Flags of South Carolina

South Carolina

With the act of secession from the Union on 20 December 1860, and the creation of “the sovereign and independent Commonwealth” of South Carolina, it became necessary to choose a National Flag or Ensign for the newly established republic. As a result, Mr. Weston, Representative for the District introduced a resolution to that effect on 21 December 1860. By 17 January 1861, a “Special Joint Committee on the National Flag of South Carolina,” consisting of seven Representatives and five Senators had been established, and four days later this body resolved that the National Flag should be “white, with a green palmetto tree upright thereon; and the union blue, with a white increscent.” On the same occasion, Mr. Rhett, Representative for the District, moved to amend this resolution, and recommended that the flag should be “blue, with a white palmetto tree upright thereon, and a white crescent in the upper corner.”

The latter choice was based on several precedents. Firstly, during the British bombardment of the unfinished and unnamed fort (subsequently named Fort Moultrie) on Sullivan’s Island, during the Revolutionary War, on 28 June 1776, the banner flown by the South Carolinian garrison was a large blue flag with a crescent in the dexter, or top right hand, corner. This flag was designed by General William Moultrie, commander of the fort, upon the request of the “committee of safety” and, according to General Moultrie, was based on the fact that “the state troops were clothed in blue, and the fort was garrisoned by the first and second regiments, who wore a silver crescent on the front of their caps.” Subsequent to the successful defense of the fort, which had been constructed from palmetto logs, South Carolina adopted the palmetto as the central device on the obverse of its coat of arms.

Secondly, during the re-organization of its militia in 1839, the state adopted detailed uniform regulations which included a section defining the “Colours and Guidons” of the militia. The color chosen for infantry commands consisted of a blue silk flag measuring six feet six inches on the fly, by six feet deep on the staff, with “a silk embroidered palmetto tree in the centre,” plus “the number of the Regiment on a scroll, underneath the tree.” The fringe was white silk and the cords and tassels were blue and white intermixed. Cavalry standards were identical to those of the infantry, but measured two feet five inches on the fly, by two feet three inches on the staff.

These decisions effected the choice of many of the military and civilian flags flown during the secession crisis of 1860-61, and ultimately influenced the final pattern chosen as the “national” flag of the Republic in 1861.

 South Carolina state flag adopted 26 January 1861
by Dave Martucci

However, before the “Joint Committee on the Nation Flag” could make their final deliberation, a further recommendation was put forward. On 25 January 1861, the Senate requested that the flag should be amended as follows, “Red, with Palmetto of natural color upright in centre – Blue Union with increscent thereon,” but the House refused to support this amendment. As a result, a Joint Committee of Conference was formed to resolve the dispute, consisting of members of both the Senate and the House of Representatives. On 26 January this body recommended that the flag should be “blue, with a golden palmetto upright upon a white oval in the centre thereof, and a white increscent in the upper flag-staff corner of the flag.” Two days later, the House tabled a resolution proposed by Representative Read, who had served on the Conference Committee for the House, that the “white medallion and golden Palmetto” be replaced by “a white Palmetto.” The Senate agreed to this amendment on the same day. Thus, on 28 January 1861, the short-lived Republic of South Carolina adopted its national flag, which consisted of a white crescent and white palmetto on a blue field. When South Carolina entered the Confederate States of America on 8 February 1861, this became the pattern for the state flag, and this remains the case to the present day.

Only one banner survives today based on the resolution of 26 January 1861. Its dark blue cotton field measures 44 inches across the staff or upper section, and 34 inches down. At its centre is a vertical white eliptical panel bearing a crude rendition of a palmetto tree in orange cloth so as to simulate the gold stipulated in the resolution. This flag was captured in Columbia, on 18 February 1865, by an unknown Federal unit.

 South Carolina state flag adopted 28 January 1861
by Devereaux D. Cannon, Jr., 29 September 2002

Three flags survive based on the final pattern adopted. All had a dark blue bunting field with a white cotton palmetto tree and crescent, the latter oriented so that the horns pointed vertically. The first was captured on 17 February 1865 by Lieutenant William H. Goodrell. Confiscated from the state library in the Old State House, it was a garrison-sized flag measuring approximately 36 feet on the fly by 20 feet on the staff. The second was 15 feet on the fly by 11 feet on the staff, and was captured at Columbia on the same day. A third flag, minus a credible provenance, measured 20 feet on the fly by 15 feet on the staff.

Ron Field