Confederate Flag History

John K. McNeill Camp #674
PO Box 1353
Moultrie, Georgia 31776
 

NOTE: The following information is provided as a general guide to the flags of the Confederate States of America. There were many variations in the flags and particularly the battle flags. This page will give you good background information on the CSA flags but can not in the space here cover all the variations, materials, colors, and times of service. There are many works that focus just on the battle flag variations.

Flags of the Confederate States of America

National flags are those that identify a nation. These flags were very important and a matter of great pride to those citizens in the Confederate States of America. It is also a matter of great pride for their ancestors as part of their heritage and history. For the first 24 days, the Confederate government had no officially approved flag. The capitol building in Montgomery, Alabama flew the State flag of Alabama. When Jefferson Davis was inaugurated as President of the Confederacy, the inaugural parade was led by a company of infantry carrying the State flag of Georgia.

NOTE: The following information is provided as a general guide to the flags of the Confederate States of America. There were many variations in the flags and particularly the battle flags. This page will give you good background information on the CSA flags but can not in the space here cover all the variations, materials, colors, and times of service. There are many works that focus just on the battle flag variations.

Secession Flag

This is one example of several variations of aSecession Flag that was flown in South Carolina.

 

Flags of the Confederate States of America

National flags are those that identify a nation. These flags were very important and a matter of great pride to those citizens in the Confederate States of America. It is also a matter of great pride for their ancestors as part of their heritage and history. For the first 24 days, the Confederate government had no officially approved flag. The capitol building in Montgomery, Alabama flew the State flag of Alabama. When Jefferson Davis was inaugurated as President of the Confederacy, the inaugural parade was led by a company of infantry carrying the State flag of Georgia.

A committee on Flag and Seal was appointed by the Provisional Congress, the chairman of the committee was William P. Miles of South Carolina. Hundreds of flag designs were received from all over the new nation and from the now foreign country of the United States. There was an unwritten deadline for a flag design of 4 March 1861 because that was the day Lincoln was to be inaugurated president of the United States. On that date the Confederate States were determined to fly a flag to express their own sovereignty.

There were 3 major "official" flags of the Confederate nation from 1861 to 1865, but many people only know of the "Battle Flag", which was not a national flag at all.

Bonnie Blue Flag
 
 
On 9 January 1861 the Convention of the People of Mississippi adopted an Ordinance of Secession and a large blue flag with a single white star was raised over the capital building in Jackson. Although the Confederate government did not adopt it, the people did. Lone star flags, in one form or another, were adopted in five of the Confederate States that adopted new flags in 1861.

 

The First National
"The Stars and Bars"
(4 March 1861-1 May 1863)
 
 

On the morning of 4 March 1861 large models of the proposed flags were hung on the walls of the Congressional chamber. The First National Flag "The Stars and Bars" was adopted on the same day it was to be raised over the capitol at Montgomery. A flag made of soft merino wool was completed within two hours of it's adoption by the Congress. The very first flag of the Confederate States of America was raised by Miss Letitia Christian Tyler, grand- daughter of President John Tyler. Six weeks later it was flying over Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor.

The Original First National Flag of the Confederacy can still be seen today at Beauvoir, which is the Jefferson Davis Memorial and Shrine, located in Biloxi, Mississippi, on the Gulf Coast Highway. It had 7 stars in a circle on a blue field, to represent the 7 states of the CSA. Later versions would have 11 stars and then eventually 13 stars as other states were admitted to the Confederacy. The bars consisted of two red and one white.

In their hurry to adopt a flag and have it ready the same afternoon, the Congress forgot to enact a flag law. Nowhere in the statute books of the Confederate States is a Flag Act of 1861. In official use for over two years, the Stars and Bars was never established as the Confederate Flag by the laws of the land. The Stars and Bars flag was replaced in 1863 by the "Stainless Banner"

CSA Battle Flag
"The Southern Cross"
(November 1861-present)
 
 
Flags that are used by troops in the field are known as "Battle Flags". The use of distinctive battle flags by combat units can be traced back to the middle ages in Europe and even to Roman legions. Flags that are used in battle are important because they let the battlefield commanders know what troops are where.

At the first great battle of Mannassas 21 July 1861 General Joseph E Johnston had overall command of the Army of Northern Virginia, but the greater parts of the actual planning and field operations were conducted by General P.G.T. Beauregard. On several occasions during the fighting, confusion was caused by the inability of commanders to distinguish their troops from that of the enemy. There were too many similarities in uniforms and the Confederate stars and bars (1st national flag) looked similar to the Union Stars and Stripes, add this to the dust and smoke of battle, it combined into a confusing battle to fight or command.

General Beauregard complained to Johnston, so the commanding General ordered the troops to use their state flags for recognition. But there were not enough of these state flags for all the regiments. Below is a sample of one of the early Georgia State Battle Flags, circa 1861.

 
History does not record who made the first Georgia state flag, when it was made, what it looked like, or who authorized its creation. Probably, the banner originated in one of the numerous militia units that existed in antebellum Georgia.

In 1861, a new provision was added to Georgia's code requiring the governor to supply regimental flags to Georgia militia units assigned to fight outside the state. These flags were to depict the "arms of the State" and the name of the regiment, but the code gave no indication as to the color to be used on the arms or the flag's background. In heraldry, "arms" refers to a coat of arms, which is the prominent design--usually shown on a shield--located at the center of an armorial bearing or seal. Arms usually appear on seals, but they are not synonymous with seals.

Based on the best available evidence, the flag below is a reconstruction of the pre-1879 Georgia state flag as it would have appeared using the coat of arms from the 1799 state seal.

 
 

General Beauregard asked Congress to change the 1st National Flag. Instead Congressman Miles suggested that the Army adopt a distinctive battle flag for its own use. The design that Miles urged the army to use was one that he had originally submitted to be the national flag of the confederacy but was rejected. The Generals liked the red flag with the blue cross and white stars but felt a square flag would be more convenient for military use. In November 1861 the first battle flags were issued to regiments. This flag is referred to as the "Southern Cross". It had 12 total stars, 11 stars for the states currently in the CSA and one for Missouri, which had seceded, but was not yet admitted to the Confederacy.

The first flags were made of silk which did not last very long exposed to the harsh weather conditions the army had to live in. Many of these flags faded to a pale reddish pink color. Army of Northern Virginia (ANV) silk flags were used into 1863 by some units. Two were lost at Gettysburg for example. Their borders were yellow and the hoist edge a blue sleeve. The next flag issue was the ANV cotton flags, also of 12 stars. These were made in April, 1862 and given to three brigades as a stop gap measure. The next issue of this flag in 1862 was made of heavy English wool bunting. They would now proclaim 13 stars for 13 states.

The first wool bunting flags were made in May 1862, Second Wool bunting flags in June (both with orange borders) and Third Wool bunting flags (with white borders for the first time) from July 1862 until May 1864. Fourth Wool bunting flags (these were the only ones that were 51 inches square) came in June 1864 with later bunting issues beginning in October through March 1865. The ANV flew 9 variants of their battle flag during the war.

 

Some of the regimental flags would have the regimental designation painted in gold on the blue cross above and below the central star. The regimental battle honors were painted in blue on the red field of the flag. Further researchers point out that most ANV flags were unmarked by honors or unit designations. Only those units in the 1863 divisions of D.H. Hill, A.P. Hill and Ed Johnson (issued April, May and September 1863 respectively) had flags done with the gold letters over the center stars and blue honors on the field. Pickett's Division received flags in June 1863 with white painted unit designations on their fields. Some brigades, like Cox's NC Brigade, Kershaw's SC Brigade and a few others had their own flags done in particular manners, most with honors only, either painted on the flag in white or blue letters or sewn on strips.

Battle Flags used on land by Confederate troops were usually in three sizes:

INFANTRY FLAG: This flag was the largest size a 48 inches to a square side.

ARTILLERY FLAG: This flag was the middle size. 36 inches to a square side

CAVALRY FLAG: This flag was the smallest size. 30 inches to a square side

NOTES: These measurements include the borders which were folded over the exterior of the field of the flag. In May through September, 1863 the infantry flags were only about 45 inches square to save scarce imported bunting. Also in many cases the artillery used infantry sized flags.

The different sizes of the flags made it easier for the commanders to not only tell what combat unit was where, but it also told the commander what type of unit it was. The Battle Flag was always in front of the regiment. This way the soldiers in the regiment always knew where they were to be. Should a soldier ever be separated from his unit, all he had to do was look for his regiment's flag.

It was indeed the intent of Generals Beauregard and Johnston to permeate the ANV flag all over the South in the field armies but both men met resistance from commands in other areas that had already created their own distinctive battle flags and so their efforts were mixed in terms of results.

The Armies of Tennessee, Mississippi, the states departments, and the Trans-Mississippi Department all had variations on size, shape color and markings on its battle flags. Many CSA battle flags were created by other unit commanders for the same reasons the ANV flag was, to settle battlefield confusion. Gen. Polk created his flag (a St. George's cross) in 2 versions for his corps; Gen. Hardee's corps used the famous "moon" flag of a white device (circle, oval or rectilinear, depending on when issued) on a blue field (the flag was actually invented by Gen. Buckner); Gen. Bragg's Corps used flags inspired by the ANV flag but with 12 six-pointed stars on it; Breckenridge's Corps used First Nationals well into 1863 as their battle flags; Bowen's Missouri Division used blue flags with red borders and a white Latin cross on it; Van Dorn's Army of the West used a Middle Eastern looking flag with a red field, either yellow or white stars and borders.

As for flags inspired by the ANV flag, The Army of Tennessee (AOT) flag of 1864 was supposed to be square also like the ANV (as per Johnston's orders to the Atlanta Depot) but the depot goofed and they came back rectangular. The flags of the Department of Alabama, Mississippi & East Louisiana (the command unit for Polk's Army of Mississippi, Forrest's Cavalry Corps and others) were also slightly rectangular but with only 12 stars. These were made in Mobile by contractors Jackson Belknap and to a lesser extent James Cameron. Neither flag had colored borders. The flags of the Department of South Carolina, Florida and Georgia were also ANV flag inspired but were built differently. These square flags were made by the Charleston Depot and began showing up in April 1863. They can be discerned easily from ANV flags by their wider cross and colored pole sleeves of red or blue (ANV flags were tied to the poles).

Other ANV inspired flags, both square and rectangular appeared in ad hoc situations in the west and Trans-Mississippi theaters. The most unique were the flags of Gen. Walker's Texas Division issued in 1864. These were square, blue flags with red St. Andrews crosses and 13 stars. Other battle flags bore no resemblance to anything else previously known but contained usually a device that was prominent to the troops that carried them.

NOTE: All three national flags also served as unit battle flags, particularly in the West and Trans- Mississippi theaters. The First National flag, despite being changed officially in May 1863, was actually the only CS flag pattern that saw battle use from the beginning to the end of the war! Examples were taken at Appomattox, in North Carolina, and in battles of the 1864 campaigns.

Flags were carried into the field by COLOR BEARERS. And surrounded by a COLOR GUARD. The man carrying the flag could not use a weapon to defend the flag or himself, so an armed guard was provided to defend the flag and barrier from attack or capture by the enemy. It was considered a great honor to be appointed to a position of such great responsibility. Being in the COLOR GUARD was also a great honor and responsibility. The COLOR barrier had to hold the flag up straight even in a strong wind.

 

Parts of the Battle Flag

The "HOIST" of a flag is the front side of the flag that is attached to a line so the flag can be hoisted up a flag pole or staff, or the mast of a ship.

The "FLY" of a flag is the length of the flag. It's called a FLY because it flies in the breeze.

The "FLY END" of a flag in the end furthest away from the flag pole or staff, or the mast of a ship.

The "BORDER" of the flag is the fabric that is around the outside edge of the flag. It is used to keep the fabric of the flag from fraying. In this illustration the BORDER is white. Not all flags of the same kind had the same color BORDER. Not all flags have a BORDER.

The "FIELD" of the flag is the main (background) color of the flag. In this example the FIELD is red with a white border.

The "FIMBRATION" of the flag is the narrow white strip between the blue SALTIER and the red FIELD of the flag. This FIMBRATION was used because the rules of heraldry prohibit the use of color on color. It is used to separate the colors. of the flag.

The "SALTIER" of the flag is the large blue X on the flag. It is also know as the Southern Cross, the Greek Cross and the Cross of St. Andrew.

The "MULLETT" of the flag is another name for STAR. In this example the MULLETTS on the flag are the white stars on the blue SALTIER.

The Confederate First National flag shows you what the flag's CANTON is. It is that area of the flag that has the circle of white MULLETTS on the blue background.

 

Some Battle Flag Variations (Southern Cross type)
 

12 Star Battle Flag: Several of these styles of Battle Flags were used in the Western Theater. These flags were larger than most of the Confederate Infantry flags as they are about 60" square.

 

Army of Northern Virginia Battle Flag #2: This is a sample of a 2nd Bunting issue early in 1862 with thirteen stars. The Richmond Clothing Depot had a large quantity of orange material that was used to border the flag on its upper, lower, and fly edges. Other issues had yellow as shown here. The hoist edge was white.

 

Army of Tennessee: Similar in design to the ANV Battle Flag except the AOT flag is rectangular. Average dimensions were 36 x 52 inches. Artillery flags were smaller averaging 30 x 42 inches. General Joseph E. Jonston tried to standardize the AOT flags in use by issuing flags along this design in March and April 1864.

 

Bragg's Corps, Army of Mississippi-Pattern #1: Prior to Shiloh each of the Corps commanders of the Army of of Mississippi (later called the Army of Tennessee) were issued separate and distinctive Battle Flags. (Hardee, Bragg, Polk, and Breckenridge). Bragg's Corps flags had a distinctive wide pink border. The flags were a little taller than wider, (about 48 x 45) with twelve six pointed stars (at least one exception had five pointed stars). These flags were used by most of Bragg's troops at Shiloh.

 

Bragg's Corps, Army of Mississippi-Pattern #2: The second issue of the Bragg's Corps flag was a rectangle pattern. This second pattern flag flew through the Battle of Missionary Ridge in 1863.

 

Shelby's Missouri Brigade, Trans-Mississippi Department: A silk Battle Flag that is bordered in white with red silk fringe. General Shelby did not surrender his division in 1865. Instead he led approximately 200 men, who did not chose to be reconstructed, across Texas toward their destination of Mexico. On 4 July 1865, General Shelby's men had reached the Rio Grande River. He had his men weight their flags down with rocks and sink them in the river and they left Texas soil. One flag survives today as it was rescued and hidden by one of the soldiers who could not leave it behind.

 

General Richard Taylor Battle Flag, Trans-Mississippi Department: This is often called a "reversal" flag due to the coloration. General Taylor flew this flag in operations in West Louisiana in 1864 and 1865. Several Texas regiments are known to have flown similar flags.

 

Western Theater, Trans-Mississippi Department: A common flag with many slight variations of the Trans-Mississippi Department, especially with Texas cavalry regiments.

 
1st Confederate Naval Jack
(4 March 1861-26 May 1863)
 

2nd Confederate Naval Jack
(27 May 1863-present)

The jack was flown from a "jackstaff" located on the bow of a ship, and was only flown when the ship was in port. The Naval Jack denoted the ship was a ship of war. The naval regulations of 1863 adopted the new National Ensign and also adopted a new Naval Jack. It was to be the same as the regimental battle flags, except it's length was to be one and a half times it's width. The Naval jack of 1863 is very much like the Battle Flag of several units of the Army of Tennessee.
 

 

The Second National Flag
"The Stainless Banner"
(1 May 1863-4 March 1865)
 
 
 
William P. Miles, chairman of the Flag and Seal Committee, was not satisfied with the "Stars and Bars" as the Confederate National Flag. He wanted to get away from any flag that resembled the Union flag, but the mood of the Confederate people and their representatives in Congress, seemed to indicated that they wanted the "Stars and Bars" to be their National Flag. As the war started to drag on, the sentimental feelings for the "Stars and Bars" began to fade away. More and more Confederate citizens came to see the flag of the United States as a symbol of oppression and aggression.

In February 1862, the First Congress of the Confederate States assembled in Richmond. The new members of Congress reflected the changing feelings of the people toward the flag. One of the first actions of the new Congress was to appoint a new Joint

Committee on Flag and Seal with instructions to consider and propose a new Confederate Flag. On 19 April 1862 the committee submitted it's report to both Houses of Congress. While the debate over a new National Flag for the Confederate States of American was going on, the Army of Northern Virginia had been engaged in several battles under it's Battle Flag. A great amount of Confederate blood was spilled under the Battle Flag. Because of this members of Congress, and the citizens of the Confederacy, wanted the Battle Flag incorporated into the CSA National Flag as a way of paying respect to the Confederate Soldiers that were wounded and killed fighting for the new nation's freedom and independence. Senate Bill No. 132 was put into formal language by Representative Peter W. Gray of Houston, Texas. This bill was passed on to the senate and passed with very little debate. Later that same day President Davis signed the bill and gave the new flag to the Confederate States of America. The new flag became official on the 1st of May 1863.

This second National Confederate Flag was referred to as the "Stainless Banner" because of it's pure white field, and was said to represent the purity of the cause which it represented. One of the first uses for the new flag was to drape the coffin of General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson. General Jackson as he lay in state in the Confederate House of Representatives on 12 May 1863. By the order of President Davis, his coffin was draped with the first of the new National Confederate flags to be manufactured. This very first "Stainless Banner" is now on display in the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond. Because of it's use on General Jackson's coffin the new flag is at times referred to as the "Jackson Flag". The Second National Flag was replaced by the Third National Flag in 1865.

 

Third National Flag
(4 March 1865-Present)
 
 
 
In 1863 congress had argued that "the white flag would not be taken for a flag of truce as it was patterned after the old French Bourbon Flag", but the Stainless Banner flag had been considered by many as looking too much like a flag of truce, the CSA Navy in particular. As a result the flag was often manufactured with a shorter fly length in order to minimize the white field.

A new flag bill was introduced to the Confederate States Senate on 13 December 1864. Senator Thomas J. Semmes of Louisiana introduced Senate Bill No. 137 with the statement that "naval officers objected to the present flag, that in a calm looked like a flag of truce". Much consideration followed the introduction of this bill, including consultations with high ranking officers of both the Confederate navy and army. The senate passed Bill No. 137 on 5 February 1865 on to the house, which also passed it on 27 February 1865. It was signed into law by President Davis on 4 March 1865. The last flag of the Confederacy would be similar to the Stainless Banner, except that the Fly end would have a Red Bar for the last 25% of the flags length.

Unlike existing war flags of the earlier patterns, there are very few survivors of the 1865 version as it was approved so late in the war. Many of the ones that do exist are actually the 1863 Stainless Banner with the fly shortened and a red bar added to the flag.

 
Additional Examples: Flags of the Confederacy

 

Cherokee Braves, Trans-Mississippi Department: This special flag's history commemorated the signing of a treaty with the Cherokee Nation on 7 October 1861. This is a "Stars and Bars" variation. A cluster of five red stars was added to represent the five "Civilized" Indian Nations which were aligned with the Confederacy. There is a similar flag that survives which was flown by the First Cherokee Mounted Rifles.

 

Choctaw Brigade, Trans-Mississippi Department: This was another Confederate Indian flag on a blue field were found a red disk, edged in white. In white silhouette on the red disk were represented traditional weapons of the Choctaw Nation. These were the bow, arrow, and a tomahawk.

 

General Cleburne's Division, Hardee's Corps, Army of Tennessee: The regiments of Cleburne's division had fought with the blue battle flags of Hardee's Corps. When Johnston decreed a new battle flag for the regiments of the Army of Tennessee in 1864, Cleburne protested. He won the right for his division to be exempted from the order. General Cleburne ordered fresh flags of the Hardee type to reequip his division. These new flags however, featured painted battle honors in white on a medium blue field. The oval disc of the dark-blue Hardee flags became a smaller square with rounded corners. Many regiments printed their designation in this rounded square.

 

Department of East Tennessee: This 1862 flag featured the St. Andrew's cross. This flag, seeing significant fighting, was quickly superceded by the more dominant Corps designs of the Army of Tennessee. These flags were somewhat crudely made and marked. This flag was seen as late as December 1862 at the battle Murfreesboro.

 

General Hardee's Corps, Army of Tennessee: This was the distinctively designed Battle Flag of the troops under General William J. Hardee's command. It was flown from the battle of Shiloh in 1862 until just after the battle of Missionary Ridge. The round disk was later changed to an oval and even some oval shapes that resembled a square with rounded shoulders (Cleburne's Division). Often the regiments would paint their unit designation on the disk and their battle honors on the blue field or on the white border.

 

3rd Kentucky Mounted Infantry: This was another of the Christian Confederate flag themes. A blue field with a red Roman cross, with white five point stars placed in the cross.

 

 "Missouri" Battle Flag, Trans-Mississippi Department: This flag was found almost exclusively with Missouri regiments in the Department, and that is why it is often called the "Missouri" Battle Flag. The flag was blue bordered with red with a white Roman cross near the hoist of the flag. 

 

General Dabney Maury's Headquarters Flag. This flag was used for a time by General Maury, Department of the Gulf, at his headquarters in Mobile, AL from around 1863- the capture of the city in late in the war.  Another example of the Christian theme and principles emulated by the Confederate Armies.

 

General Robert E. Lee's Headquarters Flag, Army of Northern Virginia. The cotton and wool bunting flag was used by Robert E. Lee during the early part of the War. It flew only over stationary camps, not on the battlefield. At the end of the War the flag was found stored with the Confederate War Department's records, packed among captured Federal colors. It is possible that the flag, or at least its odd star arrangement, was produced by the general's wife.

 

General Leonidas Polk's Corps, Army of Tennessee: The Confederate General and Episcopal Bishop of Louisiana chose this Battle Flag. The Episcopal Church flag is a red cross of St. George. It is featured as the central device in Polk's Corps flag. The is a white fimbration to separate the cross from the blue field and white stars representing the Confederate states are placed on the red cross.

 

Sons of Erin, 10th Tennessee Infantry CSA: An Irish Brigade formed in Nashville.  The words "Go Where Glory Waits You" are on the lower ribbon.  Also known as the "Bloody 10th" for the heavy losses it sustained in the fighting at Ft. Donaldson. Most are familiar with the role of Irish troops in the Northern army, but less is known about Irish troops in Confederate service. The entire regiment at this time was furnished with new uniforms by Lt. Col. McGavock, who was the former mayor of Nashville. The uniforms were carefully described by Private Jimmy Doyle in his diary, which has been preserved. Although the 10th Tennessee was considered one of the best equipped regiments in the war's Western Theater, its troops were armed at this time with flintlock muskets from the War of 1812.

 

General Van Dorn's Corp, Trans-Mississippi Department: This western theater flag had a red field adorned with thirteen white stars arranged in five rows, with a white crescent in the upper corner. The flags were bordered in yellow and/or white. Used at the Battle of Coritnth, MS, October 1862.

 

 

For a more detailed approach to flag study I recommend "The Flags of the Confederacy, An Illustrated History" by Devereaux D. Cannon Jr. 1994 Pelican Publishing Co. Also visit to his new website (posted after our site was developed) Flags of the Confederacy.  FOTC is a site devoted to Confederate vexillology. Here you can read about the numerous flags of the government and armed forces of the Confederate States of America, and view many images of those flags. The site is fed with news and images posted by a team of vexillologists who specialize in the study of Confederate flags

 

Visit: Flags of the War for American Independence-the 1st War for American Independence, for a view of flags that represented the first fight for freedom.

 

Georgia State Flag: Research on the development of the official Georgia State Flag from its first mention in the official records of the state government to present. The findings are presented so the citizens of Georgia might form their opinions concerning the Georgia State Flag based upon the facts!

 

 

 

The Georgia Heritage Coalition is dedicated to preserving the heritage of the Great State of Georgia and all of her people. Click on the button to subscribe to Georgia Heritage email news.

 

2001  John K. McNeill SCV Camp #674, Moultrie, GA