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«text'> CONFEDERATE HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION OF BELGIUM T he Southern Confederacy was a land of flags. During the brief span of four years, no less than ...»

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he Southern Confederacy was a land of flags. During the brief span of four years,

no less than three national flags represented the Confederate nation, while a battle

flag represented the armies of the South. In addition, the seven states that seceded

prior to the formation of the Confederacy, regarding themselves independent until a Southern

union was created, either developed their own “national” flags or continued to use their state flags, which served the same purpose. These do not even take into account the various regimental flags carried by soldiers who may have, in many instances, felt greater attachment to them than to the banner of their country.

Success in creating a satisfactory national flag, however, proved to be no easy task, as each new banner was met with almost immediate disapproval or quickly became subject to unforeseen problems that demanded change. Trial and error would continue throughout the duration of the nation itself, meeting with success only as the Confederacy itself fell victim to Northern arms.

The Richmond Daily Examiner of March 3, 1863, described the South’s enduring passion for a national flag that even in the midst of a war for survival demanded attention: “Man always seeks and needs a symbol to rally round; and it becomes to him somewhat mystic and divine, as the emblem of his country’s might and glory; for which he will proudly fight and die. Even those devices which belong to a cause lost and long buried live long in the memory of its faithful adherents … Herein is one main test of a great people that they will do and dare all for their sacred flag.” The same writer put the issue into even more graphic perspective with a quote from Carlyle, who claimed to have “known five hundred living soldiers [who were] sabred (sic) into crow’s


meat for a piece of glazed cotton, which they called their flag; which, had you sold it at any market-cross, would not have brought over three groshen.”1 Thus, for four long years, half a million Southerners fought, and many thousands died for a piece of cloth that was, in monetary terms, valued at a few dollars, but which symbolized the very heart and ideals of the Confederacy itself, and was indeed worth dying for. This enthusiasm for a Southern national flag began with the first murmurings of secession in 1860 South Carolina and died only with the military defeat of the Southern armies.

The Samuel F. B. Morse flag: Optimism for Reunion With the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States in 1860, secession and civil war seemed to be inevitable. There would be two countries with the same history, of which both claimed with equal pride. The North might officially remain the “United States,” but the South would create its own mirror-like image of the country it was to leave. There would be in essence, two United States - one Northern and one Southern.

Perhaps it was this similarity that led at least a few far-sighted individuals to believe just as strongly in the inevitability of eventual re-unification. The break-up would only be temporary, or if permanent, the two sides would remember their common heritage and come together for defense. Samuel F. B. Morse was one of these men. Already famous for his telegraphic code, he now became an ardent proponent for peace. Should the country be divided, then the Stars and Stripes, in which the North and South held the selfsame interest, must also be divided equally between the formerly united nations. When the seceded states met to select a national flag, many delegates were of the same opinion as Morse, who said neither could claim the Stars and Stripes because defeats and victories had been shared under that banner. It was hallowed in the memory of each.2 Neither side could claim it exclusively. In time of common menace, or reunification, the two flags could be united to form Old Glory once again. As Morse stated: “And when once the old time-honored banner, bequeathed to us by our honored ancestors of every state, shall be flung to the breeze in its original integrity, as the rally-point for a common defense, will not a shout of welcome, going up from the Rio Grande to Maine, and from the Atlantic to the Pacific, rekindle in patriotic hearts in both confederacies a fraternal yearning for the old union.”3 The tendency of Southerners to cling to the Stars and Stripes was strong. In bidding farewell to his comrades in the U. S. Senate, Senator … Slidell of Louisiana emphatically stated that “Every sea will swarm with our volunteer militia of the ocean, with the striped bunting floating over their heads - for we do not mean to give up that flag without a bloody struggle. It is ours as much as yours.” That this sentiment was not uncommon is indicated by the New York Herald: “Let the (South) … keep the stars and stripes … The Star-Spangled Banner will thus continue to wave in the United States South, as well as the United States North … Long may it wave. The two flags, similar in stripes, will thus differ only in the number and splendor of their stars.”4

The State Secession Flags

That there would be a struggle over the design of the flag that would represent the Confederacy was evident in the equally strong views of ardent secessionists who had long opposed what they believed to be an oppressive Northern government and the Richmond Daily Examiner, March 3, 1863.

Lucile Lange Dufner, “The Flags of the Confederate States of America” (MA thesis, University of Texas, 1944), 1.

Ibid, 2; Benjamin J. Lossing, The Pictorial Field Book of the Civil War in the United States of America. Vol. 1. New Haven, CT: Geo. H. Lester, 1878, 246.

Reprinted in the Montgomery Weekly Post, Feb. 27, 1861.


conservatives, many of whom had originally opposed secession and went only reluctantly with their states into Confederacy. Representing the former, William Porcher Miles of South Carolina claimed that he had resented the Stars and Stripes since childhood as the flag of a government that Southerners could look to for justice and protection. “The State flag is dearer to my heart than the flag of the U. S. for it was under that flag that the battle of Fort Moultrie was fought - (and the battles) of King’s Mountain and Cowpens were fought.”5 “National” Flags of the States The need for a banner that would symbolize their new country was evident from the earliest days of secession as one banner after another was proposed for the seceding states. As South Carolina left the Union, Columbia and Charleston saw a sea of flags that showed the desire of the state to go it alone as such mottoes as the following were emblazoned: “South Carolina Goes It Alone,” “God, Liberty, and the States,” “Stand to your arms, palmetto boys,” “Hurrah for the Southern Confederacy,” “Now or never strike for independence,” “Goodbye, Yankee Doodle,” and “Death to all abolitionists, Let us bury the Union’s dead carcass.”6 It can be argued that the essential element of all future Confederate national flags was developed by the South Carolina Secession Convention that, on December 20, 1860, adopted a red silk banner with a blue cross and fifteen stars, representing the fifteen slaveholding states. The large central star represented South Carolina. A palmetto tree and crescent were in the red field.7 Louisiana toyed with the idea of a pelican flag. On Jan. 26, Gov. Thomas O. Moore entered the secession convention hall accompanied by a Pelican flag. However, the flag committee disapproved, calling the bird “in form unsightly, in habits, filthy, in nature cowardly.” Still later, on February 11, 1861, the Convention adopted a State Flag, having four blue, six white, and three red stripes, and a single yellow star on the union.8 In Alabama, when the secession ordinance was passed, a mass meeting was held in front of the capitol and the women of Montgomery presented a secession flag, which they had made in anticipation of the ordinance.9 Of the original seven Confederate states, only Georgia failed to adopt a state secession flag, but used instead its own state flag.

Although the seceded states were temporarily sovereign, there was no intention that they would remain so. Their “national” flags were only national until another union of states could be forged. The real goal of the seceded states was a union of all 15 Southern states into a Confederate nation in which the interests of all would be protected from Northern interference.

At the same time the secession conventions were meeting, delegations from various Southern states were visiting sister states to encourage the creation of a Southern Confederacy. With such a union in mind, the Alabama secession convention took the initiative on January 11, 1861: “… Be it resolved by the people of Alabama in Convention assembled, That the people of the states of Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Missouri, be and are hereby invited to meet the people of the State of Alabama, by their Delegates, in Convention, on the 4th day of February, A. D. 1861, at the city of Montgomery, in the State of Alabama, for the purpose of consulting with each other as to the most effectual mode of securing concerted and harmonious action in whatever measures may be deemed most desirable for our common peace and security.”10 Montgomery Weekly Advertiser, Feb. 20, 1861.

Dufner, 6; George Henry Preble, History of the Flag of the United States of America. 4th ed. Vol. 2. Boston:

Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1894, 495.

Dufner, 4, figure 4, plate 2.

Milo Milton Quaife, The Flag of the United States. NY: Grossett & Dunlap, 1942, 153; Dufner, 10, Fig 9, Plate III.

Dufner, 7-8; Preble, History of the Flag, II, 500.

LaBree, Ben. The Confederate Soldier in the Civil War. Paterson, NJ: Pageant Books, 1959, 11.


Trial and Error: The Birth of the Stars and Bars

The invitation to Montgomery was accepted initially by only six of the seceded states, with the Texas delegation arriving too late to be involved in the major work of the Convention.

Among the most prominent tasks drawing the attention of the delegates were the need for a functioning government and for a national flag to be displayed prior to the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln in the North. This allowed only four weeks to select a national ensign.

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