The Confederate flag has been much in the news lately. As a service to readers, Dr. Boli reprints a short history of Confederate flags that first appeared here several years ago.
Dear Dr. Boli: While examining an old painting of a Civil War battle, I saw a flag I didn’t recognize on the Confederate side. A historically-minded neighbor of mine informs me that it was the first Confederate national flag. I had no idea there were multiple Confederate flags. Can you sort out the history of the Confederate flag for me? —Sincerely, A Gentleman of Bristol, Virginia or Tennessee (not entirely sure which).
Dear Sir: The Confederate States of America, during its brief history, adopted a number of flags. The first Confederate national flag, the “Stars and Bars,” was adopted in March of 1861, but it was soon criticized as depending too much on the now-hated Union flag (see Fig. 1).
Fig. 1: First Confederate national flag, the “Stars and Bars.”
In response to these criticisms, Confederate generals adopted a square battle flag (see Fig. 2), which, however, was open to the criticism that its colors were still broadly similar to those of the Union flag.
Fig. 2: Confederate battle flag.
The second Confederate national flag, the “Stainless Banner,” incorporated that square battle flag in its union, the rest of the flag being spotless white, in token of the purity of the cause of preserving liberty for slaveholders (see Fig. 3).
Fig. 3: Second Confederate national flag, the “Stainless Banner.”
This flag was at least distinctive, but it was still open to the objection that it shared its colors with the Union flag. Thus it was only one more step, namely the removal of the union altogether, that led to the final Confederate national flag, known as the “Appomattox Banner” (see Fig. 4).
Fig. 4: Final Confederate national flag.
The development of the Confederate flag did not end, however, with the defeat of the Confederate States of America. In tribute to the brave souls who fought for the honor of the Confederacy, the old square battle flag, elongated into a rectangle, has been universally adopted in international heraldry as the symbol for “trailer park.”