CONTENTS OF THIS PAGE:
- Introduction to the State Flags
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
Though the concept of each individual American state having its own flag is not foreign to the modern American psyche, in ante-bellum America, it was a foreign concept indeed. While there were no Constitutional clauses banning such flags, the states seemed to go along without them for the most part, other than for their various militia units.
These flags tended to be either blue or white fields with the state coat of arms in the center (and could even be cited as the forerunner for many modern state flags today). Since the militia was under the command of the state governor (when not Federalized for national emergencies), and it was considered to be an arm of the state itself, these flags were the earliest examples of “state” flags – even if they were not of a political nature.
Of the 13 Confederate states, only one had a flag prior to the Civil War. This was Texas, which had been a seperate independent republic. Their flag, dating from 1839, was revived with the secession of the state in 1861 (and actually prior to that time according to period newspapers), and is the same flag that flies over the state today – the Lone Star flag with a blue vertical field, white upper bar and a red lower bar.
Florida tried to adopt a state flag in 1845, but it was flavored with the symbolism of a certain political party, and that placed the flag into disfavor with members of the opposing party, as well as the public. Thus, the flag was tabled.
With the opening moves of secession in December, 1860, the concept of the state flag as a representation of that state’s new found political sovereignty, was begun with a gusto not seen before in American history. Thus the wheels were set in motion that would eventually lead to all American states having flags – though the vast majority would be post-war creations, with some not occurring until the early 20th Century.
Confederate State Flags
The states that made up the Confederate States of America basically went with either older militia colors (like South Carolina, whose militia flag dates from the Act of 1839, or Georgia, which used a post-colonial flag), revivals of older political flags (like Texas), or flags created specifically to represent the secession of that particular state and its new found sovereignty. The flags used were two-fold in nature:
1) Official state flags created by acts of the respective state legislature and codified into law, or;
2) flags that represented the state but were not codified into law by act of legislature.
Of the first category, the states of South Carolina, Florida, Texas (revived as stated above), North Carolina, Virginia, Mississippi and Louisiana all created new flags that were codified into law by their respective legislatures. (Note – the South Carolina flag had its roots in the 1839 militia flag – but it was officially enacted as the state/republic flag in January, 1861.)
Of the second category, Georgia is the sole adherent. This state used a flag that was revived, according to reports of the day, from colonial times (most likely post-colonial times actually), that had seen some popular and militia use, but was not codified into law. This flag was usually blue with the state coat of arms in the center. Some examples were red as well as white.
Alabama would not make any attempt at creating a state flag to show her new independence, but rather a “secession banner” was raised over her state capitol dome in 1861 when the state seceeded.
Two Confederate states had no flags at all, though one of them, Tennessee, did put forth a proposal to create one. This was modeled after the Confederate First National flag with the state coat of arms in the canton. Arkansas, it seems, never tried to create a flag.
The border states of Maryland, Kentucky and Missouri, all contributing to the Confederate cause (with the latter two actually having secession votes as well as receiving seats in the Confederate Congress), did not have political flags either, nor did they try to create any. Although Maryland adopted no official state flag, a 6 ft. by 10 ft. rendition of the 1854 Maryland coat-of-arms on a white bunting field was used as a camp flag by a Maryland company that served in the 21st Virginia Infantry. Newspaper accounts from Missouri in 1861 suggest that larger camp flags bearing the Missouri coat-of-arms were used at the camps of the Missouri State Guard. No flag conforming to this pattern, however, is known to survive.”
State flags as used in the Confederate Army
Some of these new state flags saw military action as well with some companies and regiments from that respective state.
Virginia and North Carolina went to great pains to provide their troops with state flags. The former hired independent flag makers while the latter made flags at the Raleigh Supply Depot. Virginia flags showed the taste of the individual painters of their coat of arms, depsite the specifics of the law creating the flag. North Carolina official state flags came in three varieties as well. The state initially provided variant state flags made of silk for its first eleven regiments that were made by a Norfolk contractor. In 1862 these were superseded by bunting state flags made at the Raleigh Clothing Depot. In addition, the patriotic ladies of the state prepared the state flag for some of the military companies raised in the state that conformed in general to the state adoptive resolution but which did not conform to any pre-ordained dimensions. The same patriotic fervor that produced these state flags also resulted in the manufacture of a few blue silk flags that bore North Carolina’s coat-of-arms and thereby copied the pre-War flags of the state militia.
Conversely, no Florida units have been documented as having received their state’s colors to date. A December 1863 state legislative act called for providing each Florida regiment and battalion then in Confederate service with “a suitable flag or ensign,” but it did not specify whether these were to be of state or Confederate pattern. No moves to carry out this act appear to have been taken, and Florida units primarily carried battle flags issued by the Confederate military.
Although the South Carolina purchased large bunting state flags from Charleston ship’s chandler, Hugh E. Vincent, there is no documentary evidence to indicate that the state took action to furnish the first ten regiments of state volunteers or any subsequent units with state flags. Instead most of the Palmetto units received state flags from local sources on both company and regimental levels. These flags would be made by local ladies groups, nuns or individual private contractors. The Palmetto flag of South Carolina can still be found flying as the offical state flag of today.
The 1861 uniform regulations for the Regular Army of Georgia note that the “Colors of Regiments” were to be “of the pattern in the Adjutant-General’s Office”. Unfortunately, neither the pattern nor any of the regimental state colors of the Georgia Regulars survive. Several company presentation flags from early War units do survive which bear the Georgia coat-of-arms painted on a disc on a blue silk field. On two of these the disc bearing the arms is surrmounted by an arc of stars (on one, seven stars, on the other eleven stars). On all four examples, the opposite side of the flag bears a different design. And, while these four flags suggest that the unofficial state military color was blue with the coat of arms on one side, a contemporary drawing of the state regimental flag of the 3rd Georgia Infantry indicates that its field was white. The extent of the use of these flags by Georgia’s troops cannot be completely detailed at this point.
Despite the use of the state flag in Texas today, that seems not to have been the case in late 1860/early 1861. The newspapers of the time do mention the hoisting of “lone star” flags as symbols of support for secession, but these flags could take on several patterns in actuality besides the 1839 republic flag. In fact, newspapers had to remind Texans of what the “flag of the republic” even looked like, since the state’s population had grown so much due to an influx of people who were not there in 1845. As such Texas troops would not receive nearly as many state flags as colors as one would think. Only a few examples can be noted. The 1st Texas Infantry lost their silk state flag (as well as an ANV cotton issue) in the cornfield at Sharpsburg in 1862. They received the gift of another state flag, bordered in black crepe, that seems to have been used at Gettysburg in violation of orders to use only the ANV flags of that army in battle. The 2nd Texas Infantry may have had a state flag at Shiloh, as Federal reports cite a “lone star flag” to their front in an area the Texans were operating. Another state flag was taken at Port Hudson, but without unit identification. Rather than use state flags, most Texas units quickly went with First Nationals, and then later patterns of battle flags. Perhaps they were trying to show deep support for the Confederate nation by using the national flag as a battle flag as soon as possible rather than her now famous state colors, for the bulk of the colors lost in battle by Texas units into 1863 would be First Nationals.
While Louisiana did create a new state flag, very, very few actually seemed to have been used by her troops. Instead, her companies and regiments seemed to go for the pre-war state coat of arms on blue flags. These arms were not deemed very martial-like though, for they depict a pelican feeding her young (this is the state flag today). Despite this, numerous examples of these flags exist, with the coat of arms even being used on Confederate First National flags as well.
Mississippi’s state flag suffers from a fate similar to Louisiana’s. While creating a very beautiful state flag in January, 1861, the banner does not seem to have been used very much by the troops of the early Army of Mississippi. Three examples of military colors of Mississippi units survive that conform to the state adoptive resolution of 26 January 1861. Two other flags exist that appear to have been based on the flag in general color and concept, but for some reason they deleted the blue canton with the single star. However, a recent perusal of the 1861 quartermaster records for the state army shows the ordering of four flags by the state quartermaster. The state army was divided initially into four brigades defending four regions of the state, so perhaps at least some examples of this flag did reach units of her army.
Some Maryland troops did use a blue flag with the state coat of arms in the center, and Missouri’s pro-Confederate State Guard issued instructions to fight “under the flag of Missouri” – a blue flag with that state’s coat of arms depicted as well. Sadly, no known examples of this flag have been found, but contemporary evidence from the early fighting in Missouri shows that these flags were indeed created as well as used in battle.
Kentucky had both pro-Southern and pro-Northern militia elements. The pro-South Kentucky State Guard may have used a blue flag with a light blue circle in the center, which bore the federal coat of arms therein. One such example for a KSG unit does survive today.
It can be said that thanks to the secession of the Confederate states, the modern use of state flags was begun in earnest in America. These flags document the first concerted effort to create flags to represent that the individual state had sovereignty as well as the Federal government as detailed in the Constitution. For a time some of these flags represented new nations of the Earth. Their individualism and variety certainly shows an interesting mixture of styles as well as symbolism that was special to each state they represented.
For a more detailed history of these state flags please continue on in this chapter.
Greg Biggs (Based on research by Howard Madaus, Ken Legendre, Alan Summrall, Bob Bradley, Bruce Graetz, and Devereaux Cannon)