"The" Confederate Battle Flag Does Not Exist.
Despite the bazillion times you have heard or seen the phrase, 'The Confederate Battle Flag', no such thing ever existed. The reason for that is that there never was a single official Confederate battle flag. In the U.S. Army, there was a blue battle flag assigned to every regiment. It had a standard pattern dictated by regulation. In the Confederate service, each army commander had the option to order a battle flag design for his army or not. The square headquarters/commanding officer's flag above with its gold stars & fringe, is the type Gen Joseph Johnston ordered the soon to be designated Army of Northern Virginia to adopt. He also commanded the Army of Tennessee to adopt the rectangular naval jack design. The reason he went to the rectangular jack design is because it flows out into the wind better than the square A.o.V. design.
The Confederate Congressional Committee on the Flag & Seal rejected the William Miles flag design the first time it was submitted. The committee complained that it looked "like a pair of suspenders. It was rejected a second time, but Beauregard & Johnston decided to use it despite official denial. It was Johnston who ordered the square design that the Army of Northern Virginia made famous.
What is a battle flag? A battle flag is a marker. Imagine ten thousand people dressed alike all lined up. How can you make out who is who & where they are? The battle flag not only gives a visual indicator to a brigade commander, e.g., as to where his regiments are in the line, it is a rally point for the men. In the advance or retreat or when forming up, the battle flag indicated to the men where they should go. Battle flags are carried & apart for headquarters, are never supposed to be flown on flag poles.
This is General Bragg's design that was used by his division at Shiloh. The six pointed stars are the correct heraldic shape. They should be gold & represent the golden spurs of a knight. The wide pink border was the result of the material available when the flags were sewn. Some of the Army of Northern Virginia's flags were pink, not red because there wasn't enough red material. Red was a popular trim material, but was not available in large bolts.
General Bishop Leonidas Polk's Corps, Army of Tennessee carried this design at Stones River.
Also at Stones River, was General McCowen's simple white X on a blue field design. The red triangles indicates individual regiments of the corps. As you might imagine, the narrow white X was almost impossible to see at any distance.
Hardee's corps of the Army of Tennessee carried its iconic full moon battle flags right up until the end of the war. When General Johnston ordered the A.o.T. to hand in their battle flags of many colors & replace them with the "trouser suspender" flag from Virginia, there was a great deal of discontent. In General Patric Cleburne's division, the resistance to the change reached almost to the level of open mutiny. Upon sober consideration, Cleburne's division was allowed to keep their battle flag. The simple circle on a blue field was only one version of the flag. Depending on the whim of the contractor, I guess, the center ball was oblong, a square with the corners rounded off & at least one a sort of eccentric hand dipped chocolate candy form.
This McCowan Pattern battle flag belonged to Turnbull's 30th Arkansas Regiment. The McCowan flag was at Stones River.
This actually is THE Confederate flag, at least for a while. Referred to as the First National, this flag was the national flag of the Confederacy. Several regiments & headquarters had this flag at Stones River. Individual regiments may or may not have been issued a national flag. Union regiments had both a national & regimental flag. For a variety of reasons, national flags were relatively uncommon on Civil War battlefields. This design was later replaced by a white flag with an Army of Northern Virginia battle flag as the canton. Known as the Stainless Banner, the committee who approved it hadn't noticed that the white flag, at any distance or in a light wind looked.... well... like a white flag, i.e., indicating surrender. In one of those rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic affairs that marked the waining days of the Confederate Government, a broad vertical red stripe was added to the fly end of the flag. What records that still exist indicate that the Third National was issued only to a limited degree during the final days of the Confederacy.
I have only displayed a token of the battle flags of the Confederacy. The Army of Tennessee had eight different battle flags. The commanders held events where divisions lined up & the battle flags were paraded back & forth so the men would recognize the flags of their army.
In the early days of the war, every platoon sized unit in the new Confederate army had its own battle flag. The flags bearing heroic names & fanciful designs of those naive days still exist in large numbers. As the hometown heroes were consolidated into official state regiments, their battle flags were sent home. You can find many of them on state historical society websites. The same is true of the various patterns of Confederate battle flags that were captured & then returned after the turn of the 20th Century.
General Van Dorn's battle flag is one of my personal favorites. This is a reproduction of the 15th Arkansas Northwest Regiment.
This is the only known example of an informal Army of the Cumberland artillery guidon to still exist, in this case The Chicago Board of Trade Battery. Both sides had small guidons used by the artillery or mounted on the bayonets of sergeants in the infantry. Very few of them survived the war. It is not a battle flag. Guidons were used, in the case of the artillery, to indicate where the casinos were to form a line after dropping the cannons of a battery.
A yellow flag with a green H indicated the position of a hospital. Small yellow or red guidons were posted along the approaches to the hospital site to direct wounded & ambulances.
U.S. Army flag chart in the back of the Official Military Atlas of the Civil War
Flag of the 25th Corps made up of regiments of United States Colored Troops that captured Richmond.
Genral Hookder ordered General Dan Butterfield to create a marker flag system for the Army of the Potomac. The simple, easy to read from a distance system of flags Butterfield developed was adopted U.S. Army wide. Historians mark the corps symbols developed at Hooker's command as the beginning of the shoulder patch designs in used today.
The advantage of Butterfield's system was that it was possible to recognize the corps, division or battalion a unit belonged to very accurately, even with just a glance. Army commander's flag was a blue burgee (swallow tail) with the corps emblem. Red, white & blue indicated first, second & third division or brigade. Good design is simple design & General Butterfield achieved that goal.
By way of comparison with General Butterfield's system, the one General Rosecran's approved for the Army of the Cumberland was a failure. This is the flag of the 20th Corps, 3rd Division, 3rd Brigade. As you. can see, at any distance or if it was windy, it would have been impossible to make out. As far as anyone knows, the pink corps flags ordered were never made, too bad. It would have been pretty cool to carry one at one of our National Park programs.
So, now, when someone writes or says "The Confederate Flag" or "The Confederate Battle Flag" you will squinch up your eye, purse your mouth & look heavenward just like I do. Aint knowledge wonderful?
Greg Biggs of Clarksville TN is without a doubt the premiere Civil War vexillologist. google his name for detailed information on this subject.