Alabama Secession Convention Flag
This flag was presented to the Alabama Secession Convention on January 11, 1861 in the House Chamber of the State Capitol in Montgomery, Alabama. “While the ladies of Montgomery sewed and presented the flag, much of it was painted by Francis Corra a painter of military and decorative banners in Montgomery.” The flag was accepted by the Convention and it was resolved that it would “be raised upon the Capitol, as indicative whenever the Convention shall be in open session.” Following the acceptance of the flag, it was raised above the Capitol. On January 16, 1861 a reporter from the Montgomery Weekly Advertiser described the flag as a “unique affair.” Continuing, he explained that “on one side is a representation of the Goddess of Liberty, holding in her right hand a sword unsheathed, and in her left, a small flag with one star. In an arch just above this figure are the words, “Alabama-Independent Now and Forever.” On the reverse, the prominent figure is a cotton plant, with a rattlesnake coiled at its roots. Immediately above the snake are the words “Noli me tangere.” Also on the same side, appears the Coat of Arms of Alabama.”
Apparently, the flag continued to fly above the Capitol until February 10, 1861 when it was removed by Alexander Clitherall, W. J. Greene, Ferie Henshaw and J. J. Hooper. In a letter to Governor Moore, they explained that the flag “was left flying last night from the dome of the capitol. We found it this morning, though torn, still flying, and being satisfied that in a few hours, the gale, now blowing, would entirely destroy it; we have taken the responsibility of hauling it down: and now deliver it to you, that it may be placed among the archives of the state.” The flag remained in the Capitol and may have been placed in a “hall of flags” which was being used (according to various accounts) as a repository for retired regimental colors.
With the Federal occupation of Montgomery, the flag was removed from the Capitol and taken to Iowa. According to several accounts, the flag was taken by a member of the 8th Iowa Cavalry. In 1892, the flag was presented to the Iowa Historical Memorial and Art Department by a Mr. Koon through Adjutant General N. B. Baker of the 20th Iowa Infantry. In 1929, Miss Frances Hails of the Alabama Department of Archives and History was sent to Des Moines, Iowa to study a new filing system which had recently been put in use by the state. While there, she discovered the flag and notified Archives’ Director, Marie Bankhead Owen, who began efforts to return the flag to Alabama. Through the efforts of Director Owen and Iowa curators E. R. Harlan and later D. E. Klingaman, a resolution calling for the return of the flag was eventually presented to the Iowa Legislature by the Military Affairs Committee. Upon approval of the Legislature, the flag was officially returned to the State of Alabama. The flag was returned in a special ceremony on March 9, 1939 before a joint session of the Alabama Senate and Legislature held in the Alabama House of Representatives. The Iowa delegation consisted of Thomas Jefferson Noll (a Union veteran), B. C. Whitehill (Chairman of the Military Affairs Committee of the Iowa Senate) and James V. Lucas (Chairman of the Military Affairs Committee of the Iowa House of Representatives). Senator Whitehill and Representative Lucas had piloted the bill by which the flag was returned. The flag was received by Governor Frank M. Dixon.
The illustration of the flag on this page is based upon eye witness accounts and an examination of the surviving fragments of the flag.
Since the return of the flag in 1939, it has been incorrectly referred to as the “Republic of Alabama” flag in various publications and newspaper accounts. This flag was presented to the Secession Convention and was accepted by them to be flown while the convention was in session. At the time this flag was first flown, many single star flags were being flown throughout the state and were frequently referred to as the “flag of the state.” No official flag for the short lived “Republic” was adopted. Alabama had no official state flag until 1895, when the flag currently in use was adopted.
Robert B. Bradley