The Second National Flag of the Confederacy

Hardly had the seamstresses turned out their first set of First National Flags when complaints about the emblems’ appearance began to be voiced.

From the military viewpoint, the similarity between the two sides’ flags led to confusion, especially at the first big battle of the war, First Manassas. "The mistake of supposing Kirby Smith’s and Elzy’s approaching troops to be Union reinforcements for McDowell’s right was caused by the resemblance, at a distance, of the original Confederate flag to the colors of Federal regiments," recalled Confederate Lt. Gen. James Longstreet. This mishap caused the Confederates to cast about for a new ensign, brought out our battle-flag, led to its adoption by General Beauregard, and afterwards by higher authority as the union shield of the Confederate national flag.

Civilians were also generally unhappy with the similarity between the northern and southern flags. "There is little room for doubt that the resemblance of the Confederate flag to that of the United States renders it displeasing in the eyes of more than three fourths of our population," editorialized the Daily Richmond Examiner on 13 December 1861. "The desire for a change in the present banner has been so generally manifested that is nearly certain that it will be made." The newspaper’s editor further suggested that the new flag should not have stars or the colors of red, white, and blue, preferring instead a gold or scarlet national emblem in the canton or center of the field.

A Joint Committee on Flag and Seal was appointed by both houses of the first Confederate congress, and on 19 April 1862 it submitted its recommendation as a joint resolution: "Resolved by the Congress of the Confederate States of America, That the flag of the Confederate States shall be as follows: A red field, charged with a white saltier, having in the center the device of a sun, in its glory, on an azure ground, the rays of the sun corresponding with the number of States composing the Confederacy." After a great deal of debate the House of Representatives voted 39 to 21 to postpone further consideration of the resolution, which the Senate never formally discussed. Therefore, it died in Congress; and apparently few if any of these flags were made, as no physical examples exist today.

Nevertheless, unhappiness with the First National Flag continued. In the Confederate field armies the problem of a flag that looked like that of the enemy-an important objection when the colors regiments carried on the field were a major means of identification-was solved by local commanders (see the page on the battle flag). Indeed, the battle flags of the Army of Northern Virginia were those most seen in the capital city of Richmond, and most influenced Confederate legislators.

Consequently, on 22 April 1863 Senate Bill No. 132 was introduced, which read: "The Congress of the Confederate States of America do enact, That the flag of the Confederate States shall be as follows: a white field with the [Army of Northern Virginia] battle flag for a union, which shall be square and occupy two thirds of the width of the flag, and a blue bar, one third of the flag, in its width, dividing the field otherwise."

Passed by the Senate, the bill was introduced on the floor of the House on 1 May to a great deal of debate. One proposed motion removed the blue bar from the field and instead edged the field with red. Another suggested simply adopting the Army of Northern Virginia battle flag, in a rectangular shape, as the national flag. In the end, however, the bill that passed the House and was agreed to by the senate described the flag as follows: "The field to be white, the length double the width of the flag, with the union (now used as the battle flag) to be a square of two thirds the width of the flag, having the ground red; thereon a broad saltier of blue, bordered with white, and emblazoned with white mullets or five-pointed stars, corresponding in number to that of the Confederate States.’

The Second National Flag was approved by both houses and became official on 1 May 1863. It was first used to cover the coffin of the beloved Lt. Gen. Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson, who had been badly wounded at the Battle of Chancellorsville on 2 May and died of pneumonia on 10 May. His coffin, draped with the new Second National Color, lay in state in the chamber of the House of Representatives on 12 May. As a result of this connection, as well as due to the fact that both this flag and Jackson’s picture appeared on the too dollar bill of the 2 February 1864 issue, the Second National Color was often called the "Jackson flag". The pure white field also led to the Second National Flag being nicknamed the "stainless banner".

On 26 May 1863 the Second National Flag was designated by the Secretary of the Navy as the official naval jack, or ensign. The orders establishing the jack also spelled out the specific proportions Of 2:3. A flag 54 inches in the fly would be 108 inches long with a square canton 36 inches on each side. The arms of the saltier were to be 1/4.8 the width of the canton, so on a flag 54 inches in fly they would be 7.5 inches wide. The white border on the saltier was to be 1/22 the width of the canton, or in this case 1 3/5 inches Wide. Each star was to have a diameter of 1/6.4 the canton width; they would be 5.5 inches in diameter in this example.

As it turned out, surviving examples differ widely from both the regulation flag and each other. The Second National Flag used as the standard of the 8th Virginia Cavalry measures 53 inches by 98 inches; that used by Lt. Gen. Jubal Early in his headquarters flag was 47 inches by 72 inches; and the headquarters flag of Maj. Gen . J.E.B. (jeb) Stuart was 46 inches by 74 inches.

Moreover, Second National Flags were used mostly by the government on its buildings and forts and the navy on its ships; army units in the field did not as a whole take to the new flag. Indeed, First National Flags were still being used as late as the Battle of Gettysburg by some units in the Army of Northern Virginia, despite the new flag’s introduction.

Some Second National Flags were apparently issued by the Richmond Clothing Depot, which made unit colors and standards as well as clothing, to units in the Virginia and North Carolina theaters, although plain First National Flags continued to be carried-e.g., by the 44th and 60th Georgia Infantry Regiments-in that theater even after the new flag’s introduction. The Second National Flags from the Richmond Depot were made of cotton and bunting in the correct 2:3 proportion. The dark blue St. Andrew’s cross bore 13 white five-pointed stars. The white fimbration overlapped the ends of the cross.

In large part, however, Army of Northern Virginia units that received the new flags cut off the white field and flew only the small battle flag when on active service. As mentioned above, a number of Second National Flags were used as headquarters colors by various Army of Northern Virginia general officers, among them Stuart and Early.

Soldiers in the Western theater, however, apparently took to the new flag more than those in the East. There a small number of infantry regiments received these flags and carried them as their regimental colors. These flags generally lacked the white overlap at the ends of the cross. The 11th Tennessee Infantry Regiment even painted its unit designation in dark blue on the field over battle honors for Rockcastle, Cumberland Gap, Tazewell, Murfreesboro, Chickamauga, and Missionary Ridge. Its color measured 33 inches by 67 inches, and did have overlaps on the ends of the St. Andrew’s cross. The 8th Virginia Cavalry Regiment embroidered its unit designation in white on the field, along with a battle honor for White Sulphur Springs in the same material.

Source: "Flags of the American Civil War, 1: Confederate" By Philip Katcher & Rick Scollins

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