Battle Flags of the Confederate Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana




First pattern Van Dorn battle flag of the 4th Missouri Infantry, 1862-1863.
First pattern Van Dorn battle flag of the
4th Missouri Infantry, 1862-1863
by Wayne J. Lovett
from a sketch by Howard Michael Madaus



On 9 January 1862, Major-General Earl Van Dorn was detached from the Confederate Army of the Potomac and the next day given command of the Confederate Trans-Mississippi District. Ten days later he arrived at his new headquarters in northeastern Arkansas. A little over a week later he wrote to General Sterling Price, commander of the Missouri State Guard, and informed him that, “I have had a battle flag made, one of which I send you for our army. Please have one made for each regiment of your army, to be carried in battle.” Before any action on the making of these flags could take place, the Pea Ridge Campaign intervened, and the “Army of the West” went into battle with whatever flags they had previously been issued or received as gifts.

On 23 March 1862, while Van Dorn’s forces were in camp recuperating from the fatiguing campaign in northwest Arkansas that had culminated in the battle of Elk Horn Tavern (Pea Ridge), Albert Sidney Johnston informed Van Dorn that his forces would be needed for an offensive that Johnston had planned in Mississippi and Tennessee and two days later the move to Memphis and Corinth began. Once more the adoption of a distinctive battle flag was postponed.

Finally, while the “Army of the West” was at Corinth, Mississippi in May and early June of 1862 the new battle flag was finally implemented for the “Army of the West”. Van Dorn’s adjutant later described this battle flag as consisting of “a red flag bearing in the upper corner next the staff, a yellow crescent and distributed over it thirteen yellow stars; the whole was edged with a yellow fringe.” Although he incorrectly described the color of the crescent and stars as yellow instead of white, the pattern accurately described the first flags made according to the pattern. First pattern Van Dorn battle flag of the 6th Missouri Infantry, 1862-1863.
First pattern Van Dorn battle flag of the
6th Missouri Infantry, 1862-1863
by Wayne J. Lovett
from a sketch by Howard Michael Madaus

In June of 1862, one of the two Missouri brigades that had been formed from the Missouri State Guard, was presented with new flags of distinctive pattern. These flags were made of a merino wool and measured about 3.5 feet on the staff by 5.5 to 6 feet on the fly. The field was bordered on three sides with a heavy woolen fringe, 3″ deep. In the upper, staff corner (in honor of Missouri) was a white crescent with points angled upward and toward the staff. Thirteen white, 5 pointed stars were scattered haphazardly on the red field. By mid-June, the Missouri units of the Army of the West had been provided with flags as gifts from the ladies of Guntown, Mississippi. Other presentations would follow.

Second pattern Van Dorn battle flag of the 40th Mississippi Infantry, 1862-1863.
Second pattern Van Dorn battle flag of the
40th Mississippi Infantry, 1862-1863
by Wayne J. Lovett
from a sketch by Howard Michael Madaus
While presentations in June fulfilled the needs of the Missouri volunteers for Confederate service, other forces that had ventured east with the Army of the West were less successful in securing the distinctive flags. To furnish the rest of the Army with its distinctive flag, General Price (who succeeded General Van Dorn as Army Commander on 3 July 1862 after Van Dorn had been transferred to command the District of Mississippi and Army of West Tennessee), ordered new battle flags conforming to the Army of the West design. These new flags were made of wool bunting, and measured about 3.5 to 3.75 feet on the staff by 5 feet on the fly. In lieu of the yellow wool fringe that had decorated three sides of the Guntown presentations, these new flags bore a 3.5 inch yellow bunting border on the three external edges. A white cotton crescent still decorated the upper, staff corner, but the thirteen white cotton, 5-pointed stars were now arranged across the field of the flags in semi-regular horizontal rows — 3, 2, 3, 2, 3.

When these new flags were issued has yet to be resolved. However, one flag is known to have been requisitioned for the dismounted 3rd Arkansas Cavalry as late as 16 September 1862. By the battle of Corinth, Mississippi on 3-4 October 1862, the Army of the West was fully equipped with flags of this pattern.

The Army of the West continued to carry the “Van Dorn battle flag” into the Spring of 1863. Although the Missouri units in the Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana abandoned the old flag by May of 1863, the Arkansas units of the former Army of the West continued to carry the flag into the Vicksburg Campaign.

Howard Michael Madaus, based on research by Greg Biggs, Ken Legendre, and Howard Michael Madaus, with assistance from numerous other vexillologists .


Battle Flag of Breckinridge's Corps, 1862.
Battle Flag of Breckinridge’s Corps
by Wayne J. Lovett
from a sketch by Howard Michael Madaus



One of the two main forces that coalesced to form the “Central Army of Kentucky” in the late autumn of 1861 was a force of Kentucky volunteers that formed part of the division of Major-General Simon Bolivar Buckner. With General Buckner’s surrender of Fort Donelson (together with the 2nd Kentucky Infantry of his division), the remaining Kentucky regiments (3rd through the 6th Regiments) were formed into a brigade under Brigadier-General John C. Breckinridge that became the “Reserve” of the Central Army of Kentucky. When this force ended its withdrawal from the broken “Kentucky Line”, it was joined to two other brigades to form the “Breckinridge’s Reserve Corps” of the Army of the Mississippi, and as such fought the battle of Shiloh.

The three brigades that formed this “Reserve Corps” had been drawn from diverse backgrounds, and accordingly flew a variety of flags. Breckinridge’s Kentuckians most likely bore the blue “Hardee pattern” battle flags that General Buckner had devised while at Bolling Green, but the two Alabama units that had been added to the brigade at Corinth still flew the Confederate 1st national flag. The four regiments of Bowen’s Brigade had served in Polk’s “1st Grand Division” of Department No. 2, and as such should have drawn the blue silk “Polk pattern” battle flags that were distributed in Polk’s command at Columbus, Kentucky at the beginning of February, 1862. The third brigade, under the command of Colonel W.S. Statham, was composed of the vanquished forces that had fought at Mill Springs, Kentucky in January. These units still carried their 1st national flags.

On 26 April 1862, changes were made to the organization of the Confederate Army of the Mississippi that included the transfer of the 7th Kentucky Infantry and the 35th Alabama Infantry (as well as two other units) to Breckinridge’s Reserve Corps. These additions caused Breckinridge to split the Kentuckians of the division into two brigades, one composed of the 4th Battalion and the 31st Alabama Infantry and the 4th and 9th (then called the 5th) Kentucky and another brigade that included the 3rd, 6th, and 7th Kentucky with the 35th Alabama Infantry. The composition of the other two brigades of the Reserve remained as it had at Shiloh.

On 20 May 1862, one of the members of the 35th Alabama Infantry made an interesting remark in his diary: “… had a fine Battle Flag presented to our Regiment by Gen. Borrigard [sic – Beauregard]; it is a deep blue with a cross of red, white Stars in the red. …” This diary entry might be interpreted as a confused description of one of the Cassidy made Army of Northern Virginia battle flags were it not for the survival of three flags from units of the first two brigades of the division that did have flags that conformed to this coloration.

Flags survive identified to the 3rd (tentative), the 4th, and the 6th Kentucky Infantry which are made of a dark blue woolen field approximately 5.5 feet on its hoist by between 6.5 and 7.25 feet on the fly. In the center of the blue field of these three flags is a red applique mixed wool/cotton “Latin” cross, nearly as tall as the flag. Seven white, 5-pointed stars decorate the upright section of this cross, while three similar stars are applied to each of the cross arms, for a total of thirteen stars. From the inductive and limited documentary evidence available, it would appear that such flags were distributed to the eight units of at least two of the brigades of Breckinridge’s Reserve Division, if not all four brigades, in May of 1862.

Under these flags, Breckinridge’s Division fought the battle of Baton Rouge in August and assisted in the initial defense of Vicksburg. During the campaign in Mississippi, Breckinridge’s Division was reorganized into three brigades, with the Kentucky forces concentrated into the 1st Brigade while the Tennessee units that had served at Mill Springs were split between the other two brigades, supplemented with newly attached units. On 28 October 1862, Breckinridge’s command was redesignated as the “Army of Middle Tennessee”; however, that designation was short lived. By the first week of November of 1862, this force was assigned to Polk’s Wing of the Army of Tennessee, and on 12 December the division reorganized into four brigades in Hardee’s Corps. At that time new battle flags were prepared conforming to the distinctive blue flags common in Hardee’s Corps. The old “Breckinridge battle flags” were retired at this time.

Howard Michael Madaus, based on research by Greg Biggs, Goeff Walden, Tom Fugate, Howard Michael Madaus, and other historians.




On 10 October 1862, newly appointed Lieutenant-General John C. Pemberton, fresh from alienating the political powers of South Carolina, was assigned to command the new Confederate Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana, then reeling from the disastrous battles of Corinth and Hatchie Bridge. Pemberton, a former Pennsylvania U.S. Army officer, who had married into a Virginia family and followed his wife’s home state out of the Union, while in command in South Carolina had show no disposition to adopted a special battle flag for his forces. Instead he had relied on private contractors to provide Confederate 1st national flags for the units of his command. It is surprising, therefore, that portions of his army in Mississippi and Vicksburg adopted a distinctive pattern of battle flag in at least two color patterns and both employing the Christian or “Latin cross” as their main element.

General Pemberton may have had nothing to do with the actual adoption of battle flags within his department. Rather, the process may have been stimulated by the proximity of Breckinridge’s Division in his department prior to his accession to power. At least half of Breckinridge’s Division, it should be remembered carried distinctive dark blue battle flags with a red “Latin cross” emblazoned with thirteen white stars during the campaign at Baton Rouge and the first encounters at Vicksburg. While there is no evidence to indicate that any of the Vicksburg defenders adopted flags directly modeled after flags of Breckinridge’s division, one of its regiments, the 31st Alabama, was later transferred to the Vicksburg garrison. It may be more than coincidental that the 1st national flag which that unit lost at the battle of Baker’s Creek bore a white “Latin cross” in its canton in conjunction with a motto and the stars.

The “White Cross” battle flags that were in partial service at the time of the Vicksburg Campaign seem to have been obtained prior to the siege of the city. The eventual investiture of Vicksburg may explain their incomplete distribution. To date, only two divisions seem to have acquired the distinctive flags.

Battle Flag of the 1st Missouri Cavalry, 1863.
Battle Flag of the 1st Missouri Cavalry, 1863
by Wayne J. Lovett
from a sketch by Howard Michael Madaus

During the siege of Vicksburg, the Confederate volunteers from Missouri were concentrated in two brigades. One, under General Cockrell, was composed of the six infantry regiments from the state. The other two Missouri units, both dismounted cavalry, were combined with three regiments and two battalions from Arkansas under General Green, until succeeded by Colonel Dockery. At least one of the Arkansas units still carried its Van Dorn battle flag into the Vicksburg campaign. And, though the Missouri infantry regiments had received Van Dorn battle flags in June of 1862, by the time of the Vicksburg campaign, all were evidently using a new and distinctive flag.

Based on the flag of the dismounted 1st Missouri Cavalry captured at Big Black River Bridge on 17 May 1863 and another surrendered at Vicksburg, the flags of the Missouri regiments and battalions at Vicksburg were rectangular, about 3.25 feet to 3.75 feet on the staff by 4.25 feet on the fly. They were made of dark blue bunting, having a 4 1/2″ wide red border on three sides. Standing in the blue field to the staff side of center was a white “Latin cross” about 18″ tall.

In Theodore Davis’ illustration of the surrender ceremonies at Vicksburg that later appeared in Harpers Weekly on 3 August 1863, Davis shows the forces coming out of the Confederate defenses carrying or having stacked at least three rectangular flags with borders on three sides and a “Latin cross” upright near the staff. While it has been suggested that these flags were Missouri battle flags, Mrs. Mary Bowen (wife of division commander John Bowen) later claimed that she personally smuggled two of the Missouri battle flags out of Vicksburg in an ambulance with Fr. Bannon. Instead the flags illustrated by Davis are thought to be yet another variant of the “White Cross” battle flag carried at Vicksburg by some elements of Stevenson’s Division.

Reconstruction of the Battle Flag of the Regiments of Cummings' Brigade, 1863.
Reconstruction of the Battle Flag of the
Regiments of Cummings’ Brigade, 1863
by Wayne J. Lovett and Devereaux Cannon

An account of the surrender ceremonies of Vicksburg by a northern correspondent later reprinted in Moore’s The Civil War In Song and story, ended with the comment: “It was plain that Pemberton had a splendidly appointed army. Their flags were of a kind new to me, all I saw being cut in about the same dimensions as our regimental colors, all of the single color red, with a white cross in the centre.” The flags that this correpondent recorded most probably refer to the same flags that Theodore Davis illustrated. Indeed, one flag that agrees with this description was evidently saved from the surrender at Vicksburg only to be lost four months later at Lookout Mountain. This flag, identified to the 39th Georgia Infantry (of Cummings’ Brigade of five Georgia regiments), has a red bunting field with a white “Latin cross” in the center of the remaining fragment. Judging from the size of the cross, the overall flag was probably about the same size as those of the Missouri flags and probably had a yellow or white border. It is not known if the other three brigades (Barton’s Georgia Brigade, Tracy’s Alabama Brigade, or Reynold’s Tennessee Brigade) had similar flags; however, it is worth noting that the 31st Alabama Infantry, then in Tracy’s Brigade lost a Confederate 1st national flag having a white “Latin cross” in its canton at the battle of Baker’s Creek on 16 May 1863.

The limited evidence concerning the red battle flags bearing the white “Latin cross” suggests that this pattern battle flag was slowly coming into use when the siege began. A member of the 3rd Louisiana Infantry (of Hebert’s Brigade, Forney’s Division at Vicksburg) recorded after the War that his regiment finally received a flag conforming to the general concept of the Vicksburg battle flags in February, 1865, which he described as: “It was a red field bordered with yellow, with a deep, heavy gold fringe. In its centre are two blue scrolls, almost in the form of an X, having embroidered on them, with yellow floss silk, the mottoes: ‘Oak Hills,’ ‘Elk Horn,’ ‘Iuka,’ and ‘Corinth.’ In the upper right hand corner is a cross of white silk with twelve stars set thereon of yellow gold thread, bordered with black velvet cord. The flag is of fine silk, the trimmings being of the finest and costliest materials. It was manufactured by Mrs. T.L. Maxwell in South Carolina, previous to the fall of Vicksburg. It was presneted to the regiment by Captain T.L. Maxwell, formerly regimental A.C.S., at that time post A.C.S. at Jackson, Mississippi. It escaped the misfortune of ever entering Vicksburg by mere accident, and reached the regiment when they began to assemble in Parole Camp at Enterprise. This flag was successfully carried across the river by Captain M. Middlebrook, Company C, and was exhibited for the first and last time on this occasion of distinguished honor paid the Veteran Louisiana Regiment.” General Dabney Maury, who had previously commanded Forney’s Division, adopted a similar flag for his headquarters at Mobile after his transfer there.

The “white cross” battle flags were clearly in at least partial use at Vicksburg. They would also influence the adoption of similar battle flags by the Missouri Brigade in the Trans-Mississippi Department of the Confederacy. Hopefully more data will be discovered on their source and their issue.Howard Michael Madaus, based on research by Greg Biggs, Ken Legendre, and Howard Michael Madaus. Reconstruction of the headquarters flag of General Dabney Maury, Mobile, Alabama, 1864.
Reconstruction of the headquarters flag of
General Dabney Maury, Mobile, Alabama, 1864
by Al Sumrall and Wayne J. Lovett