Flags of the Confederate States of America
There were several flags that the Confederate States of America 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, Georgia, and Tennessee are all 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 flag of Alabama and perhaps the flag of Florida also seem to be of Confederate inspiration, although this is disputed.
First National Flag ("the Stars and Bars")
The first official flag of the Confederacy, called the "Stars and Bars," was flown from March 5, 1861, to May 26, 1863.
The very first national flag of the Confederacy 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 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.
Eventually, a total of thirteen stars would be shown on the flag. Its first public appearance was outside the Ben Johnson House in Bardstown, Kentucky. It was also used as a naval ensign.
Second National Flag ("the Stainless Banner")
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 saltier [sic] of blue, bordered with white, and emblazoned with mullets or five-pointed stars, corresponding in number to that of the Confederate States."
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 most common interpretation is that the white field symbolized the purity of the Cause. 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 naval 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 as a flag of truce, especially on naval ships, and that it was too easily soiled.
Third National Flag
The third national flag was adopted March 4, 1865, just before the fall of the Confederacy. The red vertical stripe 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 colored corner of the flag could be accidentally hidden, so the flag could easily appear all white.
Rogers lobbied successfully to have his design introduced in the Confederate Senate. He defended his design 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 Britain 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 saltire thereon, bordered with white and emblazoned with 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."
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. In addition, many military units had their own regimental flags they would carry into battle. Other notable flags used are shown below.
The Battle Flag
Often referred to as "The" battle flag of the Confederacy it was the design that was the basis of more than 180 separate Confederate military battle flags.
The Army of Northern Virginia battle flag was usually square, of various sizes for the different branches of the service: 48 inches square for the infantry, 36 inches for the artillery, and 30 inches 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 Missouri and Kentucky joined in late 1861.
At the First Battle of Bull Run / 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 slave 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."
Although Miles described his flag as a heraldic saltire, it had been thought to be erroneously described since the latter part of the 19th century as a cross, specifically a Saint Andrew's Cross. Supposedly this folk legend sprang from the memoirs of an aging Confederate officer published in 1893. However, further research has indicated that this was no folk legend. In 1863, during the session in which the Confederate Congress was voting on the 2nd National Flag, William G. Swan of Tennessee's second congressional district wished to substitute the following language:
"That the flag of the Confederate States shall be as follows:
A red field with a Saint Andrew's cross of blue edged with white and emblazoned with stars."
Swan, who before the secession had been mayor of Knoxville and attorney general of Tennessee, had adapted his proposal from the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, but it was in fact identical to the flag proposed by William Porcher Miles in March 1861. Because he believed that the battle flag had been sanctified by the blood of Southern soldiers in their struggle for independence, Swan wished to adopt it for use by the nation now as a tribute to the valor of the Confederate fighting man. Further references to the link between the battle flag and the St. Andrew's Cross are made by Confederate soldiers during the war.
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.
Specifically, the St. Andrew's Cross is a white saltire on a blue field, as in the national flag of Scotland. The St. Patrick's Cross, as in the state flag of Alabama, is a red saltire on a white field. The Army of Northern Virginia battle flag has a blue saltire on a red field and is, therefore, neither the St. Andrew's nor the St. Patrick's Cross but a saltire as in the proposed but unadopted Second National flag.
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 the Potomac (later called 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 First Confederate Navy Jack consisted of a circle of seven 5-pointed white stars on a field of light blue. The Second Confederate Navy Jack is a rectangular precursor of the battle flag, usually about 5×3 feet. The blue color in the saltire (the diagonal cross) is much lighter than in the battle flag, and it was flown only on Confederate ships from 1863 to 1865.
The design was originally made by South Carolina Congressman William Porcher Miles with the intent to be the first national flag, but it was rejected by the Confederate government. Some critics supposedly scoffed at the design, saying it looked too much like crossed suspenders. While the square battle flag was widely used, the rectangular upside down and, the oblong version was also used by some army units, including the Army of Tennessee as their battle flag from 1864-1865. After General Joseph Johnston took command of the Army of Tennessee from Braxton Bragg, he ordered its army-wide implementation to improve morale and avoid confusion.
The second national flag was adapted as a naval ensign, using a shorter 3:2 ratio than the 2:1 ratio adopted by the Confederate Congress for the national flag. This particular 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 7 November 1865 on board CSS Shenandoah).
- Coski, John M. (2005), The Confederate Battle Flag: America's Most Embattled Emblem, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, ISBN 0-674-01722-6
- ↑ Hume, Erskine (August 1940). "The German Artist Who Designed the Confederate Flag and Uniform". The American-German Review.
- ↑ Nicola Marschall
- ↑ (Coski 2005, pp.4-5)
- ↑ 4.0 4.1 4.2 (Coski 2005, p.8)
- ↑ (Coski 2005, pp. 16-17)
- ↑ The Second Confederate National Flag, Flags of the Confederacy
- ↑ 7.0 7.1 (Coski 2005, pp. 17-18)
- ↑ The Third Confederate National Flag, Flags of the Confederacy
- ↑ (Coski 2005, p. 11)
- ↑ (Coski 2005, p. 5) describes the 15 stars and the debate on religious symbolism
- ↑ (Coski 2005, pp. 6-8)
- ↑ (Coski 2005, p.10)
- ↑ http://www.hmdb.org/marker.asp?marker=7095