Hey, ever seen one of these in your neighborhood?
“Well, it’s not Scottish anyway.”
Image credit: Carl Wainwright
Being something of an armchair vexillologist I’ve always been fascinated with flags, both international and historical. Now, a lot of people seem to believe the above flag was the national flag of the Confederate States of America. Indeed, it remains popular in its former territory.
But as it turns out … it’s not. Never was. I find the contemporary political connotations of the subject distasteful, so I’m not going to get into that here. However, there’s still plenty of history to talk about.
Now for the seven or so of you who have never heard of the CSA, here’s a little background. For a variety of reasons, predominant of which being local control and slavery, in 1861 seven southern states in the United States of America seceded from the central government and founded their own country in its place, with four other states joining shortly thereafter. Never recognized by any foreign power, the CSA spent its entire four-year existence in a losing battle fighting forces loyal to the USA. When the CSA was dissolved in 1865, its territories were gradually re-assimilated into the USA where they remain to this day.
Such as they are.
Image credit: I Believe I Can Fry
During its short history, the CSA encountered almost as many vexillological issues as battlefield issues. Shortly after forming, in March 1861 the CSA commissioned a national flag based on the Austrian flag of all things. Eight months and three design changes later it looked like this:
They called it the Stars and Bars.
It’s a decent enough design. That’s not the issue. The problem was in an age before smokeless powder and megapixel digital cameras, the Confederates were fighting a power which used this flag:
“Wait, which way are we shooting again?”
That’s right, there was so much confusion between the two flags on the battlefield that by early 1863 the CSA was looking for a new design. By this time Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia had developed a popular workaround utilizing a distinctive square battle flag. In May 1863 the Confederates unveiled their second national flag, heavily influenced by the banner Lee was using.
The “Stainless Banner” should look considerably more familiar to modern viewers.
The good news for the Confederates was that the Stainless Banner didn’t look anything like a Yankee flag. The bad news was at a distance it totally looked like a truce flag, having so much white in it and all. With the war getting progressively worse for the CSA, it’s safe to say this is definitely not what they were looking for.
Finally in March 1865, the Confederate government added a thick vertical red stripe to the fly end of the national flag. It’s unclear how practical this change was, as the CSA surrendered at Appomattox Court House just a month later, effectively ceasing to exist.
So what about the “rebel flag” we’re familiar with today? Well, as mentioned the Confederates used the basic design extensively during the American Civil War, but as a SQUARE battle flag. The only recorded uses of the design as a rectangular flag during the Civil War were as a naval jack and as a battle flag used by the Army of Tennessee in the Western Theater. Civilian use of the rectangular rebel flag didn’t become common until the 20th Century, decades after war’s end.
In other words, this paint job would be more historically accurate on a Scion xB.
Image credit: Dana Lane