It’s not uncommon to hear the flag of the United States referred to as Old Glory, though the origin of this nickname is not commonly known. The saga of Old Glory involves the history of a particular flag that played a symbolic role in the Civil War. The story begins sometime in the 1820s, when a large flag (10 feet by 17 feet) was presented to a young sea captain named William Driver. According to history, the flag was made by Captain Driver’s mother and a group of young women in Salem, Massachusetts and was designed to be flown from a ship’s mast. The flag featured 24 stars on its blue field, and a small anchor had been sewn near the stars to indicate that it was a ship’s flag.
Captain Driver used the flag on the whaling ship Charles Doggett during an around the world voyage in 1831-32. It was at this time that Driver began referring to the flag as Old Glory. Driver retired from the seafaring life in 1837 and moved to Nashville, Tennessee. Old Glory came with him and was displayed for all patriotic occasions, becoming famous among the citizens of Nashville. By this time the flag was showing quite a bit of wear and had been mended many times.
Additional stars had been added to Old Glory over the years as states joined the Union, so that the total number was 34 by 1861. It was in that year that the Civil War began and Tennessee seceded from the Union. Fearing an action against Old Glory by rebel forces, Driver had the foresight to hide the flag inside the comforter on his bed. Stitched into place, it remained there safely until Union troops reclaimed Nashville the following year. Driver brought out his flag and it was flown from the spire of the Tennessee State Capitol. Old Glory was saluted by the Sixth Ohio Regiment, who adopted the name Old Glory as their motto. This event was reported in many newspapers, bringing national fame to Old Glory.
William Driver died in 1886 at the age of 83. His grave in Nashville is one of only 3 places in the U.S. that has been designated by an Act of Congress to fly a flag perpetually. Old Glory was preserved as a Driver family heirloom until 1922, when it was presented to the Smithsonian Institute. Along with the flag which inspired Francis Scott Key to write The Star Spangled Banner, Old Glory is one of the most important historical flags preserved at the Smithsonian.