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national flags

1861 - 1865

5th Company


Confederate First National Flag

The Confederate First National Flag
By Howard Michael Madaus

The original flag of the Confederate States of America, commonly known as the "Stars And Bars", was approved by the Congress of the Provisional Government of the Confederate States, and first hoisted over the capitol building in Montgomery, Alabama, on the afternoon of the 4th day of March, 1861. Congress did not adopt a formal Act codifying this flag, but it is described in the Report of the Committee on Flag and Seal, in the following language:

The flag of the Confederate States of America shall consist of a red field with a white space extending horizontally through the center, and equal in width to one-third the width of the flag.  The red space above and below to be the same width as the white.  The union blue extending down through the white space and stopping at the lower red space.  In the center of the union a circle of white stars corresponding in number with the States in the Confederacy.

The first flag was raised over the capitol in Montgomery by Miss Letitia Christian Tyler, the granddaughter of former United States President John Tyler.

This new flag spread quickly in use across the South, even beyond the borders of the seven States of the CSA.  The official version was to have the stars in a circle, with the number corresponding to the States actually admitted to the Confederacy.  Thus, there would have been 7 stars from March 4, 1861 until May 7, 1861, when Virginia became the 8th Confederate State by Act of Congress.  Thereafter, the number of stars continued to increase until Tennessee gained her seat as the 11th State on July 2, 1861.  The number remained 11 through the summer, but increased when Missouri and Kentucky were admitted to the CSA by Acts of Congress approved November 28, 1861 and December 10, 1861, respectively.

Despite the official pattern and numbers, however, individual examples of the Stars and Bars varied greatly, with numbers of stars ranging from 1 to 17, and star patterns varying greatly beyond the officially sanctioned circle.

Although the legislation creating a national flag and adopted by the Confederate Provisional Congress on March 4, 1861 did not specify the proportions that the new national flag was to follow, the Confederate War Department shortly afterward determined sizes for the military garrison and storm flags.  Such flags had been part of United States Army Regulations since 1835.  In the US Army the garrison flag (flown on special occasions) was 20 feet on the hoist by 36 feet on the fly, while the storm flag (flown during inclement weather and less formal events) was directed to measure 10 feet on the hoist by 20 feet on the fly.

The Confederate War Department chose two similarly-sized flags for the forts that came under their control as a result of secession.  The garrison flag was to measure 18 feet on the hoist by 28 feet on the fly, and the storm flag was to be half that size - 9 feet on the hoist by 14 feet on the fly.  Ships chandlers Henry Vaughan in Mobile, Alabama and Hugh Vincent in Charleston, South Carolina, accepted orders to manufacture Confederate 1st national flags of these sizes.  The flags were initially prepared bore seven stars in a circle, but at least one 11 star example in the storm size is known with Vaughan's markings.

Despite the 9:14 proportions established by the Confederate War Department, other civilian makers of the "Stars & Bars" soon gravitated to different proportions that included 2:3, 3:5, and 1:2. Similarly the patriotic ladies of the South who prepared most of the company and regimental flags for the military units raised in the Southern states chose whatever proportions and sizes seemed aesthetic.  As a result, Confederate military presentation flags made throughout the South in 1861 and 1862 demonstrate no common proportions or sizes.

While no standard proportions or sizes prevailed nationally in the Confederate States of America, a survey of 112 identified company or regimental flags from the Trans-Mississippi States conforming to the pattern of the Confederate 1st national flag does reflect several regional variations that predominate.  Of 23 identified 1st national flags from Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina, most (16) bear eleven stars; and of these, 7 are arranged in a circle of eleven, while 5 have ten stars surrounding a center star.  As might be expected 2 of the flags from Virginia (the eighth state to join the Confederacy) bear seven stars around a larger center star, and 2 of the flags from North Carolina (the tenth Confederate state) bear ten stars.  No seven-star Confederate flags survive from these states.

Of 32 Confederate 1st national flags from the states of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, a surprisingly large proportion of the Georgia flags (5 out of 25, or 20 percent) bore seven stars in a circle.  More than double that number (12), however, bore eleven stars, with all but two arranged in a circle that included all eleven stars.  Since it is known that Hayden & Whilden from Charleston provided eleven star unit flags for the Confederate Quartermaster's Department, the number of eleven star flags made in this region undoubtedly was even larger.

The three states with coasts along the Gulf (Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana) accounted for 39 flags in the survey.  Just under half of these flags (18) bore eleven stars, of which 8 bore a center star with the other ten stars surrounding it.  Four flags with nine stars (eight around a center star) emanated from Louisiana but two also were made in Mississippi in the same style.  Three of the flags from Alabama units bore a circle of seven stars.

From the "heartland" of the Confederacy (Tennessee and Kentucky) 18 identified flags were surveyed.  Although Tennessee did not join the Confederacy until the middle of 1861, four of its unit flags bore seven stars and another three had eight (all seven stars surrounding a central star).  As might be expected for unit flags from the eleventh Confederate state, eight of the unit flags from this region bore eleven stars, all but one in a "pure circle" of eleven stars.  Interestingly, a significant number of Tennessee company and regimental 1st national flags were made of silk and were of very large size, often exceeding 8 feet on their flys.

In addition to the 112 1st national flags from states east of the Mississippi, a number of Confederate 1st national flags from the trans-Mississippi region have also been surveyed.  These flags show a high preponderance of flags with thirteen and fifteen stars, with most arranged in a circle around a center star, either of the same size or larger than the balance of the stars.

In the early months of the War, the Confederate War Department relied largely on the patriotic effusion of the ladies of the South for the unit colors of the units that assembled in Richmond during the Spring and Summer of 1861.  The results were mixed.  Many individual companies received splendid flags from the communities from which they were raised, but the regiments into which they were assembled did not necessarily share in this enthusiasm.  In such cases, one of the company flags would be chosen to serve as the regimental flag.   The result was anything but uniformity in the colors carried by the armies that coalesced in the Shenandoah Valley and around Centreville in June.

To remedy this, General Beauregard caused a number of Confederate 1st national flags to be made from the bunting that had been seized at the former US Navy Yard near Portsmouth, Virginia.  This bunting was placed in the hands of Richmond military goods dealer, George Ruskell.  From this bunting Ruskell assembled at least 43 flags, for which he was paid $11.50 each.  Deliveries began on July 18, 1861 and continued until August 7th.  Only 13 flags, however, had been delivered to Major J.B. McClelland at Richmond by the battle of 1st Manassas (Bull Run), and none of these may have been distributed to the Army at Centreville before the battle.

Judging from the $12.00 price that Ruskell later received for a bunting Confederate 1st national that was 6 feet long on the fly, it is thought that the 43 flags that he delivered in July and August were 4 feet on their hoist by 6 feet on their fly with eleven white, 5-pointed stars arranged in a circle or ellipse.  According to one account, these flags were later turned in so that their bunting could be recycled into other flags.

During the command of Major-General John Pemberton, the Confederate Quartermaster Department in the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, (and later Florida) relied on the Charleston military goods dealership of Hayden & Whilden to furnish flags for the Department.  This firm, on open market purchases, supplied Confederate 1st national flags to at least seven units in the District of South Carolina between August 8, 1862 and February 10, 1863.

These Confederate national colors apparently measured 4 feet on their hoist by 5 1/2 feet on the fly.  Their cantons bore eleven white, 5-pointed stars arranged in a circle.  Unit abbreviations on two of the surviving flags were applied with separately cut and applied red cotton letters.  Four camp colors or flank markers accompanied each of these national colors.  In February of 1863 the purchase of these 1st national flags ceased when General Beauregard instituted the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, as modified by the Charleston Clothing Depot.

Confederate Second National Flag

The Confederate Second National Flag
By Howard Michael Madaus

The second flag of the Confederate States of America, commonly known as the "Stainless Banner", was created by an Act of the Congress of the Confederate States (Statutes at Large, First Congress, Session III, Chapter 88), approved by the President on the 1st day of May, 1863.  The Flag Act of 1863 describes the flag in the following language:

The Congress of the Confederate States of America do enact, That the flag of the Confederate States shall be as follows: the field to be white, the length double the width of the flag, with the union, (now used as the battle flag,) to be a square of two thirds the width of the flag, having the ground red; thereon a broad saltier of blue, bordered with white, and emblazoned with white mullets or five pointed stars, corresponding in number to that of the Confederate States.

The change in the flag law that lead to the adoption of the "Stainless Banner" was initiated on April 22, 1863, when the Committee on Flag and Seal of the Confederate States Senate sent to the Senate a report recommending the adoption of Senate Bill 132.  The original bill was essentially the same as the Act adopted on 1 May 1863, but included a provision that the field of the flag would include "a blue bar, one third of the flag in its width, dividing the field lengthwise."

The flag passed the Senate with the blue bar, but after lengthy debate on May 1, 1863, the House of Representatives amended the bill to remove the blue bar.  The Senate concurred in the House amendment, and the President signed the Act on the same day.

Although the Flag Act of 1863 called for the flag to be twice as long as its width, the flags actually made at the Richmond Clothing Depot were only 1 1/2 times the width, corresponding more closely to the Navy Ensign adopted by Navy Department Regulations on May 26, 1863, than to the Act of May 1, 1863.

National Flags made by the Richmond Depot can be identified by the white fimbration around the saltire, which continues around and outlines the corners of the saltire, as well as the sides.

One of the first examples of the "Stainless Banner" to be made by the Richmond Depot covered the casket of Lieutenant General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, as his body lay in state at the capitol in Richmond on May 12, 1863.

Shortly after the adoption of the Confederate 2nd national flag on May 1, 1863, the Richmond Examiner (of May 15, 1863) reported on one that was then nearing completion for the capitol:

"The new design of a National Flag, adopted by the Confederate Congress, was again displayed from the Capitol yesterday, and met the approving gaze of thousands.  We have received from Mr. D. S. Morrison, the superintendent of the manufacture of Flags for the government, the following dimensions of the Flag, which dimensions have been approved by the Committee on the National Ensign.  They may be regarded as the standard measurement for all similar Flags hereafter: Length - twenty four feet, width - sixteen feet, or two thirds of the length, union - ten feet eight inches square, or two thirds the width, saltier - eighteen inches wide, white edging - two and a quarter inches in width, stars - fifteen inches from point to point, placed twenty inches apart from centre to centre, binding six inches in width, rope - two inches in diameter and sixteen feet six inches long."

This detailed descriptive report not only accurately provides the external and internal dimensions of the flag that was flying over the Confederate capitol but it equally important indicates that the flag department at the Richmond Clothing Depot had already decided to ignore the Congressional adopting resolution (which defined the flag's proportions as 1:2) in favor of proportions of 2:3.  The military flags produced by the Richmond Clothing Depot for the rest of the War would follow those 2:3 proportions.

The large (18 feet by 24 feet) flag that Daniel S. Morrison prepared and the Jackson funeral brier flag must have exhausted the bunting supply at the Richmond Depot.  No further Confederate 2nd national flags would be made there until the receipt of a new shipment of bunting from England.  That shipment, consisting of 2 bales and a box of bunting, left Bermuda aboard the Lady Davis (a.k.a. Cornubia) on July 9, 1863 and arrived at Wilmington ten days later, less one of the bales.  On July 31, 1863 the single bale and box of bunting was shipped to Richmond, to the attention of the Ordnance Department.  With this bunting, the Ordnance Department had the Clothing Depot make a new Confederate 2nd national garrison and storm flag for each of its major arsenals and armories.  The flags themselves would be sent to the Ordnance Department facilities in September and October of 1863.  This would be the only nation wide distribution of the Confederate 2nd national flags.  Thereafter 2nd national flags would be secured through regional sources, either Clothing Depots or by contract.

The new 2nd national flags made at the Richmond Clothing Depot were made four different sizes.  The garrison flag was the largest, measuring 10 feet hoist by 15 feet fly.  The storm flag was slightly smaller, measring 8 feet hoist by 12 feet fly.  For smaller posts and depots a third size flag was also made.  This flag measured 5.25 feet hoist by 8 feet fly.  Lastly, a field size flag was made that was four feet hoist by 6 feet fly.  The field and the major elements of the canton (the red field and the dark blue St. Andrew's cross) were made of bunting; both the stars and the white edging to the crosses were made of white cotton.  Distinctive of the Richmond Depot flags, this cotton edging not only bordered the sides of the St. Andrew's crosses but it also bound the ends as well.

The Charleston Clothing Depot would also produce large size 2nd national flags during the last two years of the War.  A 10-foot hoist by 15-foot fly garrison flag size has been identified from the captured flags taken in 1865 at Charleston Harbor.  The complementing "storm flag" from the Charleston Depot is thought to measure 8.5 feet hoist by 13.5 feet fly, but only a single example survives.  A "post flag" also may have been made at the Charleston Depot that measured 5.25 feet hoist by 9.5 feet fly.  No 2nd national field flags are known to have been made at the Charleston Depot.  Unlike the Richmond Depot 2nd national flags, those made at Charleston had their crosses trimmed in white bunting that only bordered the sides of the St. Andrew's crosses.

During the Autumn of 1863, the Richmond Clothing Depot began the manufacture of Confederate 2nd national flags. One of the four sizes produced was intended for field use.  This flag measured 4 feet on its hoist by 6 feet on its fly.  The white field was made of bunting as was the 2.5 feet square red canton.  A 3" to 3 1/2" wide dark blue St. Andrew's cross traversed the canton bearing thirteen white, 5-pointed stars, each 3" in diameter.  A white cotton 3/8" edging bordered both the sides and ends of the cross.  A 2" wide white canvas heading with three button hole eyelets for ties finished the staff edge.

Flags of this type saw limited service in the Army of Northern Virginia from late 1863 through the end of the War.  About half the surviving examples of this type of flag were carried as regimental colors; one-quarter are identified as brigade or division headquarters flags, and the rest lack specific identification.

The Staunton Clothing Depot made a variation of this flag for both a headquarters flag and a unit color.  The size was basically the same but the width of the St. Andrew's crosses were 4" to 5" in width and the stars were accordingly larger.  The edging of the cross only flanked the sides of the cross and did not extend around its ends.  Finally, the white fields of the 2nd national field flags made at the Staunton Depot were made from a white cotton flannel rather than bunting.

As a general rule, the Confederate 2nd national flag saw only limited service in the Confederate armies serving west of the Appalachian Mountains.  Two notable exceptions, however, warrant mention.

In November of 1863, an officer of General Randall L. Gibson's Brigade of the Confederate Army of Tennessee was authorized to proceed to Mobile, Alabama to procure new flags for Gibson's Brigade.  Gibson's instructions specified that the lieutenant sent was to procure "new Confederate flags" that were to be inscribed with battle honors and (as applicable) the "crossed cannon inverted" symbol that indicated the capture of enemy artillery in battle.  

The lieutenant was successful and returned with a flag for each regiment in the brigade as well as the 5th Company of Washington Artillery. 

These flags were made of cotton and measured between 36" and 41" on their staff by 58" to 64" on their fly.  The red cantons were between 24" and 27" square and bore a 5 1/2" to 6" wide dark blue St. Andrew's cross with 5/8" wide white edging.  The flags probably emanated from either Jackson O. Belknap or James Cameron, and in common with the battle flags made by both parties had only twelve stars on the arms of the St. Andrew's cross.  The white fields were decorated with both unit designations, battle honors, and crossed cannons (muzzles up) formed from separately cut and appliqued cotton letters or symbols.  A 2" wide white linen sleeve finished the staff edge of the flag.

After the battle of Baker's Creek in May of 1863, Major-General Loring's Division did not fall back into the defenses of Vicksburg and thereby escaped the surrender of that city on July 4, 1863.  During the Winter of 1863-1864, while Loring's Division was in winter-quarters, the units of the division requisitioned new flags or caused them to be made by regimental tailors.  The new flags thus obtained were variants of the 2nd national flag of the Confederate States.  The flags varied in size but most were between 4 feet and 4.5 feet on the staff by between 6 feet and 7 feet on the fly.  The fields were made of white bunting as were the slightly rectangular red cantons.  The canton was traversed with a dark blue St. Andrew's cross 4" wide with thirteen white, 5-pointed stars, varying between 2 3/4" and 3 1/2" wide (with some having a larger center star).  No white edging bordered the crosses, which sometimes extended to the corners of the canton but which were also made truncated or ending in points before the corners.  If fringe was available, it was usually added to the three exterior edges. The depth and the color of the fringe varied with availability; the colors used included white, yellow, red, and dark blue.  Both ties and sleeves finished the leading edge. None of the flags were marked with unit abbreviations or with battle honors.

In the Spring of 1864, Loring's Division (with the rest of General Polk's "Army of Mississippi") joined the Confederate Army of Tennessee, eventually becoming Polk's and later Stewart's Corps.  Although some of the units of Loring's Division had or would receive battle flags made by the Mobile contractors in lieu or in addition to these 2nd national flags, most of Loring's Division carried their Confederate 2nd national flags until they lost them in battle during the Atlanta and Nashville campaigns or they furled them at Goldsboro, North Carolina in April of 1865.

Confederate Third National Flag

The third and final flag of the Confederate States of America was created by an Act of the Congress of the Confederate States (Second Congress, Session II), approved by the President on the 4th day of March, 1865 - four years to the day after the first raising of the Stars And Bars in Montgomery.

The Flag Act of 1865 describes the flag in the following language:

The Congress of the Confederate States of America do enact, That the flag of the Confederate States shall be as follows: The width two-thirds of its length, with the union (now used as the battle flag) to be in width three-fifths of the width of the flag, and so proportioned as to leave the length of the field on the side of the union twice the width of the field below it; to have the ground red and a broad blue saltier thereon, bordered with white and emblazoned with mullets or five pointed stars, corresponding in number to that of the Confederate States; the field to be white, except the outer half from the union to be a red bar extending the width of the flag.

Very few, if any, examples of this flag made during the war corresponded to the official specifications of the law.  The new flag was to have a battle flag canton that was 3/5ths the width of the flag, and slightly rectangular. Those made by the Richmond Clothing Depot continued to use the square canton of the Stainless Banner, only changing the pattern by adding the red bar to the outer half of the fly beyond the canton.