Battle Flags of the Department of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida

Department of South Carolina, Georgia & Florida Battle Flag of the
41st Alabama Infantry Regiment
Photo courtesy of Alabama Department of Archives and History,
Montgomery, Alabama

The institution of a department wide battle flag in the Confederate Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida (initially called the Department of South Carolina and Georgia prior to the addition of Florida east of the Apalachicola River on 7 October 1862) owes its origin to the transfer of General P.G.T. Beauregard as department commander on 29 August 1862 as the replacement for Major-General John Pemberton. Beauregard’s initial concerns as new department commander precluded immediate adoption of the battle flag design he had championed with success in the Confederate Army of the Potomac and with partial success in the Confederate Army of the Mississippi. Hence between his assumption of command in mid-September 1862 and the following Spring, the department continued to rely on Charleston military goods dealer, Hayden & Whilden for Confederate 1st national flags to furnish the needs of the military units of the department. That would change in April of 1863.

In March and April of 1863 the Charleston Clothing Depot began to manufacture wool bunting battle flags that copied the design elements of the battle flags then being produced by the Richmond Clothing Depot. These wool bunting flags differed from their Virginia counterparts in several key manufacturing techniques. The dark blue bunting St. Andrew’s cross (on the largest size flag) was 7″ to 8″ wide and bore thirteen white, cotton five-pointed stars, 4 1/2″ in diameter, set at 8″ intervals from the center star, and in most cases appliqued to each side but occasionally only sewn to one side and the blue material cut away on the opposite side to expose the star. Rather than white cotton tape, the Charleston made flags used white bunting strips, 3/4″ to 1″ wide sewn along the edges of the cross and then attached to four red bunting triangular sections that composed the field. When these parts had all been joined, a white bunting border, 2 1/4″ to 2 1/2″ wide was attached to all four edges of the flag. Then a pole sleeve would be attached to the side that served as the hoist edge. The flag was made in four sizes: 48″ square for infantry and heavy artillery; 36″ square for light artillery,and 30″ square for cavalry (exclusive of pole sleeves).

The branch of service was further distinguished by the color of the bunting sleeve that finished the flag. This sleeve was made of dark blue bunting for infantry units, red bunting for artillery (heavy or light), and evidently white (rather than yellow) bunting for intended cavalry units. While that may have been the intent; in actual issue, the niceties of this system disintegrated. At least one cavalry regiment received a heavy artillery size flag, and infantry battalions in Florida are known to have received both light artillery and cavalry size battle flags. Infantry units are also known to have received heavy artillery flags.

The first issue of the new battle flags took place on 20 April 1863 near Charleston, with General Beauregard officiating. At least two brigades (Stevens’ South Carolina and Clingman’s North Carolina) received the new flags, as well as five batteries of light artillery, Lucas’ Battalion of South Carolina Artillery and possibly several cavalry companies. The dates of subsequent issues are as of yet unknown, but by 1864 most, if not all, of the forces in the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida had been furnished with the Charleston Depot variant of the Army of Northern Virginia battle flag.

Because the forces of the Department were repeatedly drawn upon from the middle of 1863 until the middle of 1864 to reinforce Confederate field armies in both the eastern and the western theaters, the Charleston Depot battle flag saw widespread service in both the Army of Tennessee and the Army of Northern Virginia. In the Spring of 1863 Gist’s Brigade was sent to Mississippi carrying their new flags. In the Spring of 1864, the tightening Union grip around Richmond resulted in three brigades carrying the Charleston Depot flags (Hagood’s South Carolina, Elliot’s South Carolina, and Clingman’s North Carolina Brigades) as well as numerous individual regiments, being transfered north to fight in the Richmond and Petersburg defenses. Beauregard’s battle flag had come full circle.

As a general rule, the battle flags of the Confederate Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida are not marked with either unit abbreviations or battle honors. A few exceptions survive, including two battle flags with white cotton strips bearing painted honors, and two with battle honors having separately cut out and appliqued battle honors (one with a unit abbreviation similarly applied.)

Howard Michael Madaus