Battle Flags

The Army of Northern Virginia

As indicated above, the first major battle of the war, Bull Run or First Manassas, brought to light problems in using the First National Flag on the field of combat. For example, then-brigade commander Jubal Early was advised at one point during the battle that his regiments were firing on friends. Although he thought it was not so, he halted his men and rode out to where he could see a regiment drawn in battle line several hundred yards away. 'The dress of the volunteers on both sides at that time was very similar,' he later wrote, 'and the flag of the regiment I saw was drooping around the staff, so that I could not see whether it was the United States or Confederate flag.' It was not until the regiment in question fell back that he 'saw the United States flag unfurled and discovered the mistake'. In the meantime, precious time had been lost.

After this problem became evident the commander of the army in northern Virginia, Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, ordered that his regiments carry their state

Confederate Flags With Battle Honors

flags. Only Virginia regiments were able to obtain enough state flags for this purpose. Moreover, some state flags were too similar to colours carried by Union forces. The dark blue field of the Virginia state flag, for example, when lying limp, would look exactly like that of the US Army infantry regimental colour, which also featured a dark blue field.

To solve this problem, Congressman William Porcher Miles suggested to Gen. Beauregard that the army adopt as a battle flag the pattern which he had designed for the First National Flag—a pattern which Congress had rejected twice. On 27 August 1861 Miles sent Beauregard a drawing of his suggested flag, adding that his design called for,'... the ground Red, the Cross Blue (edged with white), Stars, White. This was my favorite. The three colours of Red, White, and Blue were preserved in it. It avoided the religous objection about the cross ...

This first pattern Army of Northern Virginia battle flag was carried by the 6th South Carolina Infantry. The large block battle honours were the first style produced and were issued to Longstrcct's troops. (South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Museum)

it being the "Saltire" of Heraldry and significant of strength and progress ... The Stars ought always to be White or Argent because they are then blazoned "Proper" (or natural colour). Stars too show better on an Azure field than any other. Blue Stars on a White field would not be handsome or appropriate. The "White edge" (as I term it) to the Blue is partly a necessity to prevent what is called "false blazonry"... It would not do to put a blue cross therefore on a red field ... The introduction of the white between the Blue and Red adds also much to the brilliancy of the colours and brings them out in strong relief.'

Beauregard liked the design, writing to Miles on 4 September 1861: 'I regret to hear of the failure about the change of flag; but what can now be done is, to authorize commanding generals in the field to furnish their troops with a "field, or battle flag," which shall be according to your design, leaving out,

The Army of Northern Virginia battle flag carried by the 16th Regiment, \'orth Carolina State Troops. (North Carolina Department of Archives and History)

Virginia Regimental Battle Flag

The Army of Northern Virginia battle flag carried by the 16th Regiment, \'orth Carolina State Troops. (North Carolina Department of Archives and History)

Army Northern Virginia Flag

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