There is a common misconception that the Confederate battle flag (a blue cross with 13 white stars and a red field, shown at left) was the national flag of the Confederacy. In reality, it was strictly a battle flag. However, by 1863 it had become the flag most associated with the Confederacy and popular among those living in the South.
The Confederate battle flag, called the “Southern Cross” or the cross of St. Andrew, has been considered by some as a proud symbol of Southern heritage, and by others as a shameful reminder of slavery and segregation. The Confederate battle flag has also been appropriated by the Ku Klux Klan and other racist groups.
In the past, several Southern states flew the Confederate battle flag along with the U.S. and state flags over their statehouses. On Monday, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley called for the removal of the Confederate flag from their statehouse grounds. “The time has come,” Haley said. “That flag, while an integral part of the past, does not represent the future of our great state.”
South Carolina Sen. Paul Thurmond, the son of former segregationist Strom Thurmond, said that times have changed and so should the flag. “They were fighting to keep human beings as slaves,” Thurmond said of the Civil War. “I am not proud of this heritage. These practices were inhumane and were wrong, wrong, wrong. Now we have these hate groups. It is time to acknowledge our past… and work towards a better future. That future cannot be built on symbols of war, hate and divisiveness.”
The Confederacy actually changed its national flag three times during the course of the Civil War. The first official national flag of the Confederacy, called the “Stars and Bars,” was flown from March 4, 1861 to May 1, 1863.
Confederate flag #1
A new design was specified by the Confederate Congress to be a white field with the battle flag in the upper left corner. It was flown from May 1, 1863, to March 4, 1865.
The third national flag, also called “the Blood Stained Banner,” was adopted on March 4, 1865. The red vertical bar was proposed by Major Arthur L. Rogers, who argued that the pure white field of the Second National flag could be mistaken as a flag of truce. When hanging limp in no wind, the flag’s Southern Cross could stay hidden, so the flag would mistakenly appear all white.
Today, Mississippi’s state flag still features the familiar Confederate battle flag in the upper left corner, the only current U.S. state to have the symbol incorporated into the design of their flag. In 2001, voters overwhelmingly chose to keep Mississippi’s flag, opting to stick with it by a two-to-one margin. At the time, Earl Faggert, former state commander of Sons of Confederate Veterans, said “the flag for me is very personal. It’s about my father, my grandfather, my great-grandfather. It’s about my family and my heritage.”
People can keep flying the Confederate flag on their own property, Gov. Haley said, but “the statehouse is different.” However, the battle flag may be harder to find now that retailers such as Walmart, Sears, and Amazon have decided to stop selling the flag.
Did you know…?
Hawaii’s flag is the only U.S. state flag to feature the Union Jack of the United Kingdom. There was a period in Hawaiian history when it was associated with the British Empire.
(Includes pictures, description, and a history of each state flag.)