Part six of our continuing series on Confederate Flags and Symbols. This series aims to increase accurate knowledge of Confederate History and further pride in our Southern Heritage. This article features the history behind the Confederate Battle Flag or as it was called “The Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia”.
Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia
This design was the basis of over 180 separate battle flags and regimental colors. The Army of Northern Virginia battle flag was square in shape and consisted of different sizes signifying the different branches of service. The flags of the infantry were 48 inches square while the flags of the artillery and cavalry were smaller at 36 and 30 inches, respectively. It was first used in battle during the December of 1861 and graced the field until the close of the war. The blue of the battle flag was a much deeper navy blue than the lighter blue of the Naval Jack. The stars of the flag symbolize the number of states that comprise the Confederacy.
The flag was developed after the First Battle of Manassas due to the problems that arose because of the similarity between the first national flag and the flag of the United States. After the battle General Beauregard’s aid William Miles, the same William Miles that had served as the chair of the committee that selected the design of the first national flag, again proposed the design he had developed and favored as the national flag. He petitioned to have the national flag changed but was rejected by a vote of four to one. After this defeat, General Beauregard proposed the use of two flags. A flag to be used in peace and another to be used on the field of battle. This idea was accepted and the battle flag was born. The battle flag quickly became the most popular flag of the Confederacy and remains widely recognized today.
The square design of the flag was suggested by General Johnston as way to save material over the traditional oblong flag design. It was approved in September of 1861 at the Ratcliffe home near Fairfax, Virginia, which was serving as the headquarters of General Beauregard at the time.
Photo by By Craig Swain, April 14, 2008
Confederate soldiers began receiving the new flags on November 28, 1861 at ceremonies at Centerville and Manassas, Virginia. Beauregard urged the soldiers to treat the new flag with honor and to never surrender it the enemy. The new flag provided quite a boost to the soldier’s morale after the problems with the flags at First Manassas.
After the war, the battle flag was used extensively by the United Confederate Veterans and later by the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Today, the symbol is considered a highly controversial because some consider the flag a symbol of slavery and repression. This however is not the case as this is truly the flag of the common soldier of the Confederacy. The vast majority of soldiers devoted to the confederate cause never owned slaves and were from a poor rural background. As far as they were concerned, they were defending their homes and families against an invader seeking to overthrow their system of government.