The Army of Northern Virginia battle flag was square, of various sizes for the different branches of the service: 52 inches (130 cm) square for the infantry, 38 inches (97 cm) for the artillery, and 32 inches (81 cm) for the cavalry. It was used in battle beginning in December 1861 until the fall of the Confederacy. The blue color on the saltire in the battle flag was navy blue, as opposed to the much lighter blue of the Naval Jack.
The flag’s stars represented the number of states in the Confederacy. The distance between the stars decreased as the number of states increased, reaching thirteen when the secessionist factions of Kentucky and Missouri joined in late 1861.
The Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia
At the First Battle of Manassas, near Manassas, Virginia, the similarity between the “Stars and Bars” and the “Stars and Stripes” caused confusion and military problems. Regiments carried flags to help commanders observe and assess battles in the warfare of the era. At a distance, the two national flags were hard to tell apart. In addition, Confederate regiments carried many other flags, which added to the possibility of confusion. After the battle, General P. G. T. Beauregard wrote that he was “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.” He turned to his aide, who happened to be William Porcher Miles, the former chairman of the Confederate Congress’s “Committee on the Flag and Seal”. Miles described his rejected national flag design to Beauregard. Miles also told the Committee on the Flag and Seal about the general’s complaints and request for the national flag to be changed. The committee rejected this idea by a four to one vote, after which Beauregard proposed the idea of having two flags. He described the idea in a letter to his commanding General Joseph E. Johnston: “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 us to address the War Dept. on the subject of Regimental or badge flags made of red with two blue bars crossing each other diagonally on which shall be introduced the stars, … We would then on the field of battle know our friends from our Enemies.”
According to Coski, the “Saint Andrew’s Cross” (also used on the flag of Scotland as a white saltire on a blue field), had no special place in Southern iconography at the time, and if Miles had not been eager to conciliate the Southern Jews his flag would have used the traditional upright, “Saint George’s Cross” (as used on the flag of England, a red cross on a white field). A colonel named James B. Walton submitted a battle flag design essentially identical to Miles’ except with an upright Saint George’s cross, but Beauregard chose the diagonal cross design.
Miles’ flag, and all the flag designs up to that point, were rectangular (“oblong”) in shape. General Johnston suggested making it square instead to conserve material. Johnston also specified the various sizes to be used by different types of military units. Generals Beauregard and Johnston and Quartermaster General Cabell approved the design of the 12-star Confederate Battle Flag at the Ratcliffe home, which served briefly as Beauregard’s headquarters, near Fairfax Court House in September 1861. The 12th star represented Missouri. President Jefferson Davis arrived by train at Fairfax Stationsoon after and was shown the design for the new battle flag at the Ratcliffe House. Hetty Cary and her sister and cousin made prototypes. One such 12-star flag resides in the collection of Richmond’s Museum of the Confederacy and the other is in Confederate Memorial Hall in New Orleans.
On November 28, 1861, Confederate soldiers in General Robert E. Lee’s newly reorganized Army of Northern Virginia received the new battle flags in ceremonies at Centreville and Manassas, Virginia, and carried them throughout the Civil War. Beauregard gave a speech encouraging the soldiers to treat this new flag with honor and that it must never be surrendered. Many soldiers wrote home about the ceremony and the impression the flag had upon them, the “fighting colors” boosting morale after the confusion at the Battle of First Manassas. From that point on, the battle flag only grew in its identification with the Confederacy and the South in general. Later, a 13th star was added for Kentucky.
The Army of Northern Virginia battle flag assumed a prominent place post-war when it was adopted as the copyrighted emblem of the United Confederate Veterans. Its continued use by the Southern Army’s post-war veterans groups, the United Confederate Veterans (U.C.V.) and the later Sons of Confederate Veterans, (S.C.V.), and elements of the design by related similar female descendents organizations of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, (U.D.C.), led to the assumption that it was, as it has been termed, “the soldier’s flag” or “the Confederate battle flag”.
The square “Battle Flag” is also properly known as “the flag of the Army of Northern Virginia”. It was sometimes called “Beauregard’s flag” or “the Virginia battle flag”. A Virginia Department of Historic Resources marker declaring Fairfax, Virginia, as the birthplace of the Confederate battle flag was dedicated on April 12, 2008, near the intersection of Main and Oak Streets, in Fairfax, Virginia.
As a Virginian, I wonder if the Flag of The Army of Northern Virginia will ride again?
As a new Culpeper Resident, I also wonder about this flag: