|Origin of the
Confederate Battle Flag.*
BY CARLTON McCARTHY.
[The facts concerning the origin of the battle
flag contained in this
article are derived from a speech by General
Beauregard before a
special meeting of Louisiana Division, Army Northern
Association, December 6, 1878.- C. McC.]
This banner, the witness and inspiration of many victories,
which was proudly borne on every field from Manassas to Appomattox, was
conceived on the field of battle - lived on the field of battle - and on
the last fatal field ceased to have place or meaning in the
But the men who followed it, and the world which watched
its proud advance or defiant people, whose deeds have outlived their country,
and whose final defeat but added lustre to their grandest victories.
It was not the flag of the Confederacy, but simply
the banner - the battle flag - of the Confederate soldier. As such it should
not share in the condemnation which our cause received, or suffer from
its downfall. The whole world can unite in a chorus of praise to the gallantry
of the men who followed where this banner led.
It was at the battle of Manassas, about 4 o'clock of
the afternoon of the 21st of July, 1861, when the fate of the Confederacy
seemed trembling in the balance, that General Beauregard, looking across
the Warrenton turnpike, which passed through the valley between the
position of the Confederates and the elevations beyond occupied by the
Federal line, saw a body of troops moving towards his left and the Federal
right. He was greatly concerned to know, but could not decide, what troops
they were - whether Federal or Confederate. The similarly of uniform and
of the colors carried by the opposing armies, and the clouds of dust, made
it almost impossible to decide.
Shortly before this time General Beauregard had received
from the signal officer, Captain Alexander, a dispatch saying that from
the signal station in the rear he had sighted the colors of this column,
drooping and covered with the dust of journeyings, but could not tell whether
they were the stars and stripes or the stars and bars. He thought, however,
that they were probably Patterson's troops arriving on the field and reinforcing
General Beauregard was momentarily expecting help
from the right, and the uncertainty and anxiety of
hour amounted to anguish. Still the column pressed
on. Calling a staff officer, General Beauregard instructed him to go at
once to General Johnston, at the Lewis House, and say that the enemy were
receiving heavy reinforcements, that the troops on the plateau were very
much scattered, and that he would be compelled to retire to the Lewis House
and there reform - hoping that the troops ordered up from the right would
arrive in time to enable him to establish and hold the new line.
Meanwhile, the unknown troops were pressing on. The
day was sultry, and only at long intervals was there the slightest breeze.
The colors of the mysterious column hung drooping on the staff. General
Beauregard tried again and again to decide what colors they carried. He
used his glass repeatedly, and handing it to others begged them to
look, hoping that their eyes might be keener than his.
General Beauregard was in a state of great anxiety,
finally determined to hold his ground, relying on
promised help from the right, knowing that if it arrived
in time victory might be secured, but feeling
if the mysterious column should be Federal troops
the day was lost.
Suddenly a puff of wind spread the colors to the reeze.
It was the Confederate flag - the stars and
bars! It was Early with the Twenty-fourth Virginia, the Seventh Louisiana,
and the Thirteenth Mississippi. The column had by this time reached the
extreme right of the Federal lines. The moment the flag was recognized
Beauregard turned to his staff right and left, saying, "See that the day
is ours!" and ordered an immediate advance. In the meantime Early's brigade
deployed into line and charged the enemy's right - Elsey, also, dashed
upon the field - and in one hour not an enemy was to be seen south of Bull
While on this field and suffering this terrible anxiety,
General beauregard determined that the Confederate
soldier must have a flag so distinct from that
enemy that no doubt should ever again endanger his
cause on the field of battle.
Soon after the battle he entered into correspondence
with Colonel William Porcher Miles, who had
on his staff during this day, with a view to securing
aid in the matter, and proposing a blue field, red
crossed, and gold stars.
They discussed the matter at length. Colonel Miles
thought it was contrary to the law of heraldy that
ground should be blue, the bars red, and the stars
He proposed that the ground should be red, the
bars blue, and the stars white.
General Beauregard approved the change, and
discussed the matter freely with General Johnston.
Meanwhile it became known that the design for a flag was under discussion,
and many designs were sent in. One came from Mississippi; one from J. B.
Walton and E. C. Hancock, which coincided with the design of Colonel Miles.
The matter was freely discussed at head-quarters, till, finally, when he
arrived at Fairfax Courthouse, General Beauregard caused his draughtsman
(a German) to make drawings of all the various designs which had been submitted.
with these designs before them the officers at head-quarters agreed on
the famous old banner - the red field, the blue cross, and the white stars.
The flag was then submitted to the War Department, and was approved.
The first flags sent to the army were presented to
troops by General Beauregard in person, he then
expressing the hope and confidence that it would become
the emblem of honor and of victory.
The first three flags received were made from "ladies'
dresses" by the Misses Carey, of Baltimore and
Alexandria, at their residences and the residences
friends, as soon as they could get a description of
design adopted. One of the Misses Carey sent the flag
she made to General Beauregard. Her sister sent hers
to General Van Down, who was then at Fairfax Courthouse. Miss Constance
Carey, of Alexandria, sent hers to General Joseph E. Johnston.
General Beauregard sent the flag he received at once
to New Orleans for safe keeping. After the fall of New Orleans, Mrs. Beauregard
sent the flag by a Spanish man-of-war, then lying in the river opposite
New Orleans, to Cuba, where it remained till the close of the war, when
it was returned to General Beauregard, who presented it for safe keeping
to the Washington Artillery, of New Orleans.
This article is penned to accomplish, if possible,
things: first, to preserve the little history connected
with the original of the flag: and, second, to place
battle flag in a place of security, as it were, separated
from all the political significance which attaches
Confederate flag, and depending for its future place
solely upon the deeds of the armies which bore it
hardships untold to many victories.
*Taken from Southern Historical Society Papers
Volume VIII-Richmond,Va. Oct, Nov, Dec, 1880
Pages 497 - 499
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