Bunting of the Army of Northern

Virginia Battle Flags


       A Federal soldier who examining the captured battle flags after the repulse of Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg described what he saw: "These 'Rebel' flags were mostly homemade affairs like a bedspread, of pieces of muslin sewed together, and even flannel, calico, and muslin together.  Torn by battle, dirty, and cheap looking, no wonder our boys designated them 'rebel rags.'  Sewing on the letters made the inscriptions.  Some were more pretentious; when new, no doubt more agreeable to view. Some had a regimental designation only. Seven had the names of battles inscribed on them including among them Frazier's Farm, Malvern Hill, Manassas (Second Bull Run), Sharpsburg (Antietam), Harper's Ferry, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville."
         This flag we know as the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia comprised a red square with a blue St. Andrew's cross outlined in white, with 12 or 13 stars. This is also incorrectly known as the Southern Cross, although this upright, like the St George’s cross, not diagonal. This flag served as the principal battle flag of the ANV from 20 November 1861 until the surrender at Appomattox .  This was not the banner most widely flown and many Southern men fought and died without ever seeing or marching under it.
        When the United Confederate Veterans officially adopted as its emblem the battle flag carried by most of the Army of Tennessee during 1864-5 it dooming to obscurity most other flags. (The AOT battle flag is a rectangular version of that of the ANV).  Thus by the end of World War II the ANV battle flag was largely forgotten. It's revival started at Southern Colleges during their American football games following this by those opposing the Civil Rights movements during the 1950-60’s.
The Richmond Depot
        The Richmond Clothing Depot had been established in late 1861, to manufacture uniforms, shoes, accouterments and flags for the troops of the ANV, and later for the Department of North Carolina. It "employed in this depot about 60 cutters and trimmers and 2,000 women to make the clothing, mostly wives and daughters of absent soldiers in the field and the poor of our city."  The depot was not large enough to have the workforce in house so the women came to the depot and picked up the uniforms and flags in kits to take home to sew together return finished products to the depot to receive their payment.
What is a Battle Flag?
        They are, basically, the flag that a organized body of men follow into battle.  They could be, and often were, the flag of the nation the troops were raised to support. The use of distinctive battle flags was not unique to the American Civil War as for centuries European regiments had carried distinctive regimental flags.  In the case of the British Army these were flags created for regiments that incorporated the national flag as well as distinctive regimental colors and symbols and to this day you can see the 'Trooping of the Colour' by 'The Guards' in London in celebration of Queen Elizabeth II birthday carrying these flags. This depicts the trooping of the colours before the troops so that they can recognize their own battle flags.
        From the War of 1812 and into the ACW infantry regiments of the United States carried a blue battle flag emblazoned with the eagle and shield of the Union. Before the Civil War certain regiments painted on the regimental colors the names of the battles in which they had participated. The US Army  issued national colors for the artillery in 1834; the infantry in 1841; and the cavalry temporarily in 1862, and officially in 1895.
Militia Flags
        The individual companies being raised throughout the South received splendid flags from the communities from which they were raised and  were presented with these banners with great pomp and ceremony. They were then formed into regiments and marched of to war with as many as 10 different flags, in such cases 1 of the company flags was chosen to serve as the regimental flag.  The result was anything but uniformity in the colours carried by the armies that were in the Shenandoah Valley and around Centreville in June 1861.
        In the early months of the War these first flags carried into battle by Confederate soldiers embodying much of the Southern past in their design and also in the words and symbols placed upon them.  (During the American Revolution it had been common for organizations, including units of the Continental Army, to write, paint or sew political slogans onto their flags.)
State Flags  
        With the secession of the seven deep south states for a brief period of time all were sovereign republics and during that period each created its own flag. Only Texas had officially adopted its flag Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Virginia had flags for use by their military organizations, but not sanctioned by state legislatures.  Their newly designed state flags were used during the first few months of secession and at the beginning of the armed conflict.
        With the issue of the ANV battle flag Confederate army orders after the Seven Days' Battles prohibiting commands, under the control of the ANV from carrying flags of designs other than that issued to the army.  The commands of Virginia and North Carolina did not fall under the control of Lee's army so these states were issued state colours instead.  In reality these flags were generally brought out on special occasions only.  A few were carried throughout the war in the Western and Trans-Mississippi theaters. 
Army of the Peninsula
        In April 1862 John Magruder's Army of the Peninsula created its own battle flag.  It was a simple rectangle of red and white divided diagonally. (The same as one of the proposals for the South Carolina State flag.) In total only 40 were made and issued to his army. Some unit continued to follow this flag even after the command was absorbed into the ANV, with 2 being captured at Sharpsburg (Antietam.)
First National Flag.
         An order for at least 43 flags was placed with Richmond military goods dealer, George Ruskell, for the production of flags from bunting seized at the former Gosport US Navy Yard near Portsmouth, Virginia.  Deliveries began on 18 July 1861 and continued until 7 August.  Only 13 flags had been delivered to Richmond by the battle of 1st Manassas (Bull Run), with any unlikely to be distributed to the Army of the Potomac at Centreville before the battle.
        Following the adoption of the 'Stars & Bars' many units on both regimental and company levels, quickly ceased using their State and Militia flags and adopted the First National for use as a battle flag.  (The First National saw combat from the beginning to the end of the war with examples captured at Appomattox, and at battles in the West in late 1864.)
        It is thought that these flags were 48" at the hoist by 72" at the fly, with 11 white, 5 pointed stars arranged in a circle or ellipse.
The Second National Flag
        In the autumn of 1863 the Richmond Clothing Depot started to manufacture the 2nd National Flag.  These flags saw limited service in the ANV from late 1863 until the end of the War. About half of these were carried as regimental colors, with some used as Corps, Division and headquarters flags.
        The edging of the cross only flanked the sides and did not extend around its ends.  Finally, the white fields of the 2nd National field flags made at the Staunton Depot were made from a white cotton flannel rather than bunting.  They measured 4' on its hoist by 6' on its fly. The field was made of white bunting, with a 2½' square red bunting canton.  It had a 3" to 3½" wide dark blue cross which traversed the canton, this held 13 white, 5 pointed stars, each 3" in diameter.  It also had a white cotton edging 3/8" wide on both the sides and ends of the cross.  A 2" wide white cotton canvas hoist edge with the three whipped eyelets attached the flag to the flagpole.
        The Staunton Clothing Depot made a variation of this flag for both a headquarters flag and as unit colours. The size was basically the same but the width of the St. Andrew's crosses were 4" to 5", with the stars were accordingly larger.
The Third National Flag
        This was proposed in the Confederate Congress in December, 1864, and was published in newspapers across the land as the new national flag.  So by January 1865 it was flying across the land, before the official adoption date of March.  The Richmond Clothing Depot produced flags of the new pattern for both garrison and field. These were identical to the Second National except that the white field was reduced and a bar of red bunting was added to the fly. These were produced in such small numbers that it is unlikely they were used as a battle flag.
Development of 'The Battle Flag'  
        Confederate army and corps level officers in all areas the South began thinking about creating distinctive battle flags as dissatisfaction with the 'Stars and Bars' which looked similar to the 'Stars and Stripes' in the smoke of battle, it was often obscured making identification between units of both sides very difficult.  At this time both sides had some units wearing blue and in gray.  Needless to say this produced friendly fire on units killing and wounding fellow soldiers.  So by the fall of 1861 it had became apparent to the Confederate armies that a battle flag that was different from the national flag should be adopted.
        At one such gathering, at the headquarters of the Army of the Potomac (later the ANV), were generals Joseph Johnston, Gustavus Smith, GT Beauregard, and an aid from Beauregard’s staff, Congressman William Porcher Mile. The conversations turned to the creation of a flag for use "only in battle" for the army.   Miles who had submitted a failed design for the National flag suggested his. This design was adopted but Beauregard suggested a change, this being a blue field with a red cross, Miles countered that this was contrary to the laws of heraldry.  The only change was to make it square shape, this would save scarce silk as well help in ease of manufacture.
Silk Bunting Prototype
        Constance Cary Harrison of Richmond wrote: "Another incident of note, during the autumn of '61, was that to my cousins, Hetty and Jennie Cary, and to me was entrusted the making of the first 3 battle flags of the Confederacy. They were jaunty squares of scarlet crossed with dark blue edged with white, the cross bearing stars to indicate the number of the seceded States. We set our best stitches upon them, edged them with golden fringes, and, when they were finished, dispatched 1 to Johnston, another to Beauregard, and the third to Earl Van Dorn, then commanding infantry at Manassas. The banners were received with all possible enthusiasm; we were toasted, feted, and cheered abundantly.  After 2 years, when Van Dorn had been killed in Tennessee, mine came back to me, tattered and storm-stained from long and honorable service in the field."
Silk Bunting
        After the production of these 3 samples, and their acceptance, Confederate Quartermaster Cohn McRae Selph asked Mrs. James Alfred Jones sewing circle, along with 2 other Richmond sewing groups, to make 120 silk battle flags for the army.  After the silks purchase Selph stated I have "exhausted the supply of silk in Richmond" and"the ladies will have to do without silk dresses, as I have bought all the material."  The original flags only had 12 stars.  Colored exterior borders were added to all the flags to prevent the fraying of the field borders and were yellow for the silk flags.  This design was adopted only for the Army of the Potomac (later the ANV).
        The prototypes had been made in the September and
in October 1861 production started.  The issues started on 20th November, and ended in early December. These flags were presented in elaborate parade ground affairs to the Confederate units at Centreville and then to other units in parts of Northern Virginia by Beauregard, Johnston and other army officers. "Beauregard, in a few remarks, presented each with a banner, and was eloquently responded to.  The regiments then came to 'present', and received their flags with deafening cheers."   As the first silk ANV flags were not the red color we imagine as not being a popular dress colour red silk was scarce; so various shades of pink were substituted so that at one presentation ceremony a Colonel expressed his concern to Beauregard that his banner's pale rose colours might be mistaken for a token of surrender.  This produced the terse replied, "Dye it red, sir! Dye it with blood, sir!"  (Strangely enough the silk quickly faded to almost white.)
        It was intended to have flags issued in different sizes 48" for infantry, 36" for artillery and 30" for cavalry,  in reality all these flags were about 48" square including borders. Whilst the field was silk, being either a pink or rose colour, the cross was blue being 8" to 9" wide, with a ½" wide edging. On the cross were 12 stars which were 4 ½"to 5" across these were 6" to 8" apart.
        There seems to have been 2 basic designs and the first has 2 variations of these both had gold stars painted on the cross, and a white hoist sleeve for the flagpole. One had gold or yellow fringe on the 3 external edges of the flag, and the other had a white border in lieu of fringe. The second type had white silk stars sewn to the blue saltire and rather than fringe or a white border, the external edges were bound with yellow silk to form a 2" wide border.  It had a blue hoist sleeve for the flagpole.
Cotton Bunting
         The silk flags were not widely distributed to the forces in Virginia and battle damage and exposure had worn out many of those issued in late 1861. With silk still scarce, due to the blockade, another material was sought, one with greater durability.  Possibly as an experiment Chief Quartermaster William L. Cabell substituted battle flags made of cotton.  They were crudely made and the dyes used so poor that the blue cross soon faded to almost tan.  These were made by a group of patriotic ladies with materials supplied by army quartermasters.  They were first issued to the Brigades of Arnold Elzey, George Steuart, and to portions of Whiting's division, including John Bell Hood's Texas Brigade with this issued starting in late April and continued at least to 7 May 1862.
        This flag issue averaged about 42" square, including borders. The field was of light red cotton with the cross of medium to light blue, this was 7" wide, with no edging.  On the cross were 12 white stars (despite recognition of Kentucky in December), these were 5 ½" across and set 7 ½" apart.  The border was an orange tape ¾" wide with a white cotton canvas hoist edge with the 3 whipped eyelets for attachment to the flagpole.
First issue wool Bunting
        Even while the cotton bunting flags were being issued the first of the governmental depot wool issues were being made.  A more durable material had been needed and stocks of wool bunting from the captured former Federal Gosport Navy Yard was used, supplemented for the rest of the war by supplies brought through the blockade from Great Britain, where the bunting was made.
        The presentation of these flags began with Longstreet's Right Wing, ANV, in late May and June of 1862.
        This flag issue was about 48" square including borders, no known examples of this flag exist for either the artillery or the cavalry. The field was of red wool with the cross in blue, this was 8" wide, with white edging.  On the cross were 13 white cotton stars, these were 3" across and set 6" apart. The border was an orange wool 1½" wide with a white cotton canvas hoist edge with the 3 whipped eyelets for attachment to the flagpole.
Second issue wool Bunting
        By the June of 1862 a new pattern of wool bunting battle flags was being produced at the Richmond depot. This was similar in size and design to the first issue but as they were running short of blue bunting the width of the cross was narrowed, from 8" to 5".  Regardless of this measure the depot soon used up all of the red and blue bunting captured at the Gosport Navy Yard, also the last of its stock of gold wool border material. These new flags were first issued to Magruder's 'Army of the Potomac' and then generally to all regiments of the Right Wing, later called Corps, of the ANV.  This included elements of Longstreet's command and the divisions of DH and AP Hill.  Records for the Richmond depot in the National Archives show that only some 100 of these 2 wool bunting flags were ever made.
        This bunting is the most easily recognizable of all with the compressed pattern of the stars and the 1½" wide orange wool border with a white cotton canvas hoist edge with the 3 whipped eyelets for attachment to the flagpole. The infantry flags were about 48" including borders, 36" square size artillery battery flags survive, with those of batteries and artillery battalions being 48", the cavalry flags were smaller, 42", and did not have the compressed star pattern, but none of these survive, although there is an existing battle flag of 7th Virginia Cavalry measuring 48". The field was of a red wool with the cross in blue was reduced to 5" wide, with a ½" white edging.  On the cross were 13 white stars, these were 3½"-3¾" across and set 6" apart.
Third issue wool Bunting
        In July 1862 the Richmond depot began production of the third, and largest issue bunting, with production of this version continuing to May 1864. New flags were issued to brigades and entire divisions at a time, regardless of the condition of their old flags.  It was usual for most units to carry the new colours as these had the most battle honors. This produced cases where units lost a flag one day and the next day were marching under another one.  With the War progression this bunting was copied by the Staunton, Virginia, clothing depot, thus furnishing the Army of the Valley and by the Charleston clothing depot to supply units in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.
        Pickett's Division received their new flags marked with white painted unit designations on the red quadrants.  Most divisional issues had their battle honors painted in dark blue lettering on the red quadrants, starting with the top, then the staff, then the fly, and finally the lower quadrant.  A unit abbreviation was added in yellow paint to the blue cross, surrounding the center star.  The divisions that received flags so marked were DH and AP Hill's, Edward Johnson's (the 'Stonewall' Division), and Heth's.
        This flag issue was 48" square including borders, artillery sized flags do survive, however, most of the surviving flags of batteries and artillery battalions are in fact infantry size. No cavalry sized flags of the correct dimensions survive but numerous 48" do.  The field was of a red wool with the cross in blue, this was 5" wide with a ½" white edging. On the cross were 13 white stars, these were 3½" across and set 6" apart.  The 3 exterior edges have a border made of white bunting due to the orange having run out, and were 1½"–2"wide. The staff edge was finished with a white cotton canvas heading, 2" wide, pierced with 3 buttonhole eyelets.
Fourth issue wool Bunting
        In late May/early June 1864 the Richmond Clothing started to issue a new bunting and surprisingly enough the first of the new issue was to Ector's Texas Brigade then serving in the western theater with their colonel, Colonel Young, who was in Richmond taking the flags back with him, withstrong evidence to suggest that Charles Field's Division of Longstreet’s Corps also received a full set of the new battle flags.
        
Two North Carolina units received flags marked with unit abbreviations and battle honors in the style of the third bunting but in the main the flags left the Richmond Clothing Depot without honors or unit abbreviations.  Some regiments applied unit abbreviations after receipt of their flags, but many were left without decoration.
        This issue of flag appears to have been made in one, larger then the rest size, 51", with some cavalry regiments receiving this size. The cross 7" with a 5/8" wide edging, the stars measured 5" across, and were set 8" apart. The 3 exterior edges of the flag were finished with white bunting that was folded over the raw edges to produce a border that was about 1½" to 1¾" wide.  The staff edge was finished with a white cotton canvas heading, 2" wide, pierced with 3 buttonhole eyelets.  A common replacement variant of this issue was the 12 star battle flag, with the 1st Texas Infantry losing one of these near Appomattox.  It was also unusual in that it was about 60" square.
Fifth issue wool bunting
        In September/early October 1864 the Richmond Clothing Depot altered the pattern again.  As a general rule they were issued unmarked, although some were issued with battle honours and unit abbreviations.
        Flag size for all arms was 48" square including borders, the cross 5", the 4½" stars, and were set 9" apart, this was issued October/November 1864.
        A variant of this bunting was made at the Staunton Clothing Depot.  This was for units of the Wharton's Division Army of the Valley that had lost their flags at Winchester in mid-September.  The differences were 4" diameter stars on 4½" wide crosses, this was finished with a white flannel border instead of white bunting.
Sixth issue wool bunting
        The battle of Cedar Creek had been devastating to the battle flags of the units in the Shenandoah Valley and with their return in December of 1864 the Richmond Clothing Depot quickly needed to provide replacements and so they produced the sixth bunting.  The majority of these flags were issued devoid of markings, although Cox's North Carolina brigade received a set of the new flags with painted battle honors and unit abbreviations applied.
        Flag size for all arms was 48" square including borders, the most prominent change was the reverting to the 8" spacing of the stars, the cross stayed at 5", the stars 4½" across, and the white edging ½". White bunting borders remained on three sides; while the fourth (staff) edge was finished with a white canvas heading pierced with 3 button hole eyelets.  This was issued winter 1864-5.
Seventh issue wool bunting
        The first example of the seventh bunting pattern battle flag was captured at Waynesboro, Virginia on 2 March 1865, so it would have been issued earlier, usually thought to have been either the January or February. This was issued from the Richmond Clothing Depot, and was issued devoid of decoration.  Surprisingly enough a large number of the seventh must have been issued, so near the end of the war, as many examples survive.  The cross was again 5", the stars 4½", but were 7" apart.  The borders were white bunting. 
Battle Honours
        Unit colours were identical when issued but in the June of 1862 Longstreet’s Right Wing started painting honours on strips of white cloth, with black lettering (Seven Pines and Williamsburg.) The strips where then sewn on the red field of the ANV pattern flags.  Some regiments continued to add honours in their own size and style, including adding the number of their regiment in which they had fought written, sewn or painted on their flags.  On 23 July 1862 the War Department issued order No.52 this authorized army commanders to "cause to be entered in some conspicuous place on the standards the names of the several battles in which their regiments, battalions…have been actually engaged."  Thus officially recognizing a common practice.  Strips of printed cotton bearing those names were issued to Longstreet's Division and Early's Brigade, of DH Hill's Division.  These honours had primarily been attached to the silk issue and first and second bunting issue battle flags.
         Orders were issued to Hood's Division for the decoration of his units' flags during the summer of 1862.  These flags were painted with honours in gold or white paint at division headquarters. Later in 1862 other 3rd bunting issue battle flags were similarly decorated with white paint on the quadrants of the red field. Branch's North Carolina Brigade received their marked colours in December of 1862.  Kershaw's South Carolina Brigade received similarly marked battle flags in 1863.
         A few units received special recognition through other additions to their colours.  The 1st Maryland Infantry was granted the honour of appending a 'bucktail' (the symbol of the 13th Pennsylvania Reserve Regiment) to its flagstaff for having defeated the Pennsylvanians at Harrisonburg, Virginia, 6 June 1862. The 18th Georgia Infantry adopted a similar trophy after decimating the 5th New York Zouaves at Second Manassas, 30 August 1862 (a tuft of hair from the head of a slain Zouave was sewn to its battle flag.) For their noble conduct at Frayser's Farm, 30 June 1862, the 60th Virginia Infantry Regiment was honoured with a flag bearing a device of crossed bayonets, the only unit so honoured.
         Battle honour strips so encumbered the flags as to be impractical. So paint was directly applied onto the field but this posed a problem of often bleeding through the loosely woven bunting onto the opposite side, especially when large letters were applied. In April 1863 to alleviate the problem in Virginia the Richmond quartermaster's depot started applying honours in small dark blue/black letters one side of the flag only onto the field of newly issued flags.  With unit numbers and state abbreviations painted in gold lettering.
Headquarters Flags
        No army wide system of flags to designate headquarters, or hospitals, was ever ordered.  In the ANV generals' headquarters, and the headquarters of tactical commands such as divisions and brigades were usually distinguished by a large national flag or, less commonly, by the personal device of a commanding officer.  (The HQ flag of Robert E. Lee was a First National pattern with the stars in the shape of the 'Arch of the Constitution.')
Navy Flags
        Warships and merchantmen of the Confederate states flew the Confederate national flag from the halyards and masts of their vessels these were kept in several sizes and variations in their flag lockers.  Some were as large as 12', this ensured identification by friendly vessels during action, and normally the vessel usually flew a smaller storm flag. Other ships' flags included the jack this was flown from the bow or mast in port to identity the vessel as a commissioned warship. There were 2 issues of naval jack the original was changed in 1863. Commerce raiders, along with blockade-runners carried flags of foreign countries as decoys or camouflage.