Last modified: 2014-06-29 by rick wyatt
Keywords: united states | csa | army of northern virginia | southern cross | confederate |
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image by Rick Wyatt, 20 November 1997
image by Steve Jacquot
This flag of the American Civil War is also known as the "Southern Cross". In battle, it was used in place of the "Stars and Bars" which had proved difficult to distinguish from the Union's "Stars and Stripes."
Of particular interest (to me) is the orientation of the stars, according to the blue stripes in the cross, rather than vertically. Other interesting features are the square proportions, which are rarely seen in modern reproductions, and the white border, which seems to have been part of the design. This particular design is unique to the Army of Northern Virginia, and is not representative of other flags, in particular that of the Army of Tennessee, whose flag is closer to what is usually represented as "The" Confederate flag.
Only 11 states seceded from the Union, during the Civil War, yet the Southern Cross had 13 stars. Two border states (Kentucky and Missouri) that did not "officially" succeed from the Union nevertheless had strong Southern leanings and formed rump governments in the Confederacy. Hence the extra stars. Like every thing else in the War of 1861 the two sides could not even agree who was in and who was out.
Wayne J. Lovett and John Ayer
The battle flag of the famous Confederate Army of Northern Virginia was altered in the design phase in order to make it easier to manufacture.
By tradition, American flags had been rectangular in shape. The design for the ANV battle flag was originally submitted as rectangular - 12 gold stars on diagonally crossed blue bars - on a field of pink or rose (originally) - the Southern Cross. The man who came up with this design, South Carolina Congressman William Porcher Miles, had been inspired by the South Carolina secession banner that was similar but had a St. George's cross rather than a St. Andrews cross. It also had the state coat of arms in the upper left quadrant.
It was originally planned to use versions of that secession flag for military use and to put each state's coat of arms in the upper quadrant. But Miles, who also submitted a design for a National flag to the Committee on Flag and Seal, which he chaired, decided to go with a St. George's cross instead without state coats of arms. His National design was rejected as, at the time, the Confederacy only had 7 states and the star layout looked asymmetrical. When CS Generals Beauregard, Joseph Johnston and Gustavus Smith met to create a purely military flag for the Eastern army they settled on Miles design - only after failing to get the Confederate Congress to change the First National flag - the Stars and Bars - as it looked too much like the U.S. flag (it was an intentional copy of it).
By this time, the Confederacy consisted of 11 states (October, 1861) and had also recognized the delegation from Missouri. So the flag would have 12 stars on a rectangular field. One idea was for the flag to be blue with crossed red bars but this was shelved in favor on the more well known flag (although that pattern would show up in 1864 for Gen. John Walker's Texas Division in the Trans-Mississippi). Gen. Johnston suggested that the flag be made square rather than rectangular for two reasons: 1) to save on materials in the construction and, 2) to make it easier to manufacture. A rectangular flag of this design would have to deal with obtuse angles rather than right angles, thus slowing down the construction of the flags. This harkens back to how quilts are made - most are square and have square segments since right angles are easier to sew. Curiously, in early 1864, the battle flags for Johnston's new command, the Army of Tennessee, would receive rectangular Southern Cross flags from the Atlanta Depot - who evidently erred in making them since Johnston's orders called for "flags like those of the Virginia army." These, of course, as we now know, were square.
The first 120 silk battle flags were issued in November, 1861. They had 12 gold painted stars on blue bars edged with white on fields of pink or rose. The exterior borders of the flags were yellow. The materials used were dress silk bolts purchased from Richmond area merchants in bulk. Since these colors were popular for ladies dresses (the latter red color of these flags would not be available in silk since that color was for the "ladies of the evening") they were what the later issues of this famous flag were to be. Some CS officers did not care for the colors and were told by Beauregard, in no uncertain terms to, "dye it red sir, dye it with your blood!"
This famous square battle flag would see 8 more variant issues before the end of the war: one cotton (for three brigades only including the famous Texas Brigade) and 7 wool bunting issues that varied from one to the other by sizes, star separations and color of the exterior borders. These latter variants were all the deep red color that we now know best.
Greg Biggs, 19 May 1996
image by T. W. Hall