Flags Of The Confederacy


~ The National Flags That Flew Over The Confederacy During The War Of 1861 - 1865 ~

The First Before The First

The Bonnie Blue Flag
(From 1810 To The Present)
The Burnet Flag
(10 December 1836)

The Bonnie Blue Flag was an unofficial banner of the Confederate States of America at the start of the War of 1861 - 1865. It consists of a single, five-pointed white star on a blue field. It closely resembles the flag of the short-lived Republic of West Florida of 1810.

The first recorded use of this flag (though typically with a white star) was in 1810 when it was used to represent the Republic of West Florida, a Republic of English-speaking inhabitants of Southern Alabama, Mississippi, and portions of Louisiana east of the Mississippi River who rebelled against the reign of Spanish government and overthrew Spain's provincial Governor de Lassus at Baton Rouge. The republic's independence lasted barely three months, dissolved after the annexation of Louisiana's portion of the disputed land to the United States territory, acquired in the Louisiana Purchase.


Later referred to as the Burnet Flag, it was adopted by the Congress of the Republic of Texas on December 10, 1836. It consisted of an azure background with a large golden star, inspired by the 1810 flag of the Republic of West Florida. Variants of the Burnet Flag with a white star, virtually identical to the Bonnie Blue Flag, were also common. Other variants featured the star (of either color) upside down, and / or ringed with the word Texas, with each letter filling one of the gaps of the star.

When the state of Mississippi seceded from the Union in January 1861, a flag bearing a single white star on a blue field was flown from the capitol dome. Harry Macarthy helped popularize this flag as a symbol of independence, writing the popular song "The Bonnie Blue Flag" early in 1861. Some seceding Southern states incorporated the motif of a white star on a blue field into new state flags.

Although the name "Bonnie Blue" dates only from 1861, there is no doubt that the flag is identical with the banner of the Republic of West Florida, which broke away from Spanish West Florida in September 1810 and was annexed by the United States 90 days later. In 2006 the state of Louisiana formally linked the name "Bonnie Blue" to the West Florida banner by passing a law designating the Bonnie Blue Flag as "the official flag of the Republic of West Florida Historic Region".

The "Bonnie Blue Flag" was used as an unofficial flag during the early months of 1861. It was flying above the Confederate batteries that first opened fire on Fort Sumter, beginning the Civil War. In addition, many military units had their own regimental flags they would carry into battle.

The National Flags Of The Confederacy

~ The Confederate 1st National Flag: "The Stars and Bars" ~
 (1861 - 1863)


(From 04 March, 1861 To 21 May, 1861)

The first official national flag of the Confederacy, often called the "Stars and Bars", was flown from March 4, 1861, to May 1, 1863. It was designed by German / Prussian artist Nicola Marschall in Marion, Alabama, and resembled the flag of the Austrian Empire (later Austria-Hungary, now the Republic of Austria), with which Marschall would have been familiar. The "Stars and Bars" flag was adopted March 4, 1861, in the first temporary national capital of Montgomery, Alabama, and raised over the dome of that first Confederate capitol. Marschall also designed the Confederate Army 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, a Congressman and "Fire-Eater" from 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."
~ John M. Coski

Miles had already designed a flag that later became known as 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" ~ originally established and designed in June 1777 during the Revolutionary War), the "Stars and Bars" design was approved by the committee.

When the War of 1861-1865 broke out, the "Stars and Bars" caused confusion on the battlefield at the First Battle of Manassas because of its similarity to the U.S. flag, especially when it was hanging limp, down on the flagstaff. The "Stars and Bars" was also criticized on ideological grounds for its resemblance to the U.S. flag. Many Confederates disliked the Stars and Bars, seeing it as symbolic of a centralized national power the Confederate states were seceding from in order to preserve the core principal of the enumerated power of the states above the enumerated power of the federal government of the United States. As early as April 1861, a month after the flag's adoption, some were already criticizing the flag, calling it a "servile imitation" and a "detested parody" of the U.S. flag.

In January 1862, George William Bagby, writing for the Southern Literary Messenger, wrote that many Confederates disliked the flag.

"Every body wants a new Confederate flag. The present one is universally hated. It resembles the Yankee flag and that is enough to make it unutterably detestable."
~ George William Bagby

The editor of the Charleston Mercury expressed a similar view, stating that:


"It seems to be generally agreed that the 'Stars and Bars' will never do for us. They resemble too closely the dishonored 'Flag of Yankee Doodle' ~ we imagine that the 'Battle Flag' will become the Southern Flag by popular acclaim."
~ Robert Barnwell Rhett

In addition, William T. Thompson, the editor of the Savannah-based Daily Morning News also objected to the flag, due to its aesthetic similarity to the U.S. flag, which some Confederates negatively associated with emancipation and abolitionism. Thompson stated in April 1863 that he disliked the adopted flag:

"... on account of its resemblance to that of the abolition despotism against which we are fighting."
~ William T. Thompson


(From 21 May, 1861 To 02 July, 1861)


(From 02 July, 1861 To 28 November, 1861)

Over the course of the flag's use by the Confederacy, additional stars were added to the flag's canton, eventually bringing the total number of stars on the flag to thirteen. This reflected the Confederacy's claims of having admitted Kentucky and Missouri into the Confederacy. Although they were represented in the Confederate Congress for the duration of its meetings, and had shadow governments made up of deposed former state politicians, neither state was ever fully controlled or administered by the Confederacy.


(From 28 November, 1861 To 01 May, 1863)

The first showing of the 13-star flag was outside the Ben Johnson House in Bardstown, Kentucky; the 13-star design was also in use as the Confederate Navy's Battle Ensign.

~ The Confederate 2nd National Flag: "The Stainless Banner" ~
 (1863 - 1865)

(From 01 May, 1863 To 03 March, 1865)
During the solicitation for a second Confederate 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 among those living in the Confederacy. 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 Saltire of blue, bordered with white, and emblazoned with mullets or five-pointed stars, corresponding in number to that of the Confederate States."
 

The flag is also known as the Stainless Banner, and the matter of the person behind its design remains a point of contention. On April 23rd, 1863, the Savannah Morning News editor William Tappan Thompson, with assistance from William Ross Postell, a Confederate blockade runner, published an editorial championing a design featuring the battle flag on a white background.  In a letter to Confederate Congressman C. J. Villere, dated April 24th, 1863, a design similar to Thompson's was proposed by General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard PACS:

"... whose earlier penchant for practicality had established the precedent for visual distinctiveness on the battlefield, proposed that 'a good design for the national flag would be the present battle-flag as Union Jack, and the rest all white or all blue'..."
~
C. J. Villere; Confederate Congressman

The final version of the Confederate Second National Flag, adopted 01 May, 1863, did just this:

"It set the St. Andrew's Cross of stars in the Union Jack with the rest of the civilian banner entirely white."

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 supporting 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. When Thompson received word the Congress had adopted the design with a blue stripe, he published an editorial on April 28th in opposition, writing that:


"The blue bar running up the centre of the white field and joining with the right lower arm of the blue cross, is in bad taste, and utterly destructive of the symmetry and harmony of the design."

~ William Tappan Thompson

Regardless of who truly originated the design of the Stainless Banner, whether by heeding Thompson's editorials or Beauregard's letter, the Stainless Banner was officially adopted by the Confederate Congress on May 1st, 1863. The flags that were actually produced by the Richmond Clothing Depot used the 1.5:1 ratio adopted for the Confederate Navy's Battle Ensign, rather than the official 2:1 ratio.

The Confederate Naval Battle Ensign
26 May 1863

Initial reaction to the second national flag was favorable, but over time it became criticized for being "too white." The Columbia-based Daily South Carolinian observed that it was essentially a battle flag upon a flag of truce and might send a mixed message. Military officers also voiced complaints about the flag being too white, for various reasons, such as the danger of being mistaken for a flag of truce, especially on naval ships, and that it was too easily soiled. Due to the flag's resemblance to one of truce, some Confederates cut off the white portion of the flag, leaving only the canton.

The first official use of the "Stainless Banner" was to drape the coffin of General Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson PACS as he lay in state in the Virginia capitol, May 12, 1863.

The Funeral Of General Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson PACS
(12 May 1863)

~ The Confederate 3rd National Flag: "The Blood-Stained Banner" ~
 (1865)

(From 26 May 1863 To The End)
The third national flag (also called the "Blood Stained Banner") was adopted March 4, 1865. The red vertical bar 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 flag's "Southern Cross" canton could accidentally stay hidden, so the flag could mistakenly appear all white.
 

Rogers lobbied successfully to have this alteration introduced in the Confederate Senate. He defended his redesign as having "... as little as possible of the Yankee blue," and described it as symbolizing the primary origins of the people of the Confederacy, with the Saltire of the Scottish flag and the red bar from the flag of France.

The Flag Act of 1865, passed by the Confederate Congress near the very end of the War, 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 mullets or 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.

Despite the passage of the Flag Act of 1865, very few of these third national flags were actually manufactured and put into use in the field, with many Confederates never seeing the flag. Moreover, the ones made by the Richmond Clothing Depot used the square canton of the second national flag rather than the slightly rectangular one that was specified by the law.


The Battle Flags Of The Confederacy


"Dixie"
From the "Gettysburg" Motion Picture Soundtrack

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