If you are interested in history, have Confederate ancestors, participate in Civil War re-enactments, or live in the American south, you are almost definitely familiar with the Confederate flag. The meaning of the flag is basic… it represents the Confederate side in the Civil War. Yet, there is so much more to the flag than this. For example, the Confederate flag we know today was not the official flag of the Confederacy during the Civil War. It was one of many battle flags used by different Confederate military units. The term “Stars and Bars,” which many people today use to refer to the flag, was a term reserved for the official first national flag of the Confederacy.
You may also have one of a wide range of feelings about the Confederate flag. It may instill pride in you because of your association with your southern Confederate ancestors or your southern upbringing. You may also feel the flag is a relic of times gone by that represents bad things to enough people to make it offensive to display in the modern world except in educational settings. Whatever your feelings are about the Confederate flag, they are perfectly valid, and you are likely to encounter people who feel the opposite of it than you, and their feelings are perfectly valid, too. The Confederate flag is something that evokes strong emotions one way or another in most people, especially those in the south.
If you are interested in the real history of the Confederate flag, here are some things you will enjoy learning.
The Confederate flag we know today is the battle flag of the Confederate Army of the Potomac. During the Civil War, this regiment wanted a battle flag that would be distinctive among other regimental flags, and would also be an alternative to the real Stars and Bars (the first national flag of the Confederacy). The actual Stars and Bars was adopted as the Confederate flag in March of 1861. The design resembled the flag of the United States, which was once beloved in the southern states. However, its use on the battlefield proved problematic because of its similarity to the flag of the Union army (which was the United States flag). This prompted the various regiments of the Confederacy to adopt their own flag designs. These flags assumed emotional significance for the soldiers who fought under them, and for the families of soldiers who died in battle while fighting under them. The flags became looked on with pride for the acts of the soldiers who served under them. The flag that became known as the Confederate flag today was no different.
Gradually, as the war progressed, the Confederacy grew to think less fondly of its old association with the Union and its symbols. It therefore began using the Confederate battle flag less often, and by 1862, many Confederate leaders desired a flag that looked nothing like the flag of the United States. They desired a flag with a design that reflected the confirmed independence of the Confederacy. It was decided that the flag under which Robert E. Lee’s army battled was the best flag to embody the new nation. Lee’s flag was already popular because of his incredible victories in 1862 and 1863, and the public supported it as the nation’s new flag. The battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia was officially adopted on May 1, 1863 as the Confederacy’s flag, known at the time as the Stainless Banner, and remained as such during the rest of the existence of the Confederacy.
After the Civil War, the flag continued to be used as the official flag of the Confederacy in the south, in memorials and in public commemorations of the war and the lost nation. The United Confederate Veterans issued a report in 1941 that defined the official Confederate flag as the flag of Lee’s army. This essentially erased all other flags from the remembered history of the Confederacy. The United Daughters of the Confederacy promoted this as the official flag, as well. The flag, being square, was often at odds with the demands of the public for rectangular flags like the ones used in Tennessee regiments. However, after a strongly promoted public campaign over several years, these Confederate organizations made Lee’s flag the official Confederate flag we know as the Confederate flag in modern times.