14 Things You Didn’t Know About the Confederate Flag

The Confederate flag we know today looks a lot different than the first version adopted in 1861. Here, a fascinating history of the controversial Confederate flag.

confederate flag factsiStock/daboost

On Monday, June 22, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley called for the removal of the Confederate flag that has flown above her state’s Capitol building for 15 years.  Here are 14 things most people don’t realize about the infamous—and eternally controversial— Southern Cross.

1. The contested South Carolina Confederate flag is not really the “Confederate flag.” This design was never flown in the Confederacy, but rather became a symbol of the South halfway through the 20th century.

2. The first Confederate flag, adopted in 1861, was designed by German artist Nicola Marschall, who also designed the Confederate soldiers’ uniforms. This is the flag that was actually called “The Stars and Bars.”

3. This version of the flag (above) was only officially flown for two years, then replaced with a second model in 1863. Why the redesign? For one, soldiers on both sides of the Civil War often got the Confederate’s “Stars and Bars” confused with the Union’s “Stars and Stripes,” creating battlefield confusion. But more importantly, the Confederate Congress were unhappy with it, craving a “more Confederate” flag. And so…

4. On May 1, 1863, the second Confederate banner integrated the battle flag of Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia (the infamous “Southern Cross” we know today) with a large plane of white. This version was called “The Stainless Banner,” referring to the broad white mid-section (below).

5. Others knew  it as the “Stonewall Jackson Flag,” due to the flag’s first purpose: before it was flown in any battles, the Stainless Banner was used to cover Jackson’s coffin at his funeral.

6. Still, the flag’s designer, Savannah newspaperman William T. Thompson, had a different name for it altogether: the “White Man’s Flag.” Thompson, an outspoken racist, was quoted in his own paper as saying: “As a people we are fighting to maintain the Heaven-ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race; a white flag would thus be emblematical of our cause.”  (Daily Morning News, April 23, 1863)

7. Racism notwithstanding, this version was scrapped due to a design flaw: when hanging limp on windless days, the Stainless Banner looked like a flag of surrender.

8.  The third flag, designed in 1865 (above) added a red bar to the far edge, lending it the name “The Blood-Stained Banner.” Few of these third flags were produced before the General Lee did indeed surrender on April 9 that same year.

9. Today, most Confederate aren’t made in Dixie: They are imported from China and Taiwan, with a few vendors making them in the U.S.A.

10. Five states have state laws that protect “Old Dixie”: Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina. To deface a Confederate flag in these states is no different than defacing an American or state flag, and incurs the same punishments.

11. Many people in Georgia have no idea their state flag (below) was basically the first flag of the Confederacy. Take a look: Georgia’s official state flag is a reproduction of the first Confederate Flag, featuring the Coat of Arms of Georgia emblazoned between the stars.

12. No Confederate flag was ever flown on a slave ship. English, Dutch, Portuguese and the New England States ships were used in the slave trade—none from the American South.

13. If South Carolina removes their Confederate flag from the statehouse, they will be in good company. This week, Walmart, eBay, and Amazon all announced they would ban Confederate flag merchandise from their stores.

14. But support of removal is far from universal: Before the Amazon’s ban was announced on June 23, Confederate flag sales on the site were up almost 9,000 percent.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest