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The Confederate Battle Flag: America's Most Embattled Emblem

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Overview

In recent years, the Confederate flag has become as much a news item as a Civil War relic. Intense public debates have erupted over Confederate flags flying atop state capitols, being incorporated into state flags, waving from dormitory windows, or adorning the T-shirts and jeans of public school children. To some, this piece of cloth is a symbol of white supremacy and enduring racial injustice; to others, it represents a rich Southern heritage and an essential link to a glorious past. Polarizing Americans, these "flag wars" reveal the profound--and still unhealed--schisms that have plagued the country since the Civil War.

The Confederate Battle Flag is the first comprehensive history of this contested symbol. Transcending conventional partisanship, John Coski reveals the flag's origins as one of many banners unfurled on the battlefields of the Civil War. He shows how it emerged as the preeminent representation of the Confederacy and was transformed into a cultural icon from Reconstruction on, becoming an aggressively racist symbol only after World War II and during the Civil Rights movement. We gain unique insight into the fine line between the flag's use as a historical emblem and as an invocation of the Confederate nation and all it stood for. Pursuing the flag's conflicting meanings, Coski suggests how this provocative artifact, which has been viewed with pride, fear, anger, nostalgia, and disgust, might ultimately provide Americans with the common ground of a shared and complex history.

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Editorial Reviews

New York Sun

In his comprehensive new book, John M. Coski chronicles the rich history of the so-called second American flag...[He passes] along a plethora of surprising stories, anecdotes, economic statistics, and editorial quotations regarding the flag. As a result, Mr. Coski's book is ultimately worth reading. Mr. Coski's meticulously researched book boils down to a simple truth: The Confederate flag means different things to different people.
— Felix Gillette

Weekly Standard

John Coski...has given us the first documented consideration of the dispute over the appropriate use of what he calls 'the second American flag,' and he begins by dispelling a number of historical misconceptions about its origins and identity.
— Edwin M. Yoder Jr.

Washington Times

In his richly detailed book The Confederate Battle Flag, John M. Coski calls that very familiar symbol of the Old South 'America's most embattled emblem' and he is no doubt right. Is there any icon of the American past more beloved and at the same time reviled than the star-studded diagonal blue cross against a red background...Mr. Coski's book is not just about recent debates over the flag. It is about its whole history.
— Steve Goode

Washington Post Book World

No symbol in the past few decades has been more divisive than the Confederate battle flag. In his important new book, The Confederate Battle Flag, John M. Coski shows how it got that way. The battle flag, though not the official banner of the Confederacy, emerged over the course of the war as the sentimental favorite among Confederate soldiers and civilians alike. Coski takes the story forward from there, but his most important contribution is his recounting of the tumultuous story of the flag in the second half of the 20th century, when the civil rights movement emerged, setting loose a variety of groups that made competing claims over the meaning of the flag—and the meaning of the war...Coski's book will speak to the flag's opponents as well as its defenders, but his most inspired message is aimed at those cheerleaders who insist that the flag has one, unchanging, fundamentally benign meaning. He shows that the history of the flag is simply too complicated for anybody to reach such simplistic conclusions...The depth and breadth of his research give his book real authority, and future disputants on both sides will have to reckon with his clear, reliable conclusions.
— Joseph Crespino

New York Times Book Review

John M. Coski's history, The Confederate Battle Flag, brings some needed rationality to a debate driven by the raw emotion of soul injury.
— Diane McWhorter

Washington Post

If you'd like to dazzle your friends at the next cookout with what you know about the much-misunderstood Confederate flag, Coski's book is for you...Go ahead. Bring up the subject of the flag and then stand back. But if you have Coski's book under your arm, you might be able to turn the debate into something more than just finger-pointing.
— Linda Wheeler

Savannah Morning News

Whether you love or hate the flag, after reading Coski you will love it or hate it in a different way.
— Theo Lippman Jr.

Civil War Book Review

A book that explains its history has been long needed, and now John M. Coski has written a very good one which everyone on both sides of the controversy over the flag should read and appreciate. Coski provides a well-researched, clearly presented, and most important of all, scrupulously fair account of the history of the battle flag and the controversies surrounding it, one that avoids polemics and strives to be true to the historical record. The Confederate Battle Flag is a splendid example of how a careful scholar can contribute to an important public debate.
— Gaines M. Foster

Southern Historian

This is a solid and well-researched book. Coski's work is very much in the spirit of...David Blight's Race and Reunion. It is another excellent look at the history of Confederate memory.
— Richard R. Hourigan III

Journal of American History

John M. Coski has given us a well-researched, clearly written history of the Confederate battle flag and how it became "America's most embattled emblem."...From Mississippi to Georgia to South Carolina to Alabama and well beyond, Coski provides a meticulous account of the flag's rapid installation as an institutionalized emblem of recalcitrant racism and defiance of federal authority.
— James C. Cobb

Journal of Southern History
John M. Coski has written the first full published assessment of the changing role played by the Confederate battle flag in American history. It is a thoughtful, methodical account of how the starred blue diagonal Cross of St. Andrew on a red field eventually came to be regarded as the preeminent symbol of the would-be southern nation...Coski argues convincingly that use of the emblem was relatively infrequent and uncontroversial until it was adopted in semiofficial fashion by the 1948 Dixiecrat convention in Birmingham, Alabama. Thereafter the battle flag was associated closely in the public mind with the fight against integration--a linkage responsible for the so-called flag wars of recent years, the diversity and complexity of which Coski details with admirable clarity and fair-mindedness.

— Robert Cook,

Civil War History Journal

The St. Andrew's cross battle flag—a star-studded blue diagonal cross on a red field—continues to this day to stir fierce emotions. In this deeply researched, dispassionately argued, and ultimately wise book, John M. Coski provides a careful history of that flag, its uses, abuses, and meanings...As the nation continues to debate the meaning of the Civil War, The Confederate Battle Flag provides badly needed historical and ethical clarity about one of the most provocative symbols of that war.

— James L. Roark

South Carolina Historical Magazine

Coski does not move from a survey of "the modern debate" (which he shows to be several debates) into a discussion of the aspects calling for contextualization and analysis. Instead, he provides a biography of the battle flag from 1861 to the present. He carefully examines the claims about its history that have been sharply contested over the last fifteen years, but his narrative is most valuable for the wider perspective it offers in tracing the path by which the Confederate battle flag became a symbol prominent enough to sustain such vigorous controversies...This story provides a fresh background to the recent "flag wars" that Coski ably recounts in his final section. As he recognizes, these contests have taken a variety of forms that might be grouped into two basic categories. The first set has concerned the rights of individuals to display the emblem in schools or on license plates or in other regulated forums. The second set has revolved around governmental rather than individual expression, particularly in state flags or on statehouse grounds or at public schools and colleges...By moving analysis of the flag debates beyond the terms chosen by its participants, Coski achieves a stimulating success in his aim to help readers understand the controversies.
— Thomas J. Brown

American Historical Review

The battle flag is enigmatic, its history has been clouded by political debate, and it is often referred to, erroneously, as the "Stars and Bars." John M. Coski's analysis of the flag's history, its uses, and its various meanings, therefore, is both welcome and needed.
— Karen L. Cox

H-Net Online

Utilizing contemporary sources through newspapers and magazine articles, as well as primary sources such as diaries, Coski has produced a fascinating work delivered with a remarkable absence of passion involving a topic that generates seemingly little else...Coski has performed a valuable service in shining a dispassionate and informing light on the topic.
— Robert Sampson

Journal of Southern History

John M. Coski has written the first full published assessment of the changing role played by the Confederate battle flag in American history. It is a thoughtful, methodical account of how the starred blue diagonal Cross of St. Andrew on a red field eventually came to be regarded as the preeminent symbol of the would-be southern nation...Coski argues convincingly that use of the emblem was relatively infrequent and uncontroversial until it was adopted in semiofficial fashion by the 1948 Dixiecrat convention in Birmingham, Alabama. Thereafter the battle flag was associated closely in the public mind with the fight against integration—a linkage responsible for the so-called flag wars of recent years, the diversity and complexity of which Coski details with admirable clarity and fair-mindedness.

— Robert Cook,

Tony Horwitz
Few emblems in American history have provoked stronger passions than the battle flag of the vanquished Confederacy. To some it symbolizes honor and independence; to others, hatred and slavery. This highly charged icon has finally found the fair and fact-based treatment it so desperately needs. John Coski probes every aspect of the flag's complex history, from Civil War to Civil Rights, from rebel icon to NASCAR kitsch. As readable as it is incisive, The Confederate Battle Flag shows how reactions to the banner have revealed fault lines in our culture from Appomattox to the present day.
James M. McPherson
At last we have a dispassionate history of that passionate symbol, the Confederate battle flag. John Coski has dispelled myths held by both supporters and opponents of the public display of the flag. Blending cultural history and the history of memory in a lucid manner, he has written a definitive account of the numerous 'flag wars' in both South and North during the past century and more.
David W. Blight
This book is a sorely-needed and unique achievement--a deeply researched, scholarly treatment of the Confederate battle flag and its many meanings over time. With an engaging writing style fully accessible to general readers, with international sweep, and with great sensitivity, Coski brilliantly shows that the battle flag is the 'second American flag,' fraught with both racism and endless popular uses across borders that no one can expect to control.
John Shelton Reed
This splendid book is more than timely--it's long overdue. Coski shows how a flag originally designed to avoid confusion has become a sort of Rorschach blot. It still identifies partisans, but often they seem to be fighting different wars. Whatever the flag means to you (valor, bigotry, and boogie-till-you-puke are just three of the possibilities) you'll learn something here.
New York Sun - Felix Gillette
In his comprehensive new book, John M. Coski chronicles the rich history of the so-called second American flag...[He passes] along a plethora of surprising stories, anecdotes, economic statistics, and editorial quotations regarding the flag. As a result, Mr. Coski's book is ultimately worth reading. Mr. Coski's meticulously researched book boils down to a simple truth: The Confederate flag means different things to different people.
Weekly Standard - Edwin M. Yoder Jr.
John Coski...has given us the first documented consideration of the dispute over the appropriate use of what he calls 'the second American flag,' and he begins by dispelling a number of historical misconceptions about its origins and identity.
Washington Times - Steve Goode
In his richly detailed book The Confederate Battle Flag, John M. Coski calls that very familiar symbol of the Old South 'America's most embattled emblem' and he is no doubt right. Is there any icon of the American past more beloved and at the same time reviled than the star-studded diagonal blue cross against a red background...Mr. Coski's book is not just about recent debates over the flag. It is about its whole history.
Washington Post Book World - Joseph Crespino
No symbol in the past few decades has been more divisive than the Confederate battle flag. In his important new book, The Confederate Battle Flag, John M. Coski shows how it got that way. The battle flag, though not the official banner of the Confederacy, emerged over the course of the war as the sentimental favorite among Confederate soldiers and civilians alike. Coski takes the story forward from there, but his most important contribution is his recounting of the tumultuous story of the flag in the second half of the 20th century, when the civil rights movement emerged, setting loose a variety of groups that made competing claims over the meaning of the flag--and the meaning of the war...Coski's book will speak to the flag's opponents as well as its defenders, but his most inspired message is aimed at those cheerleaders who insist that the flag has one, unchanging, fundamentally benign meaning. He shows that the history of the flag is simply too complicated for anybody to reach such simplistic conclusions...The depth and breadth of his research give his book real authority, and future disputants on both sides will have to reckon with his clear, reliable conclusions.
New York Times Book Review - Diane McWhorter
John M. Coski's history, The Confederate Battle Flag, brings some needed rationality to a debate driven by the raw emotion of soul injury.
Washington Post - Linda Wheeler
If you'd like to dazzle your friends at the next cookout with what you know about the much-misunderstood Confederate flag, Coski's book is for you...Go ahead. Bring up the subject of the flag and then stand back. But if you have Coski's book under your arm, you might be able to turn the debate into something more than just finger-pointing.
Savannah Morning News - Theo Lippman Jr.
Whether you love or hate the flag, after reading Coski you will love it or hate it in a different way.
Civil War Book Review - Gaines M. Foster
A book that explains its history has been long needed, and now John M. Coski has written a very good one which everyone on both sides of the controversy over the flag should read and appreciate. Coski provides a well-researched, clearly presented, and most important of all, scrupulously fair account of the history of the battle flag and the controversies surrounding it, one that avoids polemics and strives to be true to the historical record. The Confederate Battle Flag is a splendid example of how a careful scholar can contribute to an important public debate.
Southern Historian - Richard R. Hourigan III
This is a solid and well-researched book. Coski's work is very much in the spirit of...David Blight's Race and Reunion. It is another excellent look at the history of Confederate memory.
Journal of American History - James C. Cobb
John M. Coski has given us a well-researched, clearly written history of the Confederate battle flag and how it became "America's most embattled emblem."...From Mississippi to Georgia to South Carolina to Alabama and well beyond, Coski provides a meticulous account of the flag's rapid installation as an institutionalized emblem of recalcitrant racism and defiance of federal authority.
Journal of Southern History - Robert Cook
John M. Coski has written the first full published assessment of the changing role played by the Confederate battle flag in American history. It is a thoughtful, methodical account of how the starred blue diagonal Cross of St. Andrew on a red field eventually came to be regarded as the preeminent symbol of the would-be southern nation...Coski argues convincingly that use of the emblem was relatively infrequent and uncontroversial until it was adopted in semiofficial fashion by the 1948 Dixiecrat convention in Birmingham, Alabama. Thereafter the battle flag was associated closely in the public mind with the fight against integration--a linkage responsible for the so-called flag wars of recent years, the diversity and complexity of which Coski details with admirable clarity and fair-mindedness.
Civil War History Journal - James L. Roark
The St. Andrew's cross battle flag--a star-studded blue diagonal cross on a red field--continues to this day to stir fierce emotions. In this deeply researched, dispassionately argued, and ultimately wise book, John M. Coski provides a careful history of that flag, its uses, abuses, and meanings...As the nation continues to debate the meaning of the Civil War, The Confederate Battle Flag provides badly needed historical and ethical clarity about one of the most provocative symbols of that war.
South Carolina Historical Magazine - Thomas J. Brown
Coski does not move from a survey of "the modern debate" (which he shows to be several debates) into a discussion of the aspects calling for contextualization and analysis. Instead, he provides a biography of the battle flag from 1861 to the present. He carefully examines the claims about its history that have been sharply contested over the last fifteen years, but his narrative is most valuable for the wider perspective it offers in tracing the path by which the Confederate battle flag became a symbol prominent enough to sustain such vigorous controversies...This story provides a fresh background to the recent "flag wars" that Coski ably recounts in his final section. As he recognizes, these contests have taken a variety of forms that might be grouped into two basic categories. The first set has concerned the rights of individuals to display the emblem in schools or on license plates or in other regulated forums. The second set has revolved around governmental rather than individual expression, particularly in state flags or on statehouse grounds or at public schools and colleges...By moving analysis of the flag debates beyond the terms chosen by its participants, Coski achieves a stimulating success in his aim to help readers understand the controversies.
American Historical Review - Karen L. Cox
The battle flag is enigmatic, its history has been clouded by political debate, and it is often referred to, erroneously, as the "Stars and Bars." John M. Coski's analysis of the flag's history, its uses, and its various meanings, therefore, is both welcome and needed.
H-Net Online - Robert Sampson
Utilizing contemporary sources through newspapers and magazine articles, as well as primary sources such as diaries, Coski has produced a fascinating work delivered with a remarkable absence of passion involving a topic that generates seemingly little else...Coski has performed a valuable service in shining a dispassionate and informing light on the topic.
Washington Post
If you'd like to dazzle your friends at the next cookout with what you know about the much-misunderstood Confederate flag, Coski's book is for you...Go ahead. Bring up the subject of the flag and then stand back. But if you have Coski's book under your arm, you might be able to turn the debate into something more than just finger-pointing.
— Linda Wheeler
New York Times Book Review
John M. Coski's history, The Confederate Battle Flag, brings some needed rationality to a debate driven by the raw emotion of soul injury.
— Diane McWhorter
Washington Times
In his richly detailed book The Confederate Battle Flag, John M. Coski calls that very familiar symbol of the Old South 'America's most embattled emblem' and he is no doubt right. Is there any icon of the American past more beloved and at the same time reviled than the star-studded diagonal blue cross against a red background...Mr. Coski's book is not just about recent debates over the flag. It is about its whole history.
— Steve Goode
Weekly Standard
John Coski...has given us the first documented consideration of the dispute over the appropriate use of what he calls 'the second American flag,' and he begins by dispelling a number of historical misconceptions about its origins and identity.
— Edwin M. Yoder Jr.
Washington Post Book World
No symbol in the past few decades has been more divisive than the Confederate battle flag. In his important new book, The Confederate Battle Flag, John M. Coski shows how it got that way. The battle flag, though not the official banner of the Confederacy, emerged over the course of the war as the sentimental favorite among Confederate soldiers and civilians alike. Coski takes the story forward from there, but his most important contribution is his recounting of the tumultuous story of the flag in the second half of the 20th century, when the civil rights movement emerged, setting loose a variety of groups that made competing claims over the meaning of the flag--and the meaning of the war...Coski's book will speak to the flag's opponents as well as its defenders, but his most inspired message is aimed at those cheerleaders who insist that the flag has one, unchanging, fundamentally benign meaning. He shows that the history of the flag is simply too complicated for anybody to reach such simplistic conclusions...The depth and breadth of his research give his book real authority, and future disputants on both sides will have to reckon with his clear, reliable conclusions.
— Joseph Crespino
American Historical Review
The battle flag is enigmatic, its history has been clouded by political debate, and it is often referred to, erroneously, as the "Stars and Bars." John M. Coski's analysis of the flag's history, its uses, and its various meanings, therefore, is both welcome and needed.
— Karen L. Cox
Journal of American History
John M. Coski has given us a well-researched, clearly written history of the Confederate battle flag and how it became "America's most embattled emblem."...From Mississippi to Georgia to South Carolina to Alabama and well beyond, Coski provides a meticulous account of the flag's rapid installation as an institutionalized emblem of recalcitrant racism and defiance of federal authority.
— James C. Cobb
Southern Historian
This is a solid and well-researched book. Coski's work is very much in the spirit of...David Blight's Race and Reunion. It is another excellent look at the history of Confederate memory.
— Richard R. Hourigan III
New York Sun
In his comprehensive new book, John M. Coski chronicles the rich history of the so-called second American flag...[He passes] along a plethora of surprising stories, anecdotes, economic statistics, and editorial quotations regarding the flag. As a result, Mr. Coski's book is ultimately worth reading. Mr. Coski's meticulously researched book boils down to a simple truth: The Confederate flag means different things to different people.
— Felix Gillette
Civil War Book Review
A book that explains its history has been long needed, and now John M. Coski has written a very good one which everyone on both sides of the controversy over the flag should read and appreciate. Coski provides a well-researched, clearly presented, and most important of all, scrupulously fair account of the history of the battle flag and the controversies surrounding it, one that avoids polemics and strives to be true to the historical record. The Confederate Battle Flag is a splendid example of how a careful scholar can contribute to an important public debate.
— Gaines M. Foster
Savannah Morning News
Whether you love or hate the flag, after reading Coski you will love it or hate it in a different way.
— Theo Lippman Jr.
Civil War History Journal
The St. Andrew's cross battle flag--a star-studded blue diagonal cross on a red field--continues to this day to stir fierce emotions. In this deeply researched, dispassionately argued, and ultimately wise book, John M. Coski provides a careful history of that flag, its uses, abuses, and meanings...As the nation continues to debate the meaning of the Civil War, The Confederate Battle Flag provides badly needed historical and ethical clarity about one of the most provocative symbols of that war.

— James L. Roark

South Carolina Historical Magazine
Coski does not move from a survey of "the modern debate" (which he shows to be several debates) into a discussion of the aspects calling for contextualization and analysis. Instead, he provides a biography of the battle flag from 1861 to the present. He carefully examines the claims about its history that have been sharply contested over the last fifteen years, but his narrative is most valuable for the wider perspective it offers in tracing the path by which the Confederate battle flag became a symbol prominent enough to sustain such vigorous controversies...This story provides a fresh background to the recent "flag wars" that Coski ably recounts in his final section. As he recognizes, these contests have taken a variety of forms that might be grouped into two basic categories. The first set has concerned the rights of individuals to display the emblem in schools or on license plates or in other regulated forums. The second set has revolved around governmental rather than individual expression, particularly in state flags or on statehouse grounds or at public schools and colleges...By moving analysis of the flag debates beyond the terms chosen by its participants, Coski achieves a stimulating success in his aim to help readers understand the controversies.
— Thomas J. Brown
H-Net Online
Utilizing contemporary sources through newspapers and magazine articles, as well as primary sources such as diaries, Coski has produced a fascinating work delivered with a remarkable absence of passion involving a topic that generates seemingly little else...Coski has performed a valuable service in shining a dispassionate and informing light on the topic.
— Robert Sampson
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674019836
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 4/28/2006
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 448
  • Sales rank: 972,351
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

John M. Coski is Historian and Library Director at The Museum of the Confederacy.
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Table of Contents

I: Confederate Flag

1. "Emblem of a Separate and Independent Nation"

2. "The War-Torn Cross"

3. "Unfurl the Old Flag"

4. "A Harmless and Rather Amusing Gesture"

II: Rebel Flag

5. "The Shadow of States' Rights"

6. "Keep Your Eyes on those Confederate Flags"

7. "Symbol of the White Race and White Supremacy"

8. "The Perverted Banner"

III: Flag Wars

9. "Vindication of the Cause"

10. "The Bitterest Battleground"

11. "They Talk about Diversity, They're Gonna Get It"

12. "What We Stood For, Will Stand For, and Will Fight For"

13. "You Can't Erase History"

Epilogue: The Second American Flag

Abbreviations

Notes

Acknowledgments

Index

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First Chapter

The Confederate Battle Flag

America's Most Embattled Emblem
By John M. Coski

THE BELKNAP PRESS OF HARVARD UNIVERSITY PRESS

Copyright © 2005 John M. Coski
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-674-01722-6


Chapter One

"Emblem of a Separate and Independent Nation"

The search for symbols of an independent Confederate nation began before the formation of the Confederacy itself. The leaders of the states that seceded from the Union in 1860 and 1861 believed that they were legitimately repossessing the sovereignty that their states had delegated conditionally upon joining the Union. When they formed the Confederate States of America in February 1861, southern statesmen made the conditional nature of union explicit in their new Constitution. The trappings of sovereignty were especially important to men who staked so much on constitutional theory, so it was not surprising that the states of the new Confederacy adopted seals and flags expressing their identities as sovereign entities.

The most popular symbols in the heady first months of secession were the palmetto tree-a symbol of secessionist pioneer South Carolina-and the so-called Bonnie Blue Flag. Immortalized in southern lore by a song composed in early 1861 by Harry Macarthy, the Bonnie Blue Flag was simply a blue flag bearing a single white star. In early 1861, several southern states incorporated the Bonnie Blue into their new state flags, and a few military units adopted it as their battle flag. The flag most symbolic of southern separatism and martial spirit in early 1861, the Bonnie Blue, however, never achieved prominence as a symbol of the Confederate nation.

Among its first acts, the Provisional Congress of the new Confederacy on February 9, 1861, appointed a Committee on the Flag and Seal chaired by William Porcher Miles of South Carolina. The committee solicited ideas from citizens and officials alike and received hundreds of design suggestions. Many of them the committee dismissed as "elaborate, complicated, or fantastical." Many others, much to the dismay of William Miles, urged the adoption of a flag that preserved "the principal features" of the Stars and Stripes. The committee was "overwhelmed with memorials not to abandon the 'old flag,'" Miles complained to a sympathetic correspondent. One Confederate sympathizer living in Washington, D.C., urged Miles to "Let the Yankees keep their ridiculous tune of 'Yankee Doodle,' but by all that is sacred, do not let them monopolize the stars and stripes." A woman in Savannah, Georgia, submitted a design along with some unsolicited advice. "Although I have not much more veneration than you for the stars & stripes, there are many who have, whose feelings, or fancies have a right to be respected," wrote M. E. Huger. "Besides, it is a flag well known & respected, & does not represent to the world our oppressions & wrongs-but-the independance [sic] & prosperity of a great country."

Miles scorned such thinking. He told the committee that he had always regarded the Stars and Stripes as a flag of "tyranny" and was, he later claimed, "terribly abused for doing so." In his March 4, 1861, committee report, Miles explained his opposition to the Stars and Stripes, but, in deference to the majority, struck a conciliatory pose:

Whatever attachment may be felt, from association, for the "Stars and Stripes" (an attachment which your committee may be permitted to say they do not all share), it is manifest that in inaugurating a new government we can "Emblem of a Separate and Independent Nation" not with any propriety, or without encountering very obvious practical difficulties, retain the flag of the Government from which we have withdrawn. There is no propriety in retaining the ensign of a government which, in the opinion of the States composing this Confederacy, had become so oppressive and injurious to their interests as to require their separation from it. It is idle to talk of "keeping" the flag of the United States when we have voluntarily seceded from them.

"It must be admitted, however," Miles added, "that something was conceded by the committee to what seemed so strong and earnest a desire to retain at least a suggestion of the old 'Stars and Stripes.'"

Indeed, the design recommended by the committee and approved by the Provisional Congress became known as the Stars and Bars and was ultimately renounced for resembling too closely the Stars and Stripes. The new flag consisted of three horizontal stripes, alternating red and white, with a union (or canton) of blue emblazoned with a circle of white stars corresponding to the number of states in the Confederacy. Red, white, and blue-the colors of the Stars and Stripes-were, Miles wrote, "the true republican colors," representing in heraldry the virtues of valor, purity, and truth, respectively.

While the Stars and Bars later proved unpopular with many opinion makers in the South and impractical on the battlefield, the flag was the object of popular enthusiasm in the months following its adoption. As the new nation's first official standard, the Stars and Bars was celebrated in song and poetry. Harry Macarthy, author of the "Bonnie Blue Flag," also published "Our Flag and Its Origins," also known as "Origin of the Stars and Bars." Echoing the sentiments of those citizens who implored William Miles to adopt the Stars and Bars, Macarthy's lyrics lamented the abandonment of the old Union and its symbols:

But alas! For the flag of my youth I have sighed and dropped my last tear For the North has forgotten her truth, And would tread on the rights we hold dear; They envied the South her bright stars, Her glory, her honor, her fame, So we unfurl'd the Stars and Bars and the CONFEDERATE FLAG is its name.

William Miles's disappointment with the Stars and Bars went beyond his strong ideological objections to the Stars and Stripes. He had hoped that the Confederacy would adopt his own design for a national flag-the pattern that later generations mistakenly and ironically insisted on calling the Stars and Bars. The design that Miles championed was apparently inspired by one of the flags used at the South Carolina secession convention in December 1860. That flag featured a blue St. George's (or upright) cross on a red field. Emblazoned on the cross were fifteen white stars representing the slaveholding states, and on the red field were two symbols of South Carolina: the palmetto tree and the crescent. Charles Moise, a self-described "southerner of Jewish persuasion," wrote Miles and other members of the South Carolina delegation asking that "the symbol of a particular religion" not be made the symbol of the nation.

In adapting his flag to take these criticisms into account, Miles removed the palmetto tree and crescent and substituted a diagonal cross for the St. George's cross. Recalling (and sketching) his proposal a few months later, Miles explained that the diagonal cross was preferable because "it avoided the religious objection about the cross (from the Jews & many Protestant sects), because it did not stand out so conspicuously as if the cross had been placed upright thus." The diagonal cross was, Miles argued, "more Heraldric [sic] than Ecclesiastical, it being the 'saltire' of Heraldry, and significant of strength and progress (from the Latin salto, to leap)."

Although Miles diplomatically described the cross as the saltire, a heraldic device (and an act of the Confederate Congress later described it as a "saltier"), his contemporaries and subsequent generations have tended to identify it as a cross, specifically as a St. Andrew's cross-a familiar symbol in Western culture. The X-shaped cross derived its name from the first-century Christian martyr who did not believe himself worthy to die on the same kind of cross as Jesus Christ. Crucified in 69 a.d., Andrew's remains were transported to the Scottish coast in the fourth century. He later became the patron saint of Scotland and his cross the symbol of Scotland. The St. Andrew's cross was incorporated into the new British flag in 1606 when King James VI of Scotland became King James I of England.

While medieval tournaments, the novels of Sir Walter Scott, and other expressions of romanticized Scottish culture permeated the antebellum South, the St. Andrew's cross enjoyed no special place in southern iconography. If Miles had not been eager to conciliate southern Jews, the traditional Latin (or St. George's), cross would have adorned his flag. Whatever Miles's concern for avoiding "conspicuous" religious symbolism, the Confederacy was an overtly religious state with appeals to God in the Preamble of its Constitution and a penchant for Christian symbols in its flags. Despite serving as committee chairman, Miles was unable to impose his pet design upon the committee. His critics supposedly scoffed that the diagonal cross looked "like a pair of suspenders." Miles's faith in this motif was eventually vindicated, of course, but vindication came via the circuitous route of the Confederate army.

When the secession of the Deep South states precipitated war between the United States and the Confederate States at Fort Sumter, South Carolina, in April 1861, the Confederacy's survival became dependent on its military forces. Not surprisingly, the symbols of the Confederate army and navy became important to the nation as a whole, especially when approximately three-quarters of the South's white males between 17 and 45 served in those forces. In addition to adopting a new national standard, Confederates demonstrated their patriotism with battle flags presented to their military units.

In the years before the outbreak of war in 1861, local volunteer and militia companies were formed in preparation for what seemed the inevitable conflict. Those units often received from the ladies of their communities silk flags, usually bearing the state seal and a company motto. When the local companies mustered into Confederate service in the spring and summer of 1861, these home-made silk flags entered the service with them. A few were carried throughout the war, but most were packed away and sent home early. Consistent with military tradition, Confederate regiments carried standard-issue battle flags. Regimental flags marked the positions of forces on the battlefield and assisted officers in maneuvering their troops. The flags also served as sources of unit pride and morale. On the battlefield and in the memory of the war, battle flags became the focus of a unit's esprit de corps. Although the practice was not regulated by law or military order, many of the regiments that entered the armies of the Confederacy in the spring of 1861 carried the Stars and Bars as their battle flag.

The outbreak of war and Lincoln's call for 75,000 volunteers to crush the "rebellion" prompted Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina to secede, shifting the military frontiers northward. In Virginia, Brigadier General Pierre Gustav Toutant Beauregard, the Louisiana native who had led Confederate troops opposing Fort Sumter, commanded the troops concentrated at the important railroad junction at Manassas, 25 miles south of Washington, D.C. Beauregard called his nascent force the Army of the Potomac. Further to the west, Brigadier General Joseph Eggleston Johnston commanded a force (the Army of the Shenandoah Valley) at Winchester, facing a Federal garrison at Harpers Ferry. Beauregard, formerly the superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and Johnston, formerly U.S. Army quartermaster general, were two of the five highest-ranking generals in the Confederate army. They were also the men most instrumental in adopting and diffusing the St. Andrew's cross battle flag.

The first major engagement of the Civil War occurred on July 21, 1861, at Manassas (Bull Run) when the Federal army under General Irwin McDowell confronted Beauregard's Army of the Potomac. Mc-Dowell's plan to turn Beauregard's left flank went awry. Johnston's army slipped away unnoticed from Winchester, arrived at Manassas early on the 21st, and turned the tide against the Federals. The inexperience of the troops on both sides, combined with complex maneuvering, made Manassas a very confusing battle for soldiers and commanders.

Adding a further complication was the similarity of uniforms and battle flags. At least one Confederate regiment fired on another Confederate regiment, possibly because it was unable to distinguish between battle flags. Beauregard recalled dramatically that late in the afternoon of the battle, when "victory was already within our grasp," he spied an unidentified force on his left flank. Fearing that it might be Federal reinforcements arriving on the field, he stared at a flag among the troops but could not tell whether it was Confederate or Federal. The force turned out to be Brigadier General Jubal Early's Confederate brigade, and the flag was the Stars and Bars of the 7th Louisiana Infantry.

After the battle, Beauregard "resolved then to have [our flag] changed if possible, or to adopt for my command a 'Battle flag,' which would be Entirely different from any State or Federal flag." For assistance Beauregard turned to the man who had served as his aide during the summer of 1861: William Porcher Miles. In late August, when Miles was back in Richmond for the last days of the legislative session, he described to Beauregard his "favorite" pattern which he had unsuccessfully urged upon the Congress. Miles told the Committee on the Flag and Seal of the general's complaints and recommended that the flag be changed. As expected, the committee rejected the proposal by a 4-1 vote. General Beauregard proposed to his commander, General Johnston, that the army try something different.

I wrote to [Miles] that we should have two flags-a peace or parade flag, and a war flag to be used only on the field of battle-but congress having adjourned no action will be taken on the matter-How would it do for us to address the War Dept. on the subject for a supply of Regimental or badge flags made of red with two blue bars crossing each other diagonally on which shall be introduced the stars, the edge of the flag to be trimmed all around with white, yellow or gold fringe? We would then on the field of battle know our friends from our Enemies.

The high command of the Virginia army met at Fairfax Court House in September to adopt a new battle flag. Beauregard later remembered that James B. Walton, colonel of the elite Washington Artillery of New Orleans, had submitted a design nearly identical to Miles's, but with a Latin cross instead of the St. Andrew's cross. Beauregard, like Miles, preferred the St. Andrew's cross, since it "removed the objection that many of our soldier[s] might have to fight under the former symbol." Walton subsequently claimed that Edward M.

Continues...


Excerpted from The Confederate Battle Flag by John M. Coski Copyright © 2005 by John M. Coski. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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