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Banners of Glory the Flags of North and South

Banners of Glory the Flags of North and South

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Published by Bob Andrepont
National Park Service Brochure on flags of the Civil War
National Park Service Brochure on flags of the Civil War

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Published by: Bob Andrepont on May 11, 2013
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08/17/2013

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BANNERS OF GLORYThe Flags of Northand South
The flag of a regiment was the symbol of its fighting spirit, to be held aloft at all times.In more practical terms, it was an aid to unit identification, a direction marker for theregiment's movement, or the rallying point if the regiment became scattered. It was agreat disgrace if the flag was captured by the enemy; but also a great triumph if theopposition's flag fell into the regiment's hands.The strength of an enemy's force could be estimated by the number of regimentalcolors he was flying, and of course each one served as a convenient aiming mark. Thecolor bearer's position was the most dangerous in the regiment, and in many hard-fought battles the flag changed hands several times as successive bearers were hit.
The Significance ofthe Colors
Since the first official United States flag wasadopted on June 14, 1777, displaying 13 starsand stripes for each of the 13 liberatedAmerican colonies, our national banner hasbeen through 27 versions, the most recentintroduced on July 4, 1960 when Hawaiiwas admitted as our 50
th
state.Four of these official versions, displaying 33, 34, 35, and 36 stars, were in serviceduring the most troubled era of ournation's history, the American Civil War.Because specifications for the size, shape,and precise coloring of United States flagswere not introduced until the 20
th
century,flags of the Civil War period varied greatly.This variation was most evident in the starpattern of Civil War flags, since theapplication of each individual star was doneby hand and no official star pattern existeduntil 1912.The 15
th
official American flag of 33 stars wasadopted on July 4, 1859, commemoratingOregon's statehood. This flag was flyingover Fort Sumter at the time of itsbombardment by Southern forces on April12-13, 1861.When Sumter fell to the Confederates,Major Robert Anderson hauled down theflag and carried it with him as he and hisfellow soldiers marched out of the fort.Four years later, when Federal forces onceagain occupied this stronghold inCharleston Harbor, Major GeneralAnderson raised over the fort, the same flaghe had hauled down in 1861.
The Stars and theStripes33 Stars: The FortSumter Flag
The 16
th
official American flag was adoptedon July 4, 1861, to commemorate theadmission of Kansas as the nation's 34
th
 state. One of the key issues precipitatingthe outbreak of the Civil War was thewestward expansion of slavery. Nowherewas this issue more controversial than inthe Kansas territory.Following the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill in 1854, violence eruptedbetween anti-slavery and pro-slaverygroups in what became known as
"Bleeding Kansas."
It was in
"Bleeding Kansas"
where John Brown first made a name for himself after he and seven others massacred fivepro-slavery settlers at Pottawatomie Creek.
34 Stars: KansasStatehood
Vicksburg
National Park ServiceU.S. Department of the InteriorVicksburg National Military Park
 
 
 1861 
Nonetheless, the Confederate States were determined to fly a flag that expressedtheir own sovereignty. The first official Confederate flag was chosen from hundredsof designs submitted by citizens from all over the country. It was adopted on March4, 1861, the same day that Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated President of the foreignUnited States. This first official banner was completed within two hours of itsadoption and was hoisted over the capitol building in Montgomery by Miss LetitiaChristian Tyler, the granddaughter of former President John Tyler.
Tracing its origin to the early 1800's duringa border dispute with Spain, the
"BonnieBlue Flag"
was for years used as a symbol of Southern independence.It served as the unofficial flag of theConfederacy until it was replaced by the
"Stars and Bars.”
 
The "Bonnie Blue Flag"
Though the Confederate States hadformally seceded from the United States,the elements of their first national flagreflected a sentimental attachment to
"Old Glory."
The blue canton of the UnitedStates flag was retained and stars were used
First National Flag:The "Stars and Bars"
to represent the seceded states. Likewise,the thirteen red and white stripes of theUnited States flag were replaced by red andwhite "bars." The first
"Stars and Bars"
 displayed seven stars for the first sevenstates that seceded from the Union.
For the first twenty-four days of the existence of their government, the ConfederateStates of America had no officially approved flag. When Jefferson Davis wasinaugurated President of the provisional government on February 18, 1861, the capitolbuilding in Montgomery flew the flag of the State of Alabama, and the inauguralparade was led by a company of infantry carrying the flag of Georgia.
The Flags of theConfederacy
The 17
th
official American flag, displaying 35stars, was adopted July 4, 1863, when WestVirginia was admitted to the Union. Thenew state of West Virginia was formed fromthe 35 counties of Virginia west of theShenandoah Valley.Slaves and slave owners were rare in thismountainous region of the state and fordecades the mountaineers had complainedabout lack of representation in the statelegislature. A western newspaper reportedthat
"Western Virginia has suffered more from…her eastern brethren than ever theCotton States all put together have suffered  from the North."
 
35 Stars: WestVirginia Statehood
The 18
th
official American flag, containing 36stars, was adopted July 4, 1865, tocommemorate Nevada's statehood.Nevada became a state on October 31, 1864in time to lend support to AbrahamLincoln's bid for re-election in November.Though not officially adopted until July 4,1865, after the surrender of Confederateforces, the new flag of 36 stars was madeand flown well in advance.
36 Stars: NevadaStatehood
 
 
1863Battle Flag (Eastern Theatre)Naval Flag (Eastern Theatre)
After the fall of Fort Sumter, the number of states increased to nine with the admissionof Virginia and Arkansas. The circle grewto eleven when North Carolina andTennessee joined the Confederacy.Although the Confederate states neverofficially numbered more than eleven, thefinal version of the first nationalConfederate flag contained thirteen starsrepresenting the secession governments of Kentucky and Missouri.
1861-1863
Third National Flag
1865
flag of the Confederacywas adopted onMarch 4, 1865, exactly four years after thefirst Confederate flag was approved. Itsofficial life, however, was short-lived. Justthirty-six days later, General Robert E. Leesurrendered his Army of Northern Virginiaat Appomattox Courthouse and the days of the Confederacy soon drew to a close.The
"Stainless Banner"
solved the problemof a clear national identity for theConfederacy, but the second national flagwas often mistaken for a flag of truce whenit hung limply around the staff. As a result,a new flag was created in which a broad,red, vertical bar was added to the fly end of the
"Stainless Banner."
This third and final
Second NationalFlag: The "StainlessBanner"
As the Civil War extended from weeks intomonths, the sentimental feelings felt for the
"Stars and Stripes"
began to wane. Moreand more Confederate citizens came to seewhat one member of Congress referred toas
"the old gridiron"
as the symbol of oppression and imperialistic aggression.Consequently, because the
"Stars and Bars"
 was too closely aligned with the enemy'snational banner, a second national flag wasadopted by the Confederacy on May 1, 1863.The Battle Flag or
"Southern Cross"
wasplaced in the canton of this new flag and asolid white field was substituted for the redand white bars. This flag was referred to asthe
"Stainless Banner"
because of its purewhite field, and was proclaimed emblematicof the purity of the Cause that itrepresented. Since the first manufactured
"Stainless Banner"
was used to drape thecoffin of Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson,who died after tragically being shot by oneof his own regiments at the Battle of Chancellorsville, this flag is sometimesreferred to as the
"Jackson Flag."
 
Confederate BattleFlag: The "SouthernCross"
when first proposed. Nevertheless,Beauregard liked the design and this
"pair of suspenders,"
also known as the
"SouthernCross,"
was first issued as the Battle Flag othe Confederate Army of the Potomac inNovember of 1861.Actually, there were a number of differentbattle flags used by the Confederacy. Thoseused in the Eastern theatre were fairlyuniform, but the flags used in the Westerntheatre of operations were more diverse intheir styles and patterns. Because the
"Southern Cross"
was never officiallyestablished as
the
battle flag of theConfederacy, and due to the remoteness of the Western operations, commanders in theWest had already adopted and issued theirown distinctive battle flags to avoid theconfusion caused by the
"Stars and Bars."
 Ironically, it was the
"Stars and Bars"
resemblance to the
"Stars and Stripes"
thatled to its demise. At the First Battle of Manassas (or Bull Run) on July 21, 1861, thesmoke and dust of battle made it difficult todistinguish between the two red, white, andblue banners. As a result, General P.G.T.Beauregard, who had handled the fieldoperations at Bull Run, proposed that theConfederate soldiers should carry a distinctflag into battle to avoid future confusion.Beauregard contacted the Chairman of theCommittee on Flag and Seal, WilliamPorcher Miles of South Carolina, aboutchanging the flag. Chairman Milessuggested the design that he had submittedto be the first national flag of theConfederacy. This now familiar red flagwith a blue saltire decorated with whitestars was ridiculed as
"a pair of suspenders
"

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