The J. P. Gillis
Flag, or the Biderman Flag of California (California
State Capitol Museum)
On 4 July 1861, at Sacramento, California, Major J. P. Gillis
decided to celebrate not only Americas independence from
Britain, but also that of the South from the North.
At about 10 p.m., after an exhibition of fireworks, he unfurled
a Confederate flag that had been wrapped around his walking stick,
and marched up the boardwalk before the St. George Hotel at the
corner of 4th and J Streets; most of those present appeared to
be Southern sympathizers, pleased with the display of the flag.
Not all those viewing this scene approved of it, however: J.
W. Biderman and Curtis Clark watchedwith anger. After Major Gillis
had demonstrated his feelings, Biderman and Clark followed him;
Biderman approached Gillis, caught him by the throat with his
left hand, and, with his right, tore the flag from the stick,
and put it in his pocket.
The account of the incident in the Sacramento Daily Union did
not reveal the relative sizes or ages of the two antagonists;
the Major was apparently a fighter, and called out to the crowd
for a knife, but, no one proffering a weapon, Bidermans
assault was successful. He cried out that no such flag
as that could be carried in this town in his presence,
and left the scene, taking the flag with him.
Biderman subsequently brought a large number of friends to the
St. George; they waved the flag and invited any secessionists
to come and take it. No one tried. Major Gillis later earnestly
pled for the flags return, but to no avail.
There seems to be no record of how or when, but the flag became
the property of the California State Capitol Museum. The flag
is made of silk, and is a variant of the first national flag,
the Stars and Bars, of the Confederacy. The difference is, in
place of the original seven stars in the canton, there are 17
white 5-pointed stars. Inscribed on the white bar in the middle
is Rebel Flag. Captured 4 July 1861. By Jack Biderman.
The display at the museum states that this is the only
known Confederate flag captured in California during the Civil
War. It is truly a Californian flag, of unique design.
Designated the Biderman Flag, it might better be
named for Major J. P. Gills, its owner.
The incident that occurred on the streets of Californias
capitol city on July 4, 1861, and the flag that brought it about,
are prophetic and symbolic of the secessionist movement in the
state: open advocation and defence of the cause, defeat by a
more powerful adversary, and all of this forgotten by history
with only a battered memento remaining.
-- Laurence Talbott, California in the War for Southern Independence,
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