Battle Flag of the Confederacy


The first major battle of the war, Bull Run or First Manassas, brought to light problems in using the First National Flag on the field of combat. For example, then-brigade commander Jubal Early was advised at one point during the battle that his regiments were firing on friends. Although he thought it was not so, he halted his men and rode out to where he could see a regiment drawn in battle line several hundred yards away. "The dress of the volunteers on both sides at that time was very similar," he later wrote, "and the flag of the regiment I saw was drooping around the staff, so that I could not see whether it was the United States or Confederate flag." It was not until the regiment in question fell back that he "saw the United States flag unfurled and discovered the mistake". In the meantime, precious time had been lost.
       After this problem became evident the commander of the army in northern Virginia, Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, ordered that his regiments carry their state flags. Only Virginia regiments were able to obtain enough state flags for this purpose. Moreover, some state flags were too similar to colors carried by Union forces. The dark blue field of the Virginia state flag, for example, when lying limp, would look exactly like that of the US Army infantry regimental color, which also featured a dark blue field.
       To solve this problem, Congressman William Porcher Miles suggested to Gen. Beauregard that the army adopt as a battle flag the pattern which he had designed for the First National Flag--a pattern which Congress had rejected twice. On 27 August 1861 Miles sent Beauregard a drawing of his suggested flag, adding that his design called for, "...the ground Red, the Cross Blue (edged with white), Stars, White. This was my favorite. The three colors of Red, White, and Blue were preserved in it. It avoided the religious objection about the cross being the "Saltire" of Heraldry and significant of strength and progress ... The Stars ought always to be White or Argent because they are then blazoned "Proper" (or natural color). Stars to show better on an Azure field than any other. Blue Stars on a White field would not be handsome or appropriate. The "White edge" (as I term it) to the Blue is partly a necessity to prevent what is called "false blazonry"...It would not do to put a blue cross therefore on a red field ...The introduction of the white between the Blue and Red adds also much to the brilliancy of the colors and brings them out in strong relief"
       Beauregard liked the design, writing to Miles on 4 September 1861: "I regret to hear of the failure about the change of flag- but what can now be done is, to authorize commanding generals in the field to furnish their troops with a "field, or battle flag," which shall be according to your design, leaving out, however, the white border, or rim separating the blue from the red. I would have it simply a red ground with two blue bars crossing each other diagonally, on which shall be the white stars; a white or golden fringe might go all around the sides of the flag."
       Beauregard took the idea to Johnston, who also liked the basic design but changed its shape to square on the recommendation of the army's future quartermaster, Who said that a square flag would save cloth. He also restored the white fimbration. Examples of the new battle flag were made in September 1861 by three Richmond belles, Hettie, Jennie, and Constance Cary. According to Constance, "They were jaunty squares of scarlet crossed with dark blue edged with white, the cross bearing stars to indicate the number of the seceded States. We set our best stitches upon them, edged them with golden fringes, and, when they were finished, dispatched one to Johnston, another to Beauregard, and the third to Earl Van Dorn, then commanding infantry at Manassas. The banners were received with all possible enthusiasm; were toasted, feted, and cheered abundantly."
       The original flag sent to Van Dorn survives in the collection of the Museum of the Confederacy, Richmond, Virginia. It has a red field with a blue St. Andrew's cross with white fimbration and hoist edge, with three white ties to hold it to the staff. Three gold stars are set on each arm of the cross, clustered close to the center; there is no star where the arms of the cross meet. It has 3-inch-long yellow fringing, and is actually 31 inches by 30 inches in size rather than perfectly square. The name 'Constance' has been embroidered on the lower arm of the cross near the hoist.
       Three sizes were established for the battle flags made to this design and finally issued throughout the Army of Northern Virginia. Infantry versions were to be 48 inches on each side; artillery versions, 36 inches square; and cavalry versions, 30 inches square.
       The first pattern Army of Northern Virginia battle flags were made as the samples were, sewn of dress silk by Richmond ladies under contract. Their blue crosses were eight inches wide, edged with 3/4 inch-wide white silk. The 12 white stars were 4 inches in diameter, set 8 inches apart from the center of the cross. All the edges but the hoist were bound in yellow silk; the hoist had a blue silk sleeve. Finally, the fields tended to be pinkish rather than scarlet.
       Not all of these flags were made by official contractors from the start. The 4th Texas Infantry, for example, received in November 1861 a variant of this flag which was made by Miss Lula Wigfall, daughter of one of Texas' senators. This 47-inch square silk flag was very similar to the first pattern except that it featured a single star at the point where the arms of the cross met which was larger than the other stars-symbolic of the Lone Star of Texas. The other stars were placed rather towards the outer part of the arms of the cross, rather than being clustered towards the center as on the first silk pattern flags. It was edged in yellow, with the edge on the hoist side folded around to make a sleeve for the staff. This battle-worn flag was retired to Texas for storage on 7 October 1862.
       By that time, most of these colors had been worn out by much use in the field. However, in early 1862 the Richmond Clothing Depot had acquired sufficient stocks of bunting, both by purchase from England and by the capture of the US Navy Yard at Norfolk, Virginia. The Depot began manufacturing and issuing its own machine-sewn First Bunting Pattern, Army of Northern Virginia battle flags. These were very similar to the First Silk Pattern flags but made of bunting, with true scarlet fields. Instead of yellow silk edging they were made with orange flannel 1 inches wide; the orange rapidly became a somewhat dirty tan in color after some time in the field. The thirteenth star was added at the center of the cross, and the cotton stars were smaller, only 3 inches in diameter. They were set 6 inches apart from the center of the cross. The fimbration was made of inch wide cotton. The staff side was made with a 2-inch-wide white canvas or linen heading with three whipped eyelets for ties.
       These flags, often lacking any sort of designation such as battle honors or unit designation, quickly became the standard Army of Northern Virginia battle flag first issued to Longstreet's Right Wing in May 1862. One of these unmarked flags, for example, was carried by the 3rd Georgia Infantry throughout the war.
       In the spring of 1862 the Depot slightly changed the colors it had been issuing. The blue cross was now made only 5 inches wide. The stars were also reduced in size, to 3 3/4 inches in diameter. The so called Third Bunting Pattern flag appeared in late 1862, when the orange borders were replaced with white 2-inch-wide bunting.


Source: "Flags of the American Civil War, 1: Confederate" By Philip Katcher & Rick Scollins



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This site last updated 01/16/2011                                      Col. Thomas Hardeman, Jr.  UDC Chapter 2170 Macon, Ga.


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