The Flags of the Confederacy

March 4, 2012

On March 4, 1861, the Confederate States of America adopted the first of their three national flags, the “Stars and Bars.” Like the flag of the United States—which it was often confused with on the battlefield—the stars in the flag’s blue field are representative of the number of states. As the “Stars and Bars” flew for more than two years until May 26, 1863, the number of stars increased from seven to thirteen as the Confederacy evolved. Although there were only officially eleven Confederate states, the thirteen stars also represented Kentucky and Missouri—two states where the Confederate spirit was strong but efforts to secede had failed.

The second national flag of the Confederacy was called the “Stainless Banner” and flew from May 26, 1863 until March 4, 1865. As the Confederate battle flag (what is well-known as the Confederate or “rebel” flag today) had become the popularized symbol of the Confederacy, the second flag depicts the image of this smaller flag amidst a white field. While the term “stainless” refers to the white field, an exact explanation of the symbolism behind the white field varies. The most popular explanation views the white as representative of the purity of the Southern cause – the inalienable right to secede from the Union. This flag was well-liked within the Confederacy as it incorporated the battle flag; however, when Army and Navy generals began to discover that the flag often resembled (and was several times mistaken for) a flag of surrender while it hung lifelessly on calm days, the Confederacy decided a change was again necessary.

For the second time on March 4, in 1865, the Confederacy adopted its third and final flag, the “Blood Stained Banner.” This flag simply added a vertical, red stripe down the Stainless Banner’s right side—what is known as the red bar of France. Along with the cross of England, that cross which appears on the battle flag, the new flag symbolized the “true” origin of the Southern people from their European descendants.

–Megan Gisclon is a junior Ashbrook Scholar majoring in History.

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