The first confederate flag was designed by Nicola Marschall and adopted by the confederacy on March 4, 1861. It was flown over the first confederate capitol from March 5, 1861, to May 26, 1863. The Provisional Confederate Congress elected William Porcher Miles to head the committee on the Flag and Seal. The committee sought the people’s opinion on the flag design, and an overwhelming majority requested a flag that was similar to the Stars and Stripes of the United States flag.
Stars and Bars: The First Confederate Flag
The resultant confederacy flag featured two large horizontal stripes sandwiching a large white stripe in the middle. The upper left corner bore a blue canton with a circular pattern comprising of white stars equal to the number of states admitted to the confederacy. In the initial years, the flag was known as the Stars and Bars rather than the confederate flag that is known today, and it was the official flag of the Confederate States of America. The first flag bore seven stars, representing the pioneering states to band together to form the confederacy after seceding from the United States of America: Florida, South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Texas and Louisiana.
On May 21, 1861, the flag was revised to include two more stars as Arkansas and Virginia seceded from the U.S. Two more stars were added on July 2, 1861, to represent the seceding states of North Carolina and Tennessee. A further two stars were added that November to represent the inclusion of Missouri and Kentucky into the confederacy. Although the latter two states did not formally secede from the U.S., they were represented in the confederate congress. Eventually, the flag had 13 stars. The new 13-star version made its debut in Bardstown, Kentucky, outside the Ben Johnson House on November 28, 1861.
Peculiar Military Problems
Despite its popularity with the public, the confederacy flag posed a problem for military commanders. In the absence of modern communication gear, flags were used as the visual markers to identify military units and monitor battle progressions. The resemblance between the confederacy and the U.S. flags posed a significant problem, making it difficult to distinguish between army units in battle.
Southern Cross: Confederate Battle Flag
To solve this pressing problem, the Army of Northern Virginia switched to a square battle flag toward the end of 1861. The flag’s design was first presented by William Miles; it was ultimately rejected due to public opinion favoring the Star and Bars. The initial design featured an upright cross, but this was later changed to an “X” formation to avoid giving it religious overtones.
The latter flag featured a red design containing a dark blue saltire with white borders bearing white stars equal to the number of states in the confederacy. Later known as the Southern Cross, the rectangular version of the banner became the battle flag of the Tennessee Army. In 1863, a similar version – albeit with light shade of blue saltire – became the second confederate Navy Jack.
Stainless Banner: The Second Confederate Flag
Taking inspiration from the U.S. flag proved to be a costly mistake. The confederate States of America adopted a different design in May 1863. Known as the Stainless Banner, the second flag was designed to represent the “supremacy of the white man.” It comprised a square battle flag superimposed on the top left corner of a rectangular white field.
Despite its distinction, the new flag design faced a unique set of problems. The flag hung limp in windless conditions, obscuring the canton and leaving only the white part visible. In a limp position, the flag appeared all white, symbolizing the universal sign of truce.
The Blood-Stained Banner: The Flag That Never Was
To solve this problem, the confederate inserted a red vertical bar on the right side of the flag. Commonly known as the Blood-Stained Banner, the new design was adopted on March 4, 1865. Only a handful of these were manufactured before the confederacy disintegrated a few months later. As a result, the battle flag with its “X” formation persists today as the confederate flag.
In modern society, the confederate flag continues to draw mixed reactions. One school of thought posits the flag is a commemoration of the people who died during the civil war. Another group views the flag as an embodiment of the atrocities that the confederate army unleashed on its victims as it sought to defend its ideals, among them the contentious issue of slavery.