“Big Red” comes home
“Big Red” completed its 150-year and 1,203-mile journey home to The Citadel today.
The Civil War-era red palmetto flag – believed to be the one that flew over Morris Island when Citadel cadets fired upon the supply ship The Star of the West – arrived on campus Friday morning aboard a climate-controlled 18-wheeler.
Discovered in storage in an Iowa museum, the “Big Red” flag is on loan for four years from the State Historical Society of Iowa. “Big Red” returns in time for the 150th anniversary of the firing on The Star of the West next year.
“We are pleased to be able to share this wonderful artifact by loaning it to The Citadel in time for the 150th anniversary,” said Cyndi Pederson, director of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs.
Pederson said Pvt. John Baker, a Civil War veteran from Iowa, donated the flag to the state in 1919. He wanted it to be used to educate people about history. The Historical Society agrees, saying “we think this is a wonderful way to forge a greater partnership between the states of Iowa and South Carolina.”
“Big Red” has been in storage for years and its travels are mostly unknown because it disappeared from the historical record after 1861. After extensive research and textile analysis, many flag experts and historians are confident it is the same flag cadets flew over Morris Island on Jan. 9, 1861.
“Big Red” has become a symbol of pride for The Citadel. A replica with a white palmetto tree and outward facing crescent was adopted as a spirit flag for the Corps of Cadets in 1992. Its design was the same as the South Carolina state flag, but on a red field, rather than blue. The original flag, however, has an inward facing crescent. In 2009, the college’s Board of Visitors adopted the original flag design as the official spirit flag.
The flag is in exceptional condition for its age, Pederson said. It is a machine- and hand-stitched flag and is made of wool and cotton. The flag measures a little more than 7 feet high and 10 1/4 feet wide. It is encased in a wood frame behind UV glass.
In its display in the lobby of the Holliday Alumni Center, the flag will be secured in a climate- and light-controlled room. It will be visible through a floor to ceiling glass wall. More than 750 people have donated in excess of $61,000 to build the display room and pay for the flag’s return to the Lowcountry.
On Thursday in Des Moines, Iowa, “Big Red” was placed in a specially made wooden crate and strapped to one side of an 18-wheeler’s climate-controlled container unit. Two drivers from Racine Berkow Associates Inc., a fine art transport company, then made the more 20-hour, non-stop drive from Des Moines, Iowa, to Charleston.
“I feel like a kid on Christmas morning,” said Ed Carter, chairman of the Big Red Recovery Committee and immediate past president of the alumni association. “After all the work over all these years it’s here. I’m excited because this is the flag that belongs to the Corps of Cadets, the real deal.”
Following a media sneak peek today, the flag will remain under wraps until its public unveiling at an invitation-only event on March 19. The general public will be able to see the flag for the first time on Saturday, March 20 during Corps Day events marking the South Carolina Corps of Cadets’ 167th birthday.
Other "Big Red" related events coming up:
- NASA astronaut Marine Lt. Col. Randy Bresnik, Citadel Class of 1989, will present the college with a replica of the original “Big Red” that he took with him on the Space Shuttle Atlantis mission to the International Space Station in November 2009. Bresnik will present the nylon flag and talk about his first mission in space at 12:30 p.m. Friday, March 19 during the Principled Leadership Symposium luncheon in Mark Clark Hall. Sponsored by the Krause Center for Leadership and Ethics, the speech is free and open to the public. (Bresnik will meet the media immediately following the luncheon.)
- "Big Red” will officially join the Corps of Cadets on Friday, March 19, when the current spirit flags carried by each of the five battalions will be replaced with flags bearing the original design of the elaborate palmetto tree and inward facing crescent. The flag exchange will take place during the military dress parade at 3:45 p.m. that day.
To learn more about “Big Red” go to www.citadelalumni.org/bigred.