Photos on this page courtesy of the Georgia Capitol Museum, Office of Secretary of State
Unlike her sister Confederate states of South Carolina, Mississippi, Louisiana, Virginia, and North Carolina, each of which officially adopted a state flag by legislative action, Georgia appears to have created its 1861 “state” flag through the administrative directive of the state’s Adjutant-General’s Office, in effect approving a flag design that had been a state military tradition for at least 40 years. The military uniform “Regulations of the State of Georgia”, issued by the Adjutant-General’s Office as General Orders No. 4 on 15 February 1861, provided only that the “Colors of Regiments” were “To be of the pattern in the Adjutant-General’s Department.” (By contrast, the same “Regulations” provided a much more detailed description of “Camp Colors”, which were “to be of bunting, eighteen inches square, crimson, with the number of the Regiment in white on it. The pole eight feet long.”) While the actual “pattern” (in either detailed written description or as a drawing) has yet to be discovered, it is possible to posit some general characteristics to the Georgia “state” flag as intended, based on surviving presentation flags or newspaper accounts that incorporated descriptions of the “state” flags that were presented to various companies and regiments. The design itself was claimed to have been created by Dr. A. E. Andrews, then serving with Major Villipegue’s 1st Georgia Battalion (afterwards Villipegue’s 36th Georgia Volunteers/1st Confederate Regiment) at Pensacola.
While there were a few attempts to reinstitute the “Georgia Colonial Flag”– whose central device was a coiled snake prepared to strike, surmounting the motto “Don’t Tread on Me” (as on the Revolutionary War era “Gadsden flag”) or the motto “Nemo Me Impune Lacesset” (as depicted on the Georgia state 1777 and 1778 $5.00 note), the Georgia “state” flag finalized in 1861 instead bore as its central device the coat-of-arms adopted by the state in 1799. The focus of the 1799 coat-of-arms consisted of a Greco-Roman temple with arching roof (marked “CONSTITUTION”) supported by three pillars representing the legislative, judicial, and executive branches of government and respectively marked “WISDOM”, “JUSTICE”, and “MODERATION.” A soldier (often dressed in the uniform worn during the Revolution), representing the state’s long military tradition, stood on the portico between the center and right pillars (though according to the adoptive law, this figure should have been on the right exterior of the structure). These main elements were displayed against a natural land and seascape. Occasionally these coats-of-arms would be surmounted by an arc of stars equal to the number of seceded states then forming the protective umbrella of the Confederacy. Examples are recorded of 5 stars, 7 stars, 11, and 13 stars in this umbrella.
While neither the state convention nor the legislature provided as specific a description of the Georgia “state” flag as Georgia’s sister states, in March of 1861, the presence of the Georgia coat-of-arms upon the flag was at least confirmed when the new state code was adopted. Section 1092 of the new code provided for an avenue for furnishing flags to Georgia volunteers in the Confederate cause: “Whenever a sufficient number of the militia to constitute a regiment or battalion shall be detailed for service to operate beyond the limites of the State, such regiment shall be furnished, by the Governor, with two flags—one the regimental color bearing the arms of the State; the other the national color bearing the arms of the Confederate States.” This section of the 1861 Georgia code had been drafted by a committee of three individuals, Richard Clark, David Irwin, and Thomas R.R. Cobb. The last name is particularly significant.
In August of 1861, Thomas R.R. Cobb would be elected Colonel of “Cobb’s Legion”, a mixed combat team of seven infantry companies and a cavalry battalion of four companies that would eventually grow to eleven companies and be detached as the 9th Georgia Cavalry. On 8 August 1861, C.A. Platt & Company of Augusta, Georgia would furnish (and bill directly to Col. T.R.R. Cobb on the 13 August) portions of the regimental camp equipage. Among the items purchased from Platt would be “1 Regimental Flag & Streamer”, “1 Squadron Flag & Staff”, “4 Markers Flags & Staffs”, and “1 Streamer & Staff”. The cost of these flags, staffs, and streamers would total $86.00—no mean sum in 1861.
The unadorned staff with streamer (which bore the motto, “In The Name of the Lord”) was most likely for the seven star Confederate 1st national flag that the Legion had already received as a gift. While it is not known if Colonel Cobb was reimbursed by Governor Joseph E. Brown for these purchases, the “Regimental Flag & Streamer” and the “Squadron Flag & Staff.” may well be the only recorded examples of Georgia “state” flags conforming to the 1861 “pattern” acquired in accordance with Section 1092 of the Georgia 1861 Code. Both the Confederate “Stars & Bars” and the Georgia “state” flag were captured at the Battle of Crampton’s Pass on 14 September 1862. While the 1st national flag survives, the Georgia “state” flag and its accompanying streamer have disappeared, leaving its dimensions, the color of its field, and the placement of the Georgia coat-of-arms open to speculation.
Heraldically, as the most significant identifying element of the flag, the 1799 coat-of-arms should have been applied to the obverse side of the flag (that side seen when the flag is to the viewer’s right of its staff or pole). However, since the particulars of flag design were not well known, in practice, the arms often were applied to the reverse side instead, as seen on this flag of the McIntosh Guards. When used as military colors, the Georgia coat-of-arms were usually applied to a blue silk field, appropriately framed by gold or silver fringe, and occasionally the arms would be surrounded by a wreath of laurel or more commonly blooming cotton plants.
The color of the fields of the Georgia “state” flags when used by military units may have reflected the old martial tradition that called for the unit’s “colors” to match the facing color of the unit’s uniform. Although blue (since 1851 the uniform facing color of infantry and light infantry in the U.S. Army) predominated as the primary color for military flags, several state flags are known to have been made with white fields (prior to 1851 the facing color of “heavy” infantry of the U.S. Army.) In the two cases of Georgia “state” flags with a fields of green silk, the units are designated “Rifles”, whose traditional facing color not only was green, but which was also the color of the uniform for riflemen under the Georgia Militia Act of 1818 . And, the single Georgia “state” flag with a red field was presented to an artillery battery.
While the only major state property under jurisdiction of the Georgia Adjutant-General consisted of armories and camps and garrisons, there is evidence that the Georgia “state” flag may have been used to designate other state properties. Writing only ten years after the outbreak of the War, W.T. Thompson, editor of the Savannah “Daily Morning News”, who was present at Milledgeville when the state seceded. recollected: “The flag which was thrown to the breeze from the flag staff of the capitol when an artillery salute announced that the Ordinance of Secession was adopted bore the device of the coat-of-arms of the State, the arch of the constitution supported by the three pillars of ‘Wisdom’, ‘Justice’, and ‘Moderation’ in a white field. The flags used by our State troops during the War bore the same device with the names of the Regts on the reverse.” However, only one large (11′ hoist by 14′ fly) bunting “state” flag bearing the coat-of-arms (in abbreviated fashion) applied to each side of its field has survived. (And, this sole surviving example– described by its captors as a “storm flag”– has its outline white coat-of-arms on a red field, a field color is not thought to be common.) As Thompson noted, when carried as a military unit flag, the side opposite the coat-of-arms was usually reserved for separate devices distinctive to each unit, for mottoes, and either the date that the unit was formed or the date (19 January 1861) that Georgia formally seceded from the Union. A survey of surviving flags and newspaper accounts describing the flags presented to units, indicates that the decor of the side of the state color opposite the coat-of-arms was left to the taste of the flag’s donors. Some of the imaginative devices on private presentation flags include:
- 1. Co. A, 2nd Georgia Battalion—”City Light Guard” (of Columbus)—white field with blue trim; Georgia coat-of-arms on obverse together with a single star; Goddess of Liberty personified on reverse side.
2. Co. B, 2nd Georgia Battalion—”Macon Volunteers”—dark blue field with white fringe; Georgia coat-of-arms on reverse, flanked by pair of draped Confederate flags, over date “Jan. 19, 1861″on base of edifice; obverse with wreath of cotton surrounding company’s nickname, “Macon Volunteers” over the company’s formation date “April 23 1825.”
3. Co. B, Ramsey’s 1st Georgia Volunteers—”Southern Guards, Co. D”—white field with silver fringe; Georgia coat-of-arms on obverse with Negro seated on bale of cotton in right portico and motto above “Cotton is King”, with motto Latin motto, “Non suibus solum sed patriae et amicis” arced overhead and the translation below: “Not for ourselves alone but for country and friends”; the reverse bore a wreath surrounding company name “Southern Guards/ D”.
4. Co. A, Olmstead’s 1st Georgia Volunteers—”DeKalb Rifles”—green field with gold fringe; Georgia coat-of-arms on reverse surmounted by an arc of 13 silver stars; obverse bore a wreath of oak and laurel leaves incompassing the company’s initials, “D.K.R.” over the date, “Nov. 17, 1850”. (Note, this flag was presented to the company in 1853 but was still in service in 1861 when the company was incorporated into the Olmstead’s command.)
5. Co. A, 5th Georgia Volunteers—”Clinch Rifles”—green field with gold fringe; Georgia coat-of-arms on reverse with name of company overhead; the obverse bore portrait of General Clinch, name of company, mottoes, and date company was formed. (Note, this flag was purchased in 1860, before secession, together with a complimenting U.S. flag.)
6. Co. B, 5th Georgia Volunteers—”Griffin Light Guards”—field color not recorded; Georgia coat-of-arms on obverse; reverse depicts rattlesnake coiled around a tree (Georgia “colonial arms”) over “Don’t Tread on Me”.
7. Co. A, Inf. Battalion, Phillips Legion—”Greene Rifles”—one side of field white, bearing Georgia coat-of-arms and inscriptions: “We know our rights and will defend them” over “Resistance to Tyranny is Obedience to God” and a red scroll overhead with the additional motto, “Georgia expects everyone to do their duty; the other side bore a signal star against a blue ground with a red scroll overhead bearing the inscription: “Presented to the Greene Rifles, by the ladies of Greene County” while below the star, a blue scroll bore the date: “22d of February 1861”.
8. Co. K, 2nd Georgia Volunteers—”Stewart Grays”—field color not recorded, Georgia coat-of-arms on one side with name of company overhead; opposite side displays a wreath of cotton, a Confederate flag, and the motto: “Liberty’s Last Analysis is But the Blood of the Brave.”
9. Co. H, 48th Georgia Volunteers—”Rough & Ready Guards”—blue field with gold fringe; obverse displays Georgia coat-of-arms surmounted by company name, “ROUGH & READY GUARDS” over “1861”; reverse bears arc of 7 stars over the inscription: “Extermination Rather Than Subjugation”.
10. Co. M (afterward B), 26th Georgia Volunteers—”McIntosh Guards”—blue field with yellow fringe; reverse side bears Georgia coat-of-arms; obverse side consists of a disc with allegorical representations of Georgia home industry, the name of the company, “McINTOSH GUARDS.” overhead and the date “19th JANUARY 1861.” below.
11. Co. A, 26th Georgia Volunteers (afterwards Co. F, 29th Georgia Volunteers)—”Thomasville Guards”—blue field with gold fringe; the reverse depicts the Georgia coat-of-arms surrounded by wreath of laurel; the obverse bears similar wreath of laurel around sky blue disc bearing three line inscription: “THOMASVILLE/GUARDS/ 1853”.
12. Co. G, 26th Georgia Volunteers (afterwards Co. E, 29th Georgia Volunteers)—”Ochlockonee Light Infantry”—blue field with gold fringe; the obverse bears Georgia coat-of-arms surmounted by arc of 11 silver stars, corners decorated with gold oak clusters; the reverse shows wreath of blooming cotton surrounding letters abbreviating the company name, “O.L.I.” and the date the company was formed (as the “Thomasville Zouaves”), “SEPT. 28th/ 1860”.
13. Unidentified Georgia company, Savannah—obverse blue (with red fringe) bearing disc with Georgia coat-of-arms (signed by Cerveau) surmounted by an arc of 7 silver stars; reverse white (with blue fringe) bearing a flaming altar with red scroll overhead bearing the motto: “OUR COUNTRY AND OUR HOME.” while below the disc, appears the date: JAN.Y 19TH/ 1861″.
14. Captain Stovall’s-Van der Corput’s Georgia Battery-“Cherokee Artillery”—red field originally fringed in gold; obverse bears eliptical panel with what appears to be the Georgia coat-of-arms bordered in gold rococco frame, all surmounted by a blue scroll with company nickname, “CHEROKEE ARTILLERY”; reverse bears an allegorical figure of Liberty, standing. (Note, this flag is very fragmented, with significant portions of the painted design flaked away.)
15. 3rd Georgia Volunteers—blue field; obverse with Georgia coat-of-arms enwreathed in sprigs of cotton (left) and wheat (right), knoted together by a scroll bearing inscription: “PRESENTED TO 3d Ga. REGT./ BY MRS A.R. WRIGHT, 1861”; the reverse depicts a mailed arm raised with spear in hand, also enwreathed with sprigs of oak (left) and laurel (right) leaves, tied together with a scroll bearing the Latin motto: “PRO ARIS/ ET FOCIS” (“for our altars and firesides”)
16. 1st Georgia Regulars—one side of light blue with Georgia coat-of-arms, with the name of the regiment underneath; the other side a full representation of the Confederate 1st national flag.
The display of the state flag on one side and the Confederate flag on the other of a two faced flag is unusual but not unique, with at least two South Carolina units receiving flags that also conformed to this practice. The more common method, however, of combining the state coat-of-arms with the Confederate 1st national flag placed the state’s coat-of-arms within the circle of stars in the 1st national’s canton. At least two Georgia company flags (Co. E, Ramsey’s 1st Georgia Volunteers- “Washington Rifles”, and Co. H., 27th Georgia Volunteers- “Zachry Rangers”) survive employing this combination. As an aside, the existence of these two flags heavily influenced the design of the Georgia state flag ultimately adopted by the state legislature on 8 May 2003.
Howard Michael Madaus, based on research conducted by Greg Biggs, Kenneth LeGendre, Mark Jaeger, Ed Jackson, Terry Jackson, Howard Madaus, and others.