Stars And Bars And … Flags That Never Flew

July 2017

It was easy enough for an excited and passionate South to pass secession resolutions in 1861—yet harder than it thought to get away from the Old Flag. When a committee to decide on a new banner met that February in Montgomery, Alabama, it was deluged with ideas, of which (in the larger pictures) we show six examples, together with extracts from the not always coherent arguments proposed by their designers. None of these suggestions made it, of course, and the fanciful ensigns disappeared into limbo until recently unearthed by Michael P. Musick, of the National Archives in Washington. The only rebellious banners which came near that city—the official and unofficial Confederate Hags above—shared with most of these, however, a certain reluctance to abandon the symbolic stars and stripes.

The so-called Stars and Bars above (1), unfurled on March 4, 1861, looked so much like the United States flag, at least at a distance, that the identity of a column of crucial Southern reinforcements during the First Battle of Bull Run remained a mystery until a breeze finally whipped the flag open. To prevent future confusion, General P. G. T. Beauregard designed the Battle Flag (2). Although it was never formally adopted by the Confederate Congress, it was subsequently carried by all Southern armies and became their best-known standard. In 1863 a new national flag, embodying the Battle Flag, was officially chosen. It was called, in the florid style of the Old South, the Stainless Banner (3). But when it hung limp from a staff, it looked like a flag of surrender, and a broad red stripe was added to it (4) in March, 1865. It was too late: the Cause was Lost.