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1850 - 1900

A Story of the Southern Cross

by Greg English6/15/00

When the call was issued to put to rest the debate over the Confederate Battle flag, there seemed to be a need for one final history lesson. One that is no longer taught in school.

The story of the Southern Cross or Confederate Battle Flag began following the battle of Bull Run in Northern Virginia during the summer of 1861. The newly formed Confederate States of America had hurriedly adopted its first national flag in March of that year. That rush would lead to a controversy that would last for more than 140 years.

Three flags had been proposed to the southern congress in March of 1861. One of the designs was that of a St. Andrew's Cross styled flag, another with a blue ring in the middle of a red background, and the final, one similar to the United States flag but with seven stars and seven stripes of red and blue. After limited debate, the Provisional Congress chose a modified version of the latter. They left the seven stars and cut the number of stripes to three - two red and one white. The flag became the emblem of the new nation and was known as the First National Flag of the Confederacy or the Stars and Bars. Stars would be added (up to 13) as the number of southern states joined the Confederacy. In their rush to get a national flag, congress neglected to actually vote on a flag law, never making the flag "official".

The flag was used at national functions until 1863 and flew over the first battles at Fort Sumter and Bull Run. It was during the battle of Bull Run that Louisiana General P. G. T. Beauregard realized that the Confederate flag was so much like the United States flag that it caused confusion and added deaths on the battlefield for both sides. He and Congressman William P. Miles, of South Carolina, discussed a change in the flag. However, the representative knew that congress would not approve of one. He suggested that Beauregard and the army create it's own flag.

Remembering one of the original designs that he himself presented liked back in March, Miles suggested the "blue cross of St. Andrew, studded with the stars of the Confederacy, waving on a brilliant red background." Beauregard approved of the idea and had several prototypes made. By November of 1861 flags were being issued to all the armies in the Northern Virginia. It quickly became known as the Southern Cross.

In the field, many southern armies modified the design to fit their needs creating varying battle flags. There were ones with reversed colors, gold stars, large stars, wording, complete color changes, with and without stars, and with and without borders. There was not one official 'battle flag' used by the armies of the Confederacy. Even the Cherokee Nation and Choctaws had its own Confederate Battle Flag.

In 1863 another call was made to change the national flag to something "less like the flag of the United States". Some people wanted the Southern Cross to become the national flag, however, in its pure form, members of congress voted against the idea. What they finally agreed on was the battle flag "used in good taste." Therefore, the design was a small battle flag in the upper inside corner on a pure white field.

After only 55 minutes of debate and a rushed signature of President Jefferson Davis, the new flag was adopted in May of 1863. It would become known by many names, officially, the Second National Flag of the Confederacy, but also as Jackson's Flag since it was first used to cover General Stonewall Jackson's coffin. It also would later become known as the Stainless Banner and be the official flag until March of 1865.

This would become the only "official" use of Mile's and Beauregard's Battle Flag design.

Due to the fact that the new flag looked so much like a flag a truce, it was modified by congress again in 1865. This time they took the "Stainless Banner" and added a red bar that ran from top to bottom on the fly end of the flag. The flag would fly over the final days of the Confederacy and would become known as the "Blood-stained Banner". It was reported that the name came from a soldier who saw the flag hanging from a flag pole on a windless day and remarked that it looked as if it had been dipped in the blood of the dying Confederacy."

Over the years following the War Between the States, the Confederate Battle Flag, or Southern Cross, would became the most popular flag sold at souvenir stands throughout the south. It was reproduced on t-shirts, bumper-stickers, license plates and was used to signify the south in popular TV shows and movies.

During the civil rights movement it was seen at rallies against integration and forced busing. People throughout the south pulled their flags out of closets and started flying them from homes and offices in protest over the United States government infringing on their rights again. It appeared the War Between the States was on once more and the motto "The South Shall Rise Again" and flag were as popular as ever.

Then came the hate groups waving the flag. These groups also carried the United States flag and the Christian flag but the old Southern Cross was the one the news media focused on. In recent months the NAACP made the removal of the flag a southern agenda from South Carolina to Texas, Virginia to Louisiana.

Newspapers are filled daily with verbal battles over the rights or wrongs of a flag that was never the official flag of the Confederacy. It has been said that the flag represented slavery, when in fact, most soldiers (more than 90%) who died under this flag did not own slaves. Most large planters who did have slaves, didn't actually fight in many battles.

In fact most Southerners were fighting for the right of self-government, a notion that was in the United States constitution since 1776. An unusual fact of the war is that of the best known generals of the war, southerner Robert E. Lee, freed his slaves in the 1840s (20 years before the war) and his wife's by 1862. Northerner Ulysses S. Grant never liberated his slaves, acquired through marriage, until after the war.

Slaves had been brought to this country aboard ships flying the United States flag for more than 75 years before the war. Even as late as the 1850's, U.S. ships were still bringing in illegal slaves.

The Confederate Battle Flag or Southern Cross has gotten some very bad press lately but little is known of its history. For more information about the subject read: The Flags of the Confederacy by Devereaux D. Cannon, Flags of Louisiana by Jeanne Frois, or by going online to http://home.txcr.net/~flags/ or http://members.tripod.com/~txscv/csa.htm or http://www.confederateflags.org/


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copyright 2000 Greg English

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