A Concise History of the Flags of the
Confederate States of America
The Confederacy used three official flags during its existence:
- The STARS and BARS - March 4, 1861
The STAINLESS BANNER - May 1, 1863
The STAINLESS BANNER with Red Bar - March 4, 1865
The design for the Stars and Bars was approved by the provisional Congress of the Confederate States of America on the morning of March 4, 1861. Congress, however, in the rush to adopt and fly a flag neglected to formally enact a flag law. The fourth of March was a deadline to adopt a flag as that was the date of Lincoln's inauguration. Immediately upon approval of the report of the Committee on Flag and Seal a seamstress was located and in the words of Chairman Miles "thanks to fair and nimble fingers a flag was completed within two hours". That afternoon the Stars and Bars was raised over the Confederacy by Miss Letitia Christian Tyler, granddaughter of John Tyler, former President of the United States. President Tyler was a member of the Provisional House of the Confederacy and was elected to the House but died on January 17, 1862, before taking his seat. The number of stars in the union or canto varied from seven to thirteen.
Adoption of the Stainless Banner was a result of confusion between the Stars and Bars and the Stars and Stripes and the desire of many Southerners for a national flag with no link to the Stars and Stripes. The design adopted on May 1, 1863, was a white flag with the Battle Flag used by the Cis-Mississippi forces as the canton. This flag is sometimes referred to as the Jackson Flag as the first one was used to drape the coffin of General Jackson on May 12, 1863, by order of President Davis.
Some objections were made to the Stainless Banner on the grounds that it resembled a flag of truce at rest. This is not the whole story. The Army had no objection to the Stainless Banner for the simple reason that it was not used in battle. The main problem was the resemblance to the White Ensign of the British navy. When senior officers were asked for an opinion on the flag question Senator
Semmes received a reply from General Lee that the Officers of the Navy were the proper parties to resolve the flag question.
Senator Semmes introduced Senate Bill No. 137 to add a red bar to the outer field of the Stainless Banner citing objections of Naval Officers to the flag in service.
The bill was passed by the Senate on February 6, 1865, and referred to the House Committee on flag and Seal the following day. The Committee issued a favourable report on February 27, 1865, and the House passed the bill the same day.
President Davis signed the bill into law on March 4, 1865, four years to the day after approval of the report on the Stars and Bars.
The appearance of the Stars and Bars was so similar to the Stars and Stripes that the troops on both sides had difficulty in distinguishing them at the Battle of First Manassas (July 21, 1961). In fact the troops on both sides were convinced the other side had used the flag of it's opponent as a stratagem. To prevent a reoccurrence of this confusion General Beauregard determined to adopt a Battle Flag for the forces under his command. He considered designs by Colonels Walton and Miles. Colonel Walton's design was based on the Cross of St. George and was similar to the Battle Flag adopted by the Politically Incorrect forces of General Polk's Army of Tennessee Corps. General Polk was also the Episcopal Bishop of Louisiana and the emblem of the Episcopal Church is the Red Cross of St. George. The principal objections to Colonel Walton's design were fears that Jewish officers and men would object to serving under any Christian Cross and that some Protestants would object to serving under the Cross of St. George. Colonel Miles' flag was based on the Cross of St. Andrew and did not suffer from these political defects. In a letter to the Rev. Palmer dated January 24, 1872 General Beauregard stated "Col. Walton's had the Latin cross and Col. Miles' the St. Andrew's which removed the objection that many of our soldiers might have to fight under the former symbol". The Confederate Battle Flag is based on the National Flag of Scotland. The original Battle Flag had twelve stars, one for each of the states then in the Confederacy, and one for Missouri, which had seceded but had not yet been admitted to the Confederacy. A thirteenth star was added to the center when Kentucky was admitted to the Confederacy on December 10, 1861. The Battle Flag was originally called the "Battle Flag of the Army of the Potomac" and later "The Southern Cross". The first three Battle Flags were sewn by the Misses Hetty, Constance and Jennie Cary. Miss Hetty's flag was presented to General Johnston, Miss Constance's to General Earl Van Dorn and Miss Jennie's to General Beauregard. The Battle Flag soon became the Standard of all Cis-Mississippi forces with the exception of Cleburne's Division which continued to use the Battle flag authorised for their use prior to the Battle of Shiloh (April 6, 1862) by General Hardee. This was a white circle on a blue field with a white border.
General Stand Watie, last of the three Confederate General Officers to surrender (June 23, 1865, at Doaksville, Choctaw Nation), and the Cherokee Mounted Rifles used a version of the Stars and Bars with five red stars, representing the five civilised tribes (Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole), within the circle of thirteen white stars. The last Confederate civil authority to submit to the Yankee invaders was Governor Winchester Colbert and the Council of the Chickasaw Nation (July 14, 1865).
The last Confederate Flag was lowered at Liverpool England on November 6, 1865, when Captain Wadell lowered the white ensign (May 26, 1863, Stainless Banner) of the CSS Shenandoah for the last time.
General Jo Shelby did not surrender his division and with 200 officers and men of his Missouri Brigade who did not wish to be reconstructed, crossed over into Mexico at Coahulia on July 4, 1865. General Shelby weighed his Battle Flags with stones and sank them in the Rio Grand prior to crossing. Only one Battle Flag was saved by a trooper who recovered it as he forded the river.
No account of Southern Flags can be considered complete without some mention of the Beloved Bonnie Blue Flag. The bonnie Blue Flag was a version of the Lone Star Flag and had a single white five-point star on a blue field. The first Bonnie Blue Flag was made by Mrs Melissa Johnson for Major Isaac Johnston's troop of dragoons. Major Johnson and Colonel Philemon Thomas captured Baton Rouge from the Spanish Governor on September 23, 1810, and raised the Bonnie Blue Flag over the fort. On 26 September John Rhea, president of the West Florida Convention, signed a Declaration of Independence and the short-lived Republic of West Florida came into existence under the Bonnie Blue Flag. On October 27, 1810, President Madison declared West Florida to be under the jurisdiction of the Governor or the Louisiana Territory. On December 10, 1810, the Republic of West Florida was crushed under the heel of Washington and stripped of all territory west of the Pearl River. Spain ceded both East and West Florida to the United States in 1819 but civil government was not re-established until 1822.
Miss Joanne E Troutman of Crawford County, Georgia made a silk Lone Star flag for Colonel Ward's Georgia Battalion in November of 1835. The Troutman or Ward flag had a white field and a Blue Lone Star underscored by "LIBERTY or DEATH" on the obverse and the motto "Ubi Libertas Habitat, ibi nostra patria est" on the reverse. This flag was raised at Velasco on January 8, 1836. Colonel Ward's forces were joined to the forces of Colonel Fannin's and the Troutman Flag was lost when Colonels Fannin and Ward along with their entire command were shot in cold blood by order of Santa Anna at Goliad on Palm Sunday March 27, 1836. Ward had surrendered when his ammunition was exhausted after two days of battle. Ward had held off 1,400 Mexicans with 120 Georgians. Ward lost six men and the enemy 150. Fannin and 350 Georgians had lost seventy men in two days of battle with 1,200 Mexicans under General Urrea and had killed 400 Mexicans. Both Fannin and Ward had signed the regular articles according to the rules of war and all members of their commands were to be paroled within eight days. Only four surgeons and their assistants were spared to attend Mexican wounded. This treachery was remembered in 1846 when the 93 members of the Pike County, Georgia Company that volunteered for service in Mexico chose the name "FANNIN AVENGERS" Santa Anna was captured along with his silver service at San Jacinto on April 21, 1836, and General Rusk forwarded several pieces to Miss Troutman in recognition of her services to the Republic of Texas.
A white Lone Star underscored by "INDEPENDENCE" on a blue field was made in the fall of 1835 at the home of James McGahey near Lynchburg, Virginia. The McGahey Flag is also known as Captain Scott's Flag of the Liberals and is believed to have been used in the Siege of Bexar.
The Bonnie Blue Flag served as the flag of the Republic of Texas from March 11, 1936, until January 25 1839, with the white star replaced by a gold star on December 12, 1836. The Bonnie Blue Flag was next raised over a Southern State on January 7, 1861, when it was hoisted over the capitol building of the Republic of Mississippi in Jackson. This event inspired Harry MaCarthy, an Irish actor billing himself as The Arkansas Comedian, to write a song entitled The Bonnie Blue Flag which was second only to Dixie as a popular patriotic song. Five Southern States adopted versions of the Bonnie Blue Flag in 1861. Today the Beloved Bonnie Blue Flag is the flag of the Somali Democratic Republic or what is left of it. So much for Political Correctness.
The Georgia Flag adopted in 1799 was the State Coat of Arms on a blue field. This flag was used until hauled down on January 19, 1861. There is some confusion over which flag replaced it. A new flag design employing the Arms of Georgia was used during the War of Yankee Aggression but sources differ on whether this flag was post or anti secession. Harrison asserts "the Georgia convention did not adopt a secession flag, but the emblem of the State which had long been in use was raised". Canon is emphatic that "a new flag was raised over the capitol in Milledgeville". Harrison and Cannon both agree that the flag raised was the Arms of Georgia on a white field. Reports of this design place the arms on white fields and the traditional blue field. The Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond has a Georgia Flag with the arms on a red field. Harrison and Cooper, however, both agree that the flag raised over the Augusta Arsenal by Governor Brown on January 24, 1861, was a Red Lone Star on a white field. The official Georgia Flags prepared by then Secretary of State Ben W Fortson is strangely silent on the subject with the exception of the cryptic information that "During the War Between the States, Georgia had many flags as did all the States". Georgia bureaucrats apparently are as ignorant of austrovexillology as the members of the Georgia Legislature. I have located no information on flags used during occupation by the Yankee Army. On the other hand I have not looked for any.
On departure of the Yankee Army, Georgia adopted the Bars sans Stars with a vertical blue band next to the hoist on October 17, 1879. The Arms of Georgia were superimposed on the blue band on august 22, 1905. The Bars were replaced by the Battle Flag on July 1, 1956, by a Legislature which obviously had no knowledge of Georgia or Southern History. Today a Governor who knows even less Georgia History than the 1956 crew is pandering to a constituency that know no Georgia or Southern History by advocating exchanging the Battle Flag for the Bars.
The only satisfactory solution to the Flag Flap is to return to The Bonnie Blue Flag. The Lone Star Flag is a flag of the people and was not created by a Committee on flag and Seal. This issue should not be decided by the Legislature but should adopt the Lone Star flag by Prescriptive Right and to HELL with the Legislature. The appropriate Lone Star flag for the State of Georgia is the Ward/Troutman Flag. It is steeped in the history of the State. The Star should be blue, the Field White and the Mottos Red to Honour not only the blood shed at Goliad but the blood shed by Georgians in all wars. This would give us a historically significant flag. Marine Corps Officers and NCO's have a Red Stripe on their trousers to commemorate the blood shed at Chapultepec. Georgia's dead deserve no less. I suppose we might run the risk of offending someone if we added the motto "REMEMBER GOLIAD" above the Star in red on both the obverse and the reverse. After all we did drop a verse or two from the STAR SPANGLED BANNER to avoid offending the Bloody British.
Taken from an article by Richard E Irby Jr.
The above article first appeared in the ACWS Newsletter, October-December 1998, February 1999