History Wednesday: More Red Flags

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

One thought on “History Wednesday: More Red Flags

  1. If you really want to talk history, the secession started with South Carolina in Dec. 1860. The war was initiated by Lincoln’s continuing trespass at Ft Sumter and subsequent unconstitutional demand for 75,000 troops levied from the states to invade the South. The flag design required increasing numbers of stars as more and more states left the USA and joined the CSA, which was established early in 1861.
    BTW, foreign powers did recognize the CSA – as a “belligerent”. This gave it definite international status albeit provisional, for diplomatic purposes. The most important nation to so recognize the CSA was Great Britain, which came close to siding with the CSA, and whose citizens, commerce and industry did give material aid. Otherwise why the Alabama Claims Commission?
    Causes aside, the flags do have an interesting history. The coincidental similarity to the Austrian flag is more of a historical myth than reality. Yes, it was offered by a Prussian, but the overriding goal was intentionally to resemble the Stars and Stripes, and to recall the “Betsy Ross” of the First American Revolution. The resemblance and derivation of the Southern Cross from the Scottish Saltire is much more credible.
    Congressman Miles had originally offered a national design closer to the Battle Flag. You should credit Gen GPT Beauregard for the push for the CBF. It was in the ANV, but Lee’s own HQ flag was more like the Stars and Bars. Supposedly, Gen Johnston ok’ed the square design, possibly to save on material, and there was to be a white edge around the flag, too.
    The AOT had most of the description right, but the proportions off, and so went with the more traditional rectangle shape. It does change the angles of the diagonals meeting in the center. But, to say that the “only recorded use” was in the AOT is to belittle what I suppose you think were obscure actions at Kennesaw Mtn., Atlanta, Franklin, Nashville, etc. A little like saying that “the only recorded use” of the 48- star US flag was at Iwo Jima.
    The Confederate Battle Flag, AKA the Southern Cross, is also known as the Soldier’s Flag, not only from its battlefield origins, but also from its adoption by the United Confederate Veterans and the Sons of Confederate Veterans as part of their insignia. That the use didn’t “become common” is a bit disingenuous as these organizations predate the 20th Century, and their members were civilians, albeit veterans and their descendants.
    It might interest you to know that the Sons of Confederate Veterans, together with the United Daughters of the Confederacy, work very hard to rehabilitate and restore the Solder’s Flag to its rightful place in the mainstream of society. They support its use on monuments, graves, and on municipal, even state sites, and in general civil use as a general identifier of the South and its virtues. They defend it against its abusers of all kinds.
    Note that the KKK has as its official flag the Stars and Stripes of the USA. Go ahead and google it. Furthermore, it was in 1991 that the NAACP adopted a national resolution that Confederate symbols were an “odious blight on the universe”. Odious means hateful. Therefore the NAACP clearly adopted Hate Speech as a prominent feature of its self-serving agenda and public policy. Ever since, the NAACP has engaged in an aggressive Hate-Speech campaign against the Soldier’s Flag. Only the Confederophes of the NAACP-influenced Politically Correct academics and politicians, and the NAACP misled, mis-educated public, fail to realize the fallacy of so demonizing this inanimate object. When the Confederate Battle Flag resumes its proper place as a frequent and familiar feature of the civic landscape, it will cease to be the bogeyman of the extremists of the KKK and NAACP alike.
    Internationally, the CBF is often used by contemporary political activists to denote opposition to tyranny and oppression, thus returning it full circle to its origins as a flag of those seeking independence, freedom, and liberty; and willing to fight for it.

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