Flags of the Confederate States of America
There were only three flag designs adopted, with later, minor variants made to those designs, that served as the official national flags of the Confederate States of America and used during its existence from 1861 to 1865. Since the end of the American Civil War, personal and official use of Confederate flags, and of flags derived from these, has continued under some controversy.
The state flags of Mississippi and Georgia are based on Confederate flags. The flag of North Carolina is based on the state's 1861 flag, which dates back to the Confederacy and appears to be based on the first Confederate flag. The flags of Alabama and Florida appear to be of Confederate inspiration, but are actually derived from the Cross of Burgundy flag, which flew over the territory of Spanish Florida.[verification needed]
- 1 National flags
- 2 Other flags
- 3 Confederate flag
- 4 Controversy
- 5 Protection
- 6 UDC salute
- 7 See also
- 8 Notes
- 9 References
- 10 External links
First national flag (the Stars and Bars)
The first official national flag of the Confederacy, called the Stars and Bars, was flown from March 4, 1861, to May 1, 1863. Inspired by Austria's national flag, it was designed by Prussian artist Nicola Marschall in Marion, Alabama. The Stars and Bars flag was adopted March 4, 1861, in Montgomery, Alabama, and raised over the dome of that first Confederate Capitol. Marschall also designed the Confederate Army uniform.
One of the first acts of the Provisional Confederate Congress was to create the Committee on the Flag and Seal, chaired by William Porcher Miles of South Carolina. The committee asked the public to submit thoughts and ideas on the topic and was, as historian John M. Coski puts it, "overwhelmed by requests not to abandon the 'old flag' of the United States." Miles had already designed a flag that would later become the Confederate battle flag, and he favored his flag over the "Stars and Bars" proposal. But given the popular support for a flag similar to the U.S. flag ("the Stars and Stripes"), the Stars and Bars design was approved by the committee. When war broke out, the Stars and Bars caused confusion on the battlefield because of its similarity to the U.S. flag of the U.S. Army (as well as some Confederate units which still wore dark blue coats early in the war prior to the adoption of gray uniforms).
Eventually, 13 stars would be shown on the flag, reflecting the Confederacy's claims to have admitted Kentucky and Missouri into their union. The first showing of the 13-star flag was outside the Ben Johnson House in Bardstown, Kentucky; the 13-star design was also in use as the Confederate Navy's battle ensign.
First national flag with 13 stars
(November 28, 1861 – May 1, 1863)
Second national flag
During the solicitation for the second national flag, there were many different types of designs that were proposed, nearly all making use of the battle flag, which by 1863 had become well-known and popular. The new design was specified by the Confederate Congress to be a white field "with the union (now used as the battle flag) to be a square of two-thirds the width of the flag, having the ground red; thereupon a broad saltire of blue, bordered with white, and emblazoned with mullets or five-pointed stars, corresponding in number to that of the Confederate States."
The flag is also known as "the Stainless Banner". The nickname "stainless" referred to the pure white field. The flag act of 1864 did not state what the white symbolized and advocates offered various interpretations. The Confederate Congress debated whether the white field should have a blue stripe and whether it should be bordered in red. William Miles delivered a speech for the simple white design that was eventually approved. He argued that the battle flag must be used, but for a national flag it was necessary to emblazon it, but as simply as possible, with a plain white field.
The flags actually made by the Richmond Clothing Depot used the 1.5:1 ratio adopted for the Confederate Navy's battle ensign, rather than the official 2:1 ratio.
Initial reaction to the second national flag was favorable, but over time it became criticized for being "too white". The Columbia Daily South Carolinian observed that it was essentially a battle flag upon a flag of truce and might send a mixed message. Military officers voiced complaints about the flag being too white, for various reasons, including the danger of being mistaken for a flag of truce, especially on naval ships, and that it was too easily soiled.
Second national flag
(May 1, 1863 – March 4, 1865), 1:2 ratio
Third national flag
The third national flag (also called "the Blood Stained Banner") was adopted March 4, 1865. The red vertical bar was proposed by Major Arthur L. Rogers, who argued that the pure white field of the Second National flag could be mistaken as a flag of truce: when hanging limp in no wind, the flag's Southern Cross canton could accidentally stay hidden, so the flag could mistakenly appear all white.
Rogers lobbied successfully to have this alteration introduced in the Confederate Senate. He defended his redesign as having "as little as possible of the Yankee blue", and described it as symbolizing the primary origins of the people of the South, with the cross of England and the red bar from the flag of France.
The Flag Act of 1865 describes the flag in the following language:
The Congress of the Confederate States of America do enact, That the flag of the Confederate States shall be as follows: The width two-thirds of its length, with the union (now used as the battle flag) to be in width three-fifths of the width of the flag, and so proportioned as to leave the length of the field on the side of the union twice the width of the field below it; to have the ground red and a broad blue saltier thereon, bordered with white and emblazoned with mullets or five pointed stars, corresponding in number to that of the Confederate States; the field to be white, except the outer half from the union to be a red bar extending the width of the flag.
Despite the passage of the Flag Act of 1865, very few third national flags were actually manufactured and used in the field. Moreover, the ones made by the Richmond Clothing Depot used the square canton of the second national flag rather than the slightly rectangular one specified by the law.
In addition to the national flags, a wide variety of flags and banners were flown by Southerners during the War. Most famously, the "Bonnie Blue Flag" was used as an unofficial flag during the early months of 1861. It was flying above the Confederate batteries that first opened fire on Fort Sumter, beginning the Civil War. The Van Dorn battle flag was also carried by Confederate troops fighting in the Trans-Mississippi and Western theaters of war. In addition, many military units had their own regimental flags they would carry into battle. Other notable flags used are shown below.
The Army of Northern Virginia battle flag was square, of various sizes for the different branches of the service: 52 inches (130 cm) square for the infantry, 38 inches (97 cm) for the artillery, and 32 inches (81 cm) for the cavalry. It was used in battle beginning in December 1861 until the fall of the Confederacy. The blue color on the saltire in the battle flag was navy blue, as opposed to the much lighter blue of the Naval Jack.
The flag's stars represented the number of states in the Confederacy. The distance between the stars decreased as the number of states increased, reaching thirteen when the secessionist factions of Kentucky and Missouri joined in late 1861.
At the First Battle of Manassas, the similarity between the Stars and Bars and the Stars and Stripes caused confusion and military problems. Regiments carried flags to help commanders observe and assess battles in the warfare of the era. At a distance, the two national flags were hard to tell apart. In addition, Confederate regiments carried many other flags, which added to the possibility of confusion. After the battle, General P.G.T. Beauregard wrote that he was "resolved then to have [our flag] changed if possible, or to adopt for my command a 'Battle flag', which would be Entirely different from any State or Federal flag." He turned to his aide, who happened to be William Porcher Miles, the former chair of Committee on the Flag and Seal. Miles described his rejected national flag design to Beauregard. Miles also told the Committee on the Flag and Seal about the general's complaints and request for the national flag to be changed. The committee rejected this idea by a four to one vote, after which Beauregard proposed the idea of having two flags. He described the idea in a letter to his commander General Joseph E. Johnston: "I wrote to [Miles] that we should have two flags—a peace or parade flag, and a war flag to be used only on the field of battle—but congress having adjourned no action will be taken on the matter—How would it do us to address the War Dept. on the subject of Regimental or badge flags made of red with two blue bars crossing each other diagonally on which shall be introduced the stars, ... We would then on the field of battle know our friends from our Enemies."
The flag that Miles had favored when he was chair of the Committee on the Flag and Seal eventually became the battle flag and, ultimately, the most popular flag of the Confederacy. According to historian John Coski, Miles' design was inspired by one of the many "secessionist flags" flown at the South Carolina secession convention of December 1860. That flag was a blue St George's Cross (an upright or Latin cross) on a red field, with 15 white stars on the cross, representing the slaveholding states, and, on the red field, palmetto and crescent symbols. Miles received a variety of feedback on this design, including a critique from Charles Moise, a self-described "Southerner of Jewish persuasion". Moise liked the design, but asked that "the symbol of a particular religion not be made the symbol of the nation". Taking this into account, Miles changed his flag, removing the palmetto and crescent, and substituting a heraldic saltire ("X") for the upright one. The number of stars was changed several times as well. He described these changes and his reasons for making them in early 1861. The diagonal cross was preferable, he wrote, because "it avoided the religious objection about the cross (from the Jews and many Protestant sects), because it did not stand out so conspicuously as if the cross had been placed upright thus". He also argued that the diagonal cross was "more Heraldric [sic] than Ecclesiastical, it being the 'saltire' of Heraldry, and significant of strength and progress".
According to Coski, the Saint Andrew's Cross had no special place in Southern iconography at the time, and if Miles had not been eager to conciliate the Southern Jews his flag would have used the traditional Latin, Saint George's Cross. A colonel named James B. Walton submitted a battle flag design essentially identical to Miles' except with an upright Saint George's cross, but Beauregard chose the diagonal cross design.
Miles' flag, and all the flag designs up to that point, were rectangular ("oblong") in shape. General Johnston suggested making it square instead to conserve material. Johnston also specified the various sizes to be used by different types of military units. Generals Beauregard and Johnston and Quartermaster General Cabell approved the design of the 12-star Confederate Battle Flag at the Ratcliffe home, which served briefly as Beauregard’s headquarters, near Fairfax Court House in September 1861. The 12th star represented Missouri. President Jefferson Davis arrived by train at Fairfax Station soon after and was shown the design for the new battle flag at the Ratcliffe House. Hetty Cary and her sister and cousin made prototypes. One such 12-star flag resides in the collection of Richmond’s Museum of the Confederacy and the other is in Confederate Memorial Hall in New Orleans.
On November 28, 1861, Confederate soldiers in the Army of Northern Virginia received the new battle flags in ceremonies at Centreville and Manassas, Virginia, and carried them throughout the Civil War. Beauregard gave a speech encouraging the soldiers to treat this new flag with honor and that it must never be surrendered. Many soldiers wrote home about the ceremony and the impression the flag had upon them, the "fighting colors" boosting morale after the confusion at the Battle of First Manassas. From that point on, the battle flag only grew in its identification with the Confederacy and the South in general. Later, a 13th star was added for Kentucky.
The Army of Northern Virginia battle flag assumed a prominent place post-war when it was adopted as the copyrighted emblem of the United Confederate Veterans. Its continued use by the UCV and the later Sons of Confederate Veterans led to the assumption that it was, as it has been termed, "the soldier's flag" or "the Confederate battle flag".
The flag is also properly known as the flag of the Army of Northern Virginia. It was sometimes called "Beauregard's flag" or "the Virginia battle flag". A Virginia Department of Historic Resources marker declaring Fairfax, Virginia, as the birthplace of the Confederate battle flag was dedicated on April 12, 2008, near the intersection of Main and Oak Streets, Fairfax, VA.
The practice of using primary and secondary naval flags after the British tradition was common practice for the Confederacy, linked as she was by both heritage and economy to the British Isles. The fledgling Confederate Navy therefore adopted and used jacks, battle ensigns, and small boat ensigns, as well as commissioning pennants, designating flags, and signal flags aboard its warships.
The First Confederate Navy Jack, in use from 1861 to 1863, consisted of a circle of seven to fifteen 5-pointed white stars against a field of medium blue. It was flown forward aboard all Confederate warships while they were anchored in port. One 7-star jack still exists today (found aboard the captured ironclad CSS Atlanta) that is actually dark blue in color (see illustration below, left).
The Second Confederate Navy Jack was a rectangular cousin of the Confederate Army's battle flag and was in use from 1863 until 1865. It existed in a variety of dimensions and sizes, despite the CSN's detailed naval regulations. The blue color of the diagonal saltire's Southern Cross was much lighter than the dark blue of the battle flag.
The first national flag, also known as the Stars and Bars (see above), served as the Confederate Navy's first battle ensign from 1861 to 1863. It was generally made with an aspect ratio of 2:3, but a few very wide 1:2 ratio ensigns still survive today in museums and private collections. As the Confederacy grew, so did the numbers of white stars seen on the ensign's dark blue canton: 7, 9, 11, and 13 star groupings were typical. Even a few 14 and 15 starred ensigns were made to include states that were expected to secede but never joined the Confederacy.
The second national flag was later adapted as a naval ensign, using a shorter 2:3 ratio than the 1:2 ratio adopted by the Confederate Congress for the national flag. This particular battle ensign was the only one taken around the world (on board CSS Shenandoah) and was the last Confederate flag lowered in the Civil War (in Liverpool, England on November 7, 1865 aboard CSS Shenandoah).
Designed by the chairman of the Flag and Seal committee, William Porcher Miles, a now popular variant of the Confederate flag was rejected as the national flag in 1861. It was instead adopted as a battle flag by the Army of Northern Virginia under General Lee. Despite never having historically represented the C.S.A. as a nation nor officially recognized as one of the national flags, it is commonly referred to as "the Confederate Flag" and has become a widely recognized symbol of the South. It is also known as the rebel flag, Dixie flag, and Southern cross and is often incorrectly referred to as the "Stars and Bars" (the actual "Stars and Bars" is the First National Flag, which used an entirely different design). The self-declared Confederate enclave of Town Line, New York, lacking a genuine Confederate flag, flew a version of this flag prior to its 1946 vote to rejoin the Union.
20th century popularity
During the first half of the 20th century, the Confederate flag enjoyed renewed popularity. During World War II some U.S. military units with Southern nicknames, or made up largely of Southerners, made the flag their unofficial emblem. The USS Columbia flew a Confederate Navy Ensign as a battle flag throughout combat in the South Pacific in World War II. This was done in honor of Columbia, the ship's namesake and the capital city of South Carolina, the first state to secede from the Union. Some soldiers carried Confederate flags into battle. After the Battle of Okinawa a Confederate flag was raised over Shuri Castle by a Marine from the self-styled "Rebel Company" (Company A of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines). It was visible for miles and was taken down after three days on the orders of General Simon B. Buckner, Jr. (son of Confederate general Simon Buckner), who stated that it was inappropriate as "Americans from all over are involved in this battle". It was replaced with the flag of the United States. By the end of World War II, the use of the Confederate flag in the military was rare.
The display of the Confederate flag is a highly controversial topic. It was largely absent during the Civil War. Rather, the Confederate flag was reintroduced in 1956, just two years after the Supreme Court decision Brown v Board of Education. It was considered by many to be a protest against school desegregation. It was raised at the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) during protests against integration of schools.
Supporters of the flag view it as a symbol of southern heritage and the independence of the distinct cultural tradition of the South from the North. Some groups use the Southern Cross as one of the symbols associated with their organizations, including groups such as the Ku Klux Klan.
For some, the flag represents only a past era of southern sovereignty. Some historical societies such as the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy also use the flag as part of their symbols. Some rockabilly fans hold the Confederate flag as their emblem as well.
As a result of these varying perceptions, there have been a number of political controversies surrounding the use of the Confederate flag in Southern state flags, at sporting events, at Southern universities, and on public buildings. According to Civil War historian and native Southerner Shelby Foote, the flag traditionally represented the South's resistance to Northern political dominance; it became racially charged during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, when fighting against desegregation suddenly became the focal point of that resistance.
Symbols of the Confederacy remain a contentious issue across the United States and their civic placement has been debated vigorously in many Southern state legislatures since the 1990s. Supporters have labeled attempts to display the flag as an exercise of free speech in response to bans in some schools and universities, but have not always been successful in court  when attempting to use this justification.
Display at the South Carolina capitol
On April 12, 2000, the South Carolina State Senate passed a bill to remove the Confederate flag from the top of the State House dome by a majority vote of 36 to 7. Originally placed there in 1961, "the new bill specified that a more traditional version of the battle flag would be flown in front of the Capitol next to a monument honoring fallen Confederate soldiers". The bill also passed the state's House of Representatives, but not without some difficulty. On May 18, 2000, after the bill was modified to ensure that the height of the flag's new pole would be 30 feet (9 m), it was passed by a majority of 66 to 43. Governor Jim Hodges signed the bill into law five days later after it passed the state Senate. On July 1, 2000 the flag was removed from atop the State House by two students (one white and one black) from The Citadel, and placed on a monument on the front lawn of the capitol. Current state law prohibits the flag's removal from the State House grounds without additional legislation.
In 2005, two Western Carolina University researchers found that 74% of African-Americans polled favored removing the flag from the South Carolina State House altogether. The NAACP and other civil rights groups have attacked the flag's continued presence at the state capitol. The NAACP maintains an official economic boycott of South Carolina, citing its continued display of the battle flag on its State House grounds, despite an initial agreement to call off the boycott after it was removed from the State House dome.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association has prevented South Carolina from hosting any championship sporting events in which the sites are determined in advance. This NCAA ban on post-season championships in South Carolina has been strictly enforced, with the exception of HBCU Benedict College. In both 2007 and 2009, the school hosted the post-season Pioneer Bowl game, in violation of the NCAA ban, though no action was taken. On April 14, 2007, Steve Spurrier, coach of the University of South Carolina football team, made an acceptance speech for a community service award in which he referred to the flag on the State House grounds as "that damn flag". This statement was also inspired by the actions of a local fraternity on that same day, whose members created controversy as they waved the battle flag while being videotaped for SportsCenter. On July 6, 2009, the Atlantic Coast Conference announced a decision to move three future baseball tournaments out of South Carolina citing miscommunications with the NAACP concerning the display of the Confederate flag in the state.
Use in state flags
It has been hypothesized that the crimson saltire of the flag of Alabama was designed to resemble the blue saltire of the Confederate Battle Flag. Most battle flags were square-shaped, and Alabama's flag is sometimes shown as a square. The legislation that created the state flag did not specify if the flag was going to be square or rectangular. The authors of a 1917 article in National Geographic expressed their opinion that because the Alabama flag was based on the Battle Flag, it should be square. In 1987, the office of Alabama Attorney General Don Siegelman issued an opinion in which the Battle Flag derivation is repeated, but concluded that the proper shape is rectangular, as it had been depicted numerous times in official publications and reproductions.
However, the saltire design of the Alabama state flag also bears resemblance to several other flags. It is identical to the flag of Saint Patrick, incorporated into the Union Flag of the United Kingdom to represent the union of the Kingdom of Great Britain with the Kingdom of Ireland. Except for the Great Seal in the center, it is almost identical to the Flag of Florida, which has its heritage in the Spanish Cross of Burgundy flag. Like in Florida, the Spanish Cross of Burgundy flew over most of Alabama into the 1800s. This has led to other origins being put forth as possibilities.
Another slim possibility is in the flag of Co. F 7th Regiment Alabama Cavalry. The regiment was the only Alabama regiment in Rucker's Brigade commanded by Col. Edmund Rucker of Tennessee, later Alabama, who became a prominent Montgomery businessman after the war. The flag of the brigade used a white background with a red saltire which did not always extend to the corners and charged with dark colored stars upon the saltire. The flag of Co. F, 7th Alabama Cavalry is currently held by the Alabama Department of Archives and History as part of its Alabama Civil War Period Flag Collection. But, the flag carried by Co. F 7th Alabama was not an Alabama Flag, it was the flag made for Rucker's Brigade a month before the 7th joined his brigade; the 7th was color party only after September 24, 1864. A bunting flag that exists, in the white and red configuration with 13 blue stars, is not believed to be Alabama associated, but tied to Rucker's Brigade.
In 1956, the State Flag of Georgia was redesigned to incorporate the Confederate Battle Flag. Following protests over this aspect of the design in the 1990s by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and other groups, efforts began in the Georgia General Assembly to remove the Battle Flag from the state flag's design. These efforts succeeded in January 2001 when Georgia Governor Roy Barnes pushed through a design that, though continuing to depict the Battle Flag, greatly reduced its prominence. This move deeply angered a large segment of Georgia’s electorate, contributing to Barnes' defeat in the subsequent gubernatorial election in November 2002.
The following year, amidst dwindling demands for the return of the 1956 design (“Battle Flag” version) and lesser opposing demands for the continued use of the new “Barnes’” design, the Georgia General Assembly redesigned the flag yet again; it adopted a "compromise" design using the 13-star First National Flag of the Confederacy (the "Stars and Bars"), combined with a simplified version of Georgia's state seal placed within the circle of 13 stars on the flag's canton.
The Confederate Battle Flag became a part of the Flag of Mississippi in 1894. In 1906, the flag statutes were omitted by error from the new legal code of the state, leaving Mississippi without an official flag. The omission was not discovered until 1993, when a lawsuit filed by the NAACP regarding the flag was being reviewed by the Mississippi Supreme Court. In 2000, Governor Ronnie Musgrove issued an executive order making the flag official. After continued controversy, the decision was turned over to citizens of the state, who, on April 17, 2001, voted 2:1 to keep the Confederate Battle Flag a part of the current state flag.
The state legislature adopted this flag in March 1885, to replace the original state flag that had been adopted on June 22, 1861, immediately following the state's secession from the Union on May 20, 1861. The red field of the old flag was replaced by blue in memory of the Bonnie Blue Flag, which was used as a symbol of secession during the war and flew over the batteries that opened fire on Fort Sumter, beginning the Civil War. The overall stripe pattern is also reminiscent of the "Stars and Bars" flag and the lone star state flag of Texas, also a member of the Confederacy.
Use on vehicular license plates
In Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia vehicle owners can request a state-issued license plate featuring the Sons of Confederate Veterans logo, which incorporates the square Confederate battle flag.
In 1998, a North Carolina appellate court upheld the issuance of such license plates in the case Sons of Confederate v. DMV, noting: "We are aware of the sensitivity of many of our citizens to the display of the Confederate flag. Whether the display of the Confederate flag on state-issued license plates represents sound public policy is not an issue presented to this Court in this case. That is an issue for our General Assembly."
The Confederate flag is given the same protection from burning and desecration as the U.S. flag in some states. It is protected from being publicly mutilated, defiled, or otherwise cast in contempt by the laws of five U.S. states: Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina. However, laws banning the desecration of any flag, even if technically remaining in effect, were ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in Texas v. Johnson, and are not enforceable.
A "salute" to the Confederate flag was written by Mrs. James Henry Parker of New York:
I salute the Confederate Flag with affection, reverence and undying remembrance.
It was officially adopted in 1933 by the UDC, the United Daughters of the Confederacy. This salute is still in use today by the organization and its auxiliary, the Children of the Confederacy and the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
According to the 1959 UDC handbook, this salute was to be given by the speaker while giving the Pledge of Allegiance to the United State's flag; the Pledge was to be given first, and the speaker was directed to drop their right arm to their side before giving the salute. The current UDC flag code[disambiguation needed] states that the speaker is to stand at attention and place their ungloved right hand over their heart. The order of precedence for flag salutes and pledges is: Salute to the Christian flag (if used), the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag, the Salute to the State Flag and then the Salute to the Confederate Flag. The speaker is to drop their right hand to their side in between each salute or pledge.
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