Stars and Stripes and America’s National Parks

Katherine RivardNPF Blog
Fort Sumter National Historic Site historic flag
National Park Service

We all learned why the flag has 13 stripes and 50 stars in elementary school. We’ve heard the legend of Betsy Ross, and we’ve made our share of mini flags with colored paper and popsicle stick poles. Here, we go a bit deeper to give you more information on the American flag.

Importance of the Red, White, and Blue

The American flag is a constant reminder of America’s ability to overcome hardship and adversity. It stands as a symbol of the ideas and beliefs on which the nation was founded. Its iconic stars and stripes underscore the country’s fight for unalienable rights to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness.

Flag Etiquette

Given the flag’s weighty significance, it’s important to use and maintain the American flag with due respect and diligence. Below is a short list of some of the rules for displaying the flag, or click here for more detailed guidance.

  • Only display the flag between sunrise and sunset. It may remain hoisted through the night, if properly illuminated.
  • Do not fly it during inclement weather.
  • Raise the flag energetically; lower it ceremoniously.
  • No other flag should ever be displayed above the United States flag.
  • Everyone facing the flag should cover their heart with their right hand as the flag is raised or lowered in a ceremony, or as it passes by in a parade.
  • The flag should never touch anything beneath it.
  • When displayed against a wall or window, or in a vertical orientation, the stars should be at the top and to the left of the observer.

National Parks with Big Flag History

Never Surrender

Fort Stanwix National Monument
National Park Service

The dramatic siege of today’s Fort Stanwix National Monument in August of 1777 began with a refusal to surrender by the Americans, and a scrappy flag. Locals claimed that this flag was the original “Stars and Stripes.” However, it is uncertain what the flag looked like, though some say it may have looked closer to the modern-day New York State flag. Ultimately Fort Stanwix became the only American fort to never surrender under attack throughout the American Revolution and locals from the region continue to take pride in this courage and the flag that inspired it.

Baltimore’s Great Garrison Flag

Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine dummers
National Park Service

Home of the Great Garrison Flag, which would go on to inspire Francis Scott Key’s "The Star-Spangled Banner," Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine offers perhaps the most in-depth flag programming in the park system. Programs include flag changes twice a day, a flag talk about its history, and a discussion on the Battle of Baltimore.

Allegiance to the Union

Andersonville National Historic Site
National Park Service

For much of the war, the Confederate flag was the only flag hung at Andersonville National Historic Site. Though the American flag was contraband at this Civil War military prison, it was kept by the men of the 16th Connecticut Infantry after their capture. Cutting the flag into fragments to prevent capture, they pieced it together on July 4th and waved it amongst the prisoners to rouse their spirits. Though the Confederates searched for the men responsible, they could not find them.

A Fort Filled with Flags

Fort Sumter National Monument historic flags
National Park Service

At Fort Sumter National Monument, several flags were flown during the Civil War. In 1861, one such flag, the 33-star US flag, representing each state in the Union, flew over the fort from April 12-13, 1861. After the battle, President Lincoln was given the choice to keep all 33 stars or remove those of the seceded states. With the goal of preserving the Union, he chose to keep all the stars. This is only one of the numerous flags used at the fort, and can still be seen at the museum today. Another original flag at Fort Sumter can still be seen today, thanks to a 1986 grant to help preserve it.

Waving in Foreign Lands

US Marine Corps War Memorial at sunset
National Park Service

One of the most iconic images of the American flag remains Joe Rosenthal’s image of 5 marines raising the flag atop Mount Suribachi’s rough terrain after a WWII victory on Iwo Jima. This photo went on to inspire the United States Marine Corps Memorial which was dedicated by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1954 to all the marines who have fought for our flag through the years. The memorial can be visited today in George Washington Memorial Parkway.

Whether you’re placing small flags on the graves of our fallen soldiers surrounding Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial, or watching a flag change at Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine, the history of the parks are intertwined with that of the American flag. With hundreds of years of history and so many heroic stories and powerful values behind it, the American flag remains one of the country’s most enduring symbols of freedom today. Get out there and #FindYourPark to learn firsthand about a flag near you. 


What National Park regularly flies a foreign flag?

Start a Conversation

This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Stay Inspired
Connect with the parks you love. Sign up to receive the latest NPF news, information on how you can support our national treasures, and travel ideas for your next trip to the parks. Join our community.