man who captained ships for the Union’s North Atlantic Blockading Squadron during the Civil War. Rodgers’ squadron flew the flag in an 1861 battle in which Confederate soldiers rained cannonballs onto his ironclad from a bluff overlooking Virginia’s James River. Someone—most likely a female relative of Rodgers’—later embroidered “Corea 1871” among the 13 stars in the flag’s canton, in advance of Rodgers’ mission to Korea as the commander of America’s Asiatic Fleet. (The embroiderer used an accepted 19th-century English-language spelling of the country’s name.) One of Rodgers’ marines added the phrases “Battery Rodgers” and “By Land, or By Sea!” the latter an early Marine Corps motto.
In addition to the Civil War, this flag flew in America’s first Korean conflict. Admiral Rodgers, with a fleet of nine ships, sought to negotiate a treaty that would permit the United States to retrieve nationals whose ships wrecked along the Korean coast. But when Korean soldiers fired upon an American survey party and the Korean government declined to apologize for the attack, Rodgers sent more than 600 men ashore. In the ensuing skirmish, 243 Koreans and three Americans were killed. Fifteen of Rodgers’ men earned Medals of Honor, the first awarded for combat valor on foreign soil.
Kit Hinrichs is a partner in the design consultancy firm Pentagram in San Francisco. He graduated from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif., in 1963 and then served five years as a Marine reservist. Hinrichs has taught conceptual illustration at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco and advanced graphic design at the School of Visual Arts in New York. He has coauthored four books, including 100 American Flags (Ten Speed Press, 2008), which features the Rodgers banner and several other items from Hinrichs’ collection of flags and patriotic memorabilia.
Rodgers gave the flag to a lieutenant who had fought alongside him in Korea; ultimately, Hinrichs bought it for $13,000 in the early 1990s from a dealer at an antiques show in Atlantic City, N.J. “It had a real history to it. I’m also an ex-Marine, and ‘By Land, or By Sea!’ is an interesting thing to have drawn on the flag,” he says. “Plus, from a graphic standpoint, the flag has a real folk-art quality.”
Hinrichs owns more than 5,000 historical flags and flag-related items, including a 48-star banner from 1942 that features the slogans “Remember Pearl Harbor” and “Buy War Bonds” on its stripes. ?Also in his collection is a circa-1896 silk kimono on which the U.S. and Japanese flags are painted. “Each [antique American] flag is truly unique,” Hinrichs says, explaining that the U.S. flag’s design specifications were not set into law until 1912. “The American people created and interpreted their own symbol, and the flag continued to evolve and change for 150 years.”