Isn’t the Rectangular “battle flag” really the “Navy Jack”? Isn’t a battle flag supposed to be square?

Navy Jack according to CS Navy Regulations, 26 May 1863.
Navy Jack according to CS Navy Regulations, 26 May 1863
by Devereaux D. Cannon, Jr., 05 February 2000
Army of Tennessee Battle Flag, beginning December 1863.
Army of Tennessee Battle Flag, beginning December 1863
By Devereaux D. Cannon, Jr. 27 January 2000

The short answer to this question is that:


  • 1) The jack adopted by CS Navy regulations on 26 May 1863 was a rectangular version of the canton of the new national flag, which was based on the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia; and
  • 2) All battle flags made by the Richmond Clothing Depot for the Army of Northern Virginia were essentially square, as were those made by the Charleston Clothing Depot; but
  • 3) Some “Southern Cross” battle flags, with designs based on that of the Army of Northern Virginia, including those made by the Atlanta Clothing Depot in late 1863 and 1864 were not square.The best illustration of the fact is the battle flag issued to regiments of the Army of Tennessee beginning in December 1863. These battle flags were manufactured by the Augusta Clothing Depot, on orders from General Joseph E. Johnston. In style and proportions they conform almost exactly to the Navy regulations for jacks, but these are battle flags issued to the regiments of the Army which were then under Johnston’s command in northern Georgia. Before that, several different patterns were used in the Army of Tennessee, including a “Southern Cross” battle flag (this one with 12 six-pointed stars and a yellow or pink border) that was seen in both square and rectangular shapes.The issue of Augusta Depot battle flags was generally limited to those regiments in winter quarters at Dalton, Georgia in early 1864, excluding the regiments of General Cleburne’s division, which received new versions of their old blue Hardee style flags.

    Another rectangular battle flag, similar in appearance to those made in Atlanta, though often closer to a square shape, and omitting the center star, was made in Mobile and issued to regiments in Alabama and Mississippi in 1863 and 1864.

    It can generally be said that Eastern Theatre battle flags (Virginia and the Carolinas) were square, while Western Theatre and Trans-Mississippi battle flags were sometimes square and sometimes rectangular.

    The mistaken notion that there was a common pattern of battle flag, and that all battle flags were square, arises in part from the United Confederate Veterans publication in 1907 of a four page report, with an attached colour plate, entitledThe Flags of the Confederate States of America, also known as General Order No. 56. This short report on the flags sets out the official national flags of the Confederate States, as adopted by Congress, and the official naval flags promulgated by the regulations of 26 May 1863. As for the battle flags, it only describes the battle flag as envisioned by Generals Johnston and Beauregard at their meeting in Centreville, Virginian in September 1861, and gives the impression that this was the only battle flag used by the army.

    There has been much confusion among scholars about General Order No. 56. The members of the UCV committee which prepared the report were not ignorant, nor were they trying to rewrite history. The five members of the committee who drafted the report were all veterans of the Eastern Theatre, and their war-time experience was limited to the square flags which were nearly universal in that part of the Confederacy. But General Order No. 56 seems to have been generally accepted by the Western Theatre veterans who served under different flags.

    Some believe that General Order No. 56 was not intended to be a definitive historical statement about the flags, but a guide given to those who wanted to remember their Confederate ancestors for use in the 20th and 21st centuries; that it basically specifies the veterans choice of flags to symplify memorial “general” type displays concerning the Confederacy, and her veterans. It is a useful tool for such purposes, but should not be relied upon as statement of what flags were actually used during the war.

    Devereaux D. Cannon, Jr., 2 April 2000

    The illustrations below show the relative sizes of battle flags of the Army of Northern Virginia (ANV) and the Army of Tennessee (AOT), as compared to the jack of the CSS Savannah. The ANV flag measures about 48 inches square. The AOT flag measures about 36 inches wide and 51 inches long. The jack is about 67 inches wide and 107 inches in length. The jack was a secondary flag, worn at the bow of a ship in port. The corresponding Second National pattern ensign of the Savannah, if it followed Navy Regulations, would have been much larger than the jack, measuring about 100 inches wide and 150 inches long.

    Third Bunting Issue battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, 1862-1864.
    Army of Northern Virginia battle flag
    Third Bunting Issue, 1862-1864
    by Devereaux D. Cannon, Jr., 07 January 2000
    Army of Tennessee battle flag, beginning December 1863.
    Army of Tennessee Battle Flag,
    beginning December 1863
    By Devereaux D. Cannon, Jr. 27 January 2000
    Jack of the CSS Savanah.
    Jack of the CSS Savannah
    by Devereaux D. Cannon, Jr., 05 February 2000

  • Return to the FAQ Page
  • Return to the FOTC Home Page