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Confederate Flags (U.S.)

Flags of the Confederate States of America (CSA)

Last modified: 2024-03-23 by rick wyatt
Keywords: united states | confederate | csa | southern cross | stars and bars | stars and stripes | confederacy |
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Background: The American Civil War (War Between the States)

Editor's note: Topic included in order to give non-Americans a context for these flags.

The Southern states of the USA exercised what they believed to be their constitutional right to secede from the Union in 1861. A War Between The States followed that resulted in the loss of over half a million soldiers. Many of the citizens of these states still wave the flags that their forefathers used during the brief period of independence. Some others object to this display of affection for what is known as the "Lost Cause".
William M. Grimes-Wyatt, 22 July 1996


Introduction: Confederate National Flags

There was no one flag of the short lived Confederate States of America.
The first unofficial one was the "Bonnie Blue", which originated with the truly short lived Republic of West Florida. I believed that it lasted for a month and a day in 1810. This flag was popularized by the song, The Bonnie Blue Flag, which called for states rights and was one of the three most popular songs of the civil war in the south.
The first National Confederate Flag was called the "Stars and Bars", said to resemble the Austrian flag, designed by a Austrian major. It was a horizonal tri-color red, white, red, with a blue canton containing a varying number of stars, ranging from 7 (the original members) to 15, including 11 members, 2 states that had representatives in both congresses, namely Missouri and Kentucky, and 2 representing those states which despite occupation by the federals, rallied to the cause of Southern independence. Most common were 11. Due to it's similarity to the Federal flag, it was one of the factors that led to the death of Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson by his own troops.
The Second Confederate Flag, also called the "Stainless" banner had the Southern Cross as a canton (blue St-Andrew's cross saltire) on a red field. The cross was said to be due to the Scottish ancestry of many Southerners and the popularity of "Ivanhoe" and other novels by Sir Walter Scott. It served for most of the war as the National Flag of the Confederacy. Due to the large expanse of white, it was difficult to see at sea and could be confused for a flag of truce.
For the last several months of the war it was modified by the addition of a red vertical stripe on the fly. This was called the Third Confederate Flag or Last Confederate Flag. The canton was a Naval Jack. In a square design, with a pink, orange and finally white 2" border, it was used by the Army of Northern Virginia, the main army of the South, led by Robert E. Lee, as a cavalry, artillery and infantry battle flag, depending on size (39",45" or 51" square). This would have been the one that saw the most use as it was employed by the largest number of units and involved in the largest number of battles. The pink and orange borders used bunting captured at the naval yard in Norfolk. Upon production of material in the South, white was used. One of the first two flags given to General Lee was sewn by two sisters from Alexander, Va. The other was sewn by their cousin, a Miss Carey in occupied territory (Baltimore, Md).
In a 3' x 5' shape, the Naval Jack was used by the Army of Tennessee, one of the main forces in the Western field of operations. The Stars and Bars with 18 stars (13 white representing the 13 states and 5 red, representing the five civilized nations - Indians that fought for the confederacy) was the last one to be used in the field by the last Confederate General to surrender with the Cherokee brigade.
William M. Grimes-Wyatt, 23 January 1996

On 20 December 1860 the State of South Carolina passed an ordinance of Secession and formally left the Union. Between that date and the firing on of Fort Sumter in April 1861, there are reports of many different designs of flags displayed in the South. What's interesting is that at the time the major flag makers in the US were based in New York and Philadelphia, with none in the South. Considering the apparent large supply of distinctive flags in the South, particularly in South Carolina at the end of 1860, it has always been questioned by some of us whether some of these flags were made in the North. Indeed, in a clipping from 1899 I have remembering New York's premier flag maker of the period, Sarah McFadden, it was stated "A good many Confederate flags were made in New York during the civil war, and every one of them got through the lines. Somebody in the North made money in supplying Confederate flags" hinting perhaps a few were made by McFadden.
This clipping (from the Utah Territory--obviously reprinted from some Eastern publication) states in fact McFadden made Southern flags, at least in the weeks (or months) leading up to Secession. Besides a quote from the "Charleston Mercury" about the "glorious" flag then flying in South Carolina, the main article (start in the second column, about in the middle) details a number of the flags made by McFadden for the secessionists. The designs are described and while some of them are familiar, there are two I had not known about, and one of them is cited as being the principal design used in Alabama.

The four flags described:

  • South Carolina Secession Flag-white with a Palmetto Tree in the Center and a Red Star in the canton.
  • South Carolina Sovereignty Flag - red with 15 white stars (perhaps this is a poor description of the famous flag of the day that was red with a blue St. George style cross bearing 15 white stars [center one bigger] and a white Palmetto Tree and Crescent in the canton).
  • Generic Southern Flag-standard US Flag of 13 alternate red and white stripes with a blue canton bearing one large white star.
  • Alabama Flag-fifteen alternate red and white stripes with a blue canton bearing a ring of 15 white stars inside of which is the motto "A United South".
Dave Martucci, 17 December 2011


Discussion: Is the Saltire Scottish?

The flag of the Episcopal Church - white field with red "St. George's Cross" and a blue canton with a St. Andrews cross of 9 white stars - is indeed the flag of all Episcopal churches, as well as its shield. It is a 20th Century creation in the current incarnation, but the church has used other shields in its history. These could be at the discretion of a bishop or state diocese.
I recently spent time at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, which is the Episcopal Church school and where their official church historian is located, trying to learn of their heraldry as it might have related to early Confederate flags (since the bulk of the upper class white Southerners in 1861 were Episcopalian). This is, in particular, related to St. Andrews cross battle flags that I was seeking to disprove the mythology of these flags being designed due to purely Scottish heritage that was in the South (if you check immigration figures the South was about as English as the North - but that's another story). Never in my years of study of Confederate flags have I ever seen anything written by contemporaries that stated the St. Andrews cross flags were designed purely to honor Scottish ancestry!
The key to this is William Porcher Miles of South Carolina. He was the chairman of the Provisional Committee of Flag And Seal for the Confederacy. One of his first submissions to review - via Christopher Memminger and his friend Gilchrist who designed it - was a flag with a St. George's cross and 15 white stars. This was based on the South Carolina secession flag - red field, blue St. George's cross and 15 white stars. Miles was an Episcopalian and his brother James was in the hierarchy of the church in South Carolina. The St. George's cross was part of much of the heraldry of the church.
This flag received complaints from two religious groups - fundamentalist Christians who viewed it as a misuse of their cross and, Jewish sects who did not want a sectarian symbol on their national flag.
So Miles offered a variation of that flag - a red field with a St. Andrews cross and 7 white stars (for the seven seceded states of that time). It would be rejected by the committee but come back later on as the basis for the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia and several other related flag types for the Confederate Army (Bragg pattern, Army of Tennessee pattern, Dept. of Alabama, Mississippi & East Louisiana pattern).
Now, much Southern literature will state that this flag was from Scottish heritage. I reject that as being entirely without foundation - at least being directly influenced. I think that Miles went back to the crest of the Episcopal Church of South Carolina and used its St. Andrews cross. Designed in 1790, this crest featured crossed staffs in a St. Andrews cross position (there is no record that has turned up a later state symbol - but it is possible that a later bishop did alter the shield. It was at their discretion to do so). While the St. Andrews cross portion of the church shield is from the Church of Scotland and the St. George cross from the Church of England (the ancestor churches of the American Episcopal Church), this makes Miles use of the St. Andrews cross an indirect tribute to Scotland rather than a conscious, direct tribute in my book. It was only after the rejection of the St. George's cross flags that Miles used the St. Andrews version - which later was the basis of the battle flags I detailed above.
Greg Biggs, 9 June 1998


Designs of Confederate Unit Battle Flags

There were six (or more) different basic design styles of Confederate Army Military Flags. As the flex and flow of military necessity effected the organization and reorganization of Confederate forces, so did the designs of their flags. A couple of examples of this would be in the Vicksburg Defense a subgroup of flags came into being that featured white crosses instead of more normal blue, in Missouri and Louisiana a design subgroup with a Christian Cross design became popular. Faced with this we will divide them into design groups in FOTW. Some of these groups will be:

  1. Stars and Bars Pattern - Based on the First National CSA Flag.
  2. St. Andrews Cross Pattern - Southern Cross with a white flag border. (Army of Northern Virginia)
  3. Army of Tennessee Pattern - Southern Cross without a white flag border.
  4. Van Dorn Pattern - General Earl Van Dorn's Corps. (Army of the West)
  5. Hardee Pattern - General William Hardee's Corps (Army of Tennessee)
  6. Polk Pattern - General Leonidas Polk's Corps (Army of Tennessee)

The last three are named for the Confederate Commanders who first designed (or had designed) the basic Regimental flag design to be used by the units under their command.
Naturally, we should add other design groups in the future if warranted.
Pete Loeser, 1 September 2023


Popularity of Veteran's Association Flags and Reenactor Group Flags

The Stars and Bars looked too much like the Stars and Stripes. The Stainless Banner looked too much like a surrender flag. The last red-barred flag was used for only a week or two, so no one knew about it. Basically, the Confederacy's national flags were flops, and so the battle flag has prospered post-war. Also, one of the major sources of pro-Confederate feeling after the war were veterans' associations, who naturally associated the Confederacy with the military and with the battle flag.
Sandy, through Josh Fruhlinger, 24 January 1996

Over the years, Reenactor groups or "Living History" groups have become increasingly popular staging performances of historic events, historic people, historic periods of history, and famous battles and military events. Many of these performances require uniforms, period clothing, and of course, lots of flags and banners.
Because of this a whole host of "genuine historic" flags have flooded the market ranging from carefully researched flags to completely fantasy flags. Confederate and Union unit flags are no exception and collectors should remain aware of the fact that these flags, including clever forgeries, are being sold. May the Buyer Beware.
Pete Loeser, 2 September 2023


Recent history of the flags as a symbol for extremist groups

At least as early as 1948, the year Gov. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina ran for U.S. President on the "States' Rights Party" (or "Dixiecratquot;) ticket. A copy of the South Carolina Legislative Handbook from that year, which I happen to have, depicts on its cover a statue of Robert E. Lee on horseback in front of a backdrop of the Confederate battle flag. This was clearly an anti-federal-government, pro-racial-segregation message on the part of the state legislature.
In 1956, Georgia added the Confederate battle flag design to its state flag, presumably to send the same political message. There have recently been attempts to remove it.
In recent years, some organizations have adopted the "Stars and Bars" (one of the Confederate national flags), instead of the familiar battle flag, as their emblem, along with the slogan "Heritage, not Hate," which, for some, is probably a sincere belief, but for others is probably a public-relations cover up.
In some Southern states, the Confederate flag is still flown over the state capitol on Confederate Memorial Day and/or Lee's birthday. I believe this is still done here in North Carolina, though over the protests of many citizens. I seem to recall that a Confederate national flag (which, from a distance, looks much like the U.S. flag) was substituted for the more inflammatory battle flag the past few years.
Bruce Tindall, 23 January 1996

Some of these "Heritage, not Hate" flags and other hybrids - combinations of Confederate flags and/or state or organizational flags - can be seen on the "Confederate Statement Flags" page.
Pete Loeser, 2 September 2023


Hybrid USA/CSA flag

[Hybrid USA/CSA flag] image located by William Garrison, 15 August 2023

A hybrid U.S.A.-C.S.A. (Confederate) flag -- with a hand "pulling back" on the bottom of the U.S. flag to reveal a hidden Confederate flag -- that could have a double-entendre use: (a) most likely by pro-Confederates showing that the "Feds" (pro-Union "Federalists") cannot "trample down" Confederates (who call for racial segregation), or (b) possible unintended use by "progressives" trying to reveal that the U.S. was founded by racists and that the current U.S. federal government is still anti-black in suppressing the economic opportunities and political rights of black Americans.

William Garrison, 15 August 2023


 
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