“STARS AND BARS” The First Confederate National Flag



The garrison flag of the Confederate forces
at Vicksburg, Mississippi, 1863.
By Devereaux D. Cannon, Jr. 25 January 2000



The original flag of the Confederate States of America, commonly known as the “STARS AND BARS”, was approved by the Congress of the Provisional Government of the Confederate States, and first hoisted over the capitol building in Montgomery, Alabama, on the afternoon of the 4th day of March, 1861. Congress did not adopted a formal Act codifying this flag, but it is described in the Report of the Committee on Flag and Seal, in the following language:

The flag of the Confederate States of America shall consist of a red field with a white space extending horizontally through the center, and equal in width to one-third the width of the flag. The red space above and below to be the same width as the white. The union blue extending down through the white space and stopping at the lower red space. In the center of the union a circle of white stars corresponding in number with the States in the Confederacy.

The first flag was raised over the capitol in Montgomery by Miss Letitia Christian Tyler, the granddaughter of President John Tyler.

This new flag spread quickly in use across the South, even beyond the borders of the seven States of the CSA. The official version was to have the stars in a circle, with the number corresponding to the States actually admitted to the Confederacy. Thus, there would have been 7 stars from 4 March 1861 until 7 May 1861, when Virginia became the 8th Confederate State by Act of Congress. Thereafter, the number of stars continued to increase until Tennessee gained her seat as the 11th State on 2 July 1861. The number remained 11 through the summer, but increased when Missouri and Kentucky were admitted to the CSA by Acts of Congress approved 28 November 1861 and 10 December 1861, respectively.

Despite the official pattern and numbers, however, individual examples of the Stars and Bars varied greatly, with numbers of stars ranging from 1 to 17, and star patterns varying greatly beyond the officially sanctioned circle.

Devereaux D. Cannon, Jr.



Although the creating legislation for the national flag adopted by the Confederate Provisional Congress on 4 March 1861 did not specify the proportions that the new national flag was to follow, the Confederate War Department shortly afterward determined on the sizes for the military garrison and storm flags. Such flags had been part of United States Army Regulations since 1835. In the U.S. Army the garrison flag (flown on special occasions) was 20 feet on the hoist by 36 feet on the fly, while the storm flag (flown during inclement weather and less formal occurences) was directed to measure 10 feet on the hoist by 20 feet on the fly.

The Confederate War Department chose two similar sized flags for the forts that came under their control as a result of secession. The garrison flag was to measure 18 feet on the hoist by 28 feet on the fly, and the storm flag was to be half that size – 9 feet on the hoist by 14 feet on the fly. Ships chandlers, Henry Vaughan in Mobile, Alabama and Hugh Vincent in Charleston, South Carolina, accepted orders to manufacture Confederate 1st national flags of these sizes. The flags were initially prepared bore seven stars in a circle, but at least one 11 star example in the storm size is known with Vaughan’s markings.

Despite the 9:14 proportions established by the Confederate War Department, other civilian makers of the “Stars & Bars” soon gravitated to different proportions that included 2:3, 3:5, and 1:2. Similarly the patriotic ladies of the South who prepared most of the company and regimental flags for the military units raised in the Southern states chose whatever proportions and sizes seemed aesthetic. As a result, Confederate military presentation flags made throughout the South in 1861 and 1862 demonstrate no common proportions or sizes.

While no standard proportions or sizes prevailed nationwide in the Confederate States of America, a survey of 112 identified company or regimental flags from the cis-Mississippi states that conform to the pattern of the Confederate 1st national flag does indicate that several regional variations do predominate. Of 23 identified 1st national flags from Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina, most (16) bear eleven stars; and of these, 7 are arranged in a circle of eleven, while 5 have ten stars surrounding a center star. As might be expected 2 of the flags from Virginia (the eighth state to join the Confederacy) bear seven stars around a larger center star, and 2 of the flags from North Carolina (the tenth Confederate state) bear ten stars. No seven star Confederate flags survive from these states.

Of 32 Confederate 1st national flags from the states of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, a surprisingly large proportion of the Georgia flags (5 out of 25- 20%) bore seven stars in a circle. More than double that number (12), however, bore eleven stars, with all but two arranged in a circle that included all eleven stars. Since it is known that Hayden & Whilden from Charleston provided eleven star unit flags for the Confederate Quartermaster’s Department, the number of eleven star flags made in this region undoubtedly was even larger.

The three states with coasts along the Gulf (Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana) accounted for 39 flags in the survey. Just under half of these flags (18) bore eleven stars, of which 8 bore a center star with the other ten stars surrounding it. Four flags with nine stars (eight around a center star) emanated from Louisiana but two also were made in Mississippi in the same style. Three of the flags from Alabama units bore a circle of seven stars.

From the “heartland” of the Confederacy (Tennessee and Kentucky) 18 identified flags were surveyed. Although Tennessee did not join the Confederacy until the middle of 1861, four of its unit flags bore seven stars and another three had eight (all seven stars surrounding a central star). As might be expected for unit flags from the eleventh Confederate state, eight of the unit flags from this region bore eleven stars, all but one in a “pure circle” of eleven stars. Interestingly, a significant number of Tennessee company and regimental 1st national flags were made of silk and were of very large size, often exceeding 8 feet on their flys.

In addition to the 112 1st national flags from states east of the Mississippi, a number of Confederate 1st national flags from the trans-Mississippi region have also been surveyed. These flags show a high preponderance of flags with thirteen and fifteen stars, with most arranged in a circle around a center star, either of the same size or larger than the balance of the stars.

Howard Michael Madaus



In the early months of the War, the Confederate War Department relied exclusively on the patriotic effusion of the ladies of the South for the unit colors of the units that assembled in Richmond during the Spring and Summer of 1861. The results were mixed. Many individual companies received splendid flags from the communities from which they were raised, but the regiments into which they were assembled did not necessarily share in this enthusiasm. In such cases, one of the company flags would be chosen to serve as the regimental flag. The result was anything but uniformity in the colors carried by the armies that coallesced in the Shenandoah Valley and around Centreville in June.

To remedy this inadequacy, General Beauregard caused a number of Confederate 1st national flags to be made from the bunting that had been seized at the former Gosport U.S. Navy Yard near Portsmouth, Virginia. This bunting was placed in the hands of Richmond military goods dealer, George Ruskell. From this bunting Ruskell assembled at least 43 flags, for which he was paid $11.50 each. Deliveries began on 18 July 1861 and continued until 7 August. Only 13 flags, however, had been delivered to Major J.B. McClelland at Richmond by the battle of 1st Manassas (Bull Run), and none of these may have been distributed to the Army at Centreville before the battle.

Judging from the $12.00 price that Ruskell later received for a bunting Confederate 1st national that was 6 feet long on the fly, it is thought that the 43 flags that he delivered in July and August were 4 feet on their hoist by 6 feet on their fly with eleven white, 5-pointed stars arranged in a circle or ellipse. According to one account, these flags were later turned in so that their bunting could be recycled into other flags.

Howard Michael Madaus



During the command of Major-General John Pemberton, the Confederate Quartermaster Department in the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, (and later Florida) relied on the Charleston military goods dealership of Hayden & Whilden to furnish flags for the Department. This firm, on open market purchases, supplied Confederate 1st national flags to at least seven units in the District of South Carolina between 8 August 1862 and 10 February 1863.

These Confederate national colors seem to have measured 4 feet on their hoist by 5 1/2 feet on the fly. Their cantons bore eleven white, 5-pointed stars arranged in a circle. Unit abbreviations on two of the surviving flags were applied with separately cut and applied red cotton letters. Four camp colors or flank markers accompanied each of these national colors. In February of 1863 the purchase of these 1st national flags ceased when General Beauregard instituted the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, as modified by Charlston Clothing Depot.

Howard Michael Madaus