Last modified: 2014-09-06 by rick wyatt
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This article on the history of Confederate battle flags of the St. Andrews cross pattern was written for the exhibition at the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia. Many thanks to Greg Biggs for sharing it.
Based on research by Howard Madaus, Devereaux Cannon, Ken Legendre, Alan Summrall, Richard Rollins, Greg Biggs, and a host of other flag enthusiasts.
Once again Gen. Pierre Beauregard has his hand in the spreading of the Virginia army flag pattern. After taking an unauthorized leave from the Army of the Mississippi for health reasons earlier in 1862, Beauregard was fired from command of that army. In September, his health restored, he was placed in command of then Department of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida with headquarters in Charleston.
As the defenses of that critical city took up most of his time, he was slow to implement the ANV flag pattern into his new command. Local flag makers Hayden & Whilden were still issuing First National battle flags to troops of that department as late as February, 1863. The security of the city and harbor finally realized, Beauregard set about to spread the Virginia flag into his new command.
The Charleston Depot assumed responsibility for the making of these flags, which would strongly resemble the 13 star ANV flags. Probably outsourcing their manufacture along the lines of the Richmond Depot, these flags, by the nature of their construction, took longer to reach units of Beauregard's new command.
The first known issue of this new pattern took place in Spring, 1863, and Beauregard replicated his presentation of ANV flags in Virginia with elaborate ceremonies to units in the Charleston area. On April 20, 1863 he presented flags from the Charleston Depot to the brigades of Gens. States Rights Gist and T.L. Clingman. The troops cheered their new flags and vowed to defend them as had troops back in 1861.
The Charleston Depot flags came in three overall sizes; 48 inches square for infantry and coastal artillery and 36 inches square for cavalry and field artillery, as well as some 30 inch square flags also for artillery units. Instead of having eyelets for attachment to flagpoles, these flags used colored sleeves; blue for the former flags are red for the latter. The crosses were 8 inches wide on infantry models and the stars were 4 1/2 inches across and spaced every 8 inches. Unlike the ANV flags, the white bunting borders were sewn to all four sides (ANV flags had the borders on 3 sides, and then the canvas hoist border).
These flags first saw service outside of the department when two brigades that had received them were transferred to Mississippi to help relieve Vicksburg. Other examples saw service at Chickamauga and the Atlanta Campaign, and in Virginia as units from the department were transferred there to reinforce Lee's army.
The Charleston Depot and flag making.
No production figures for the Charleston Depot have ever been located, so it is currently impossible to determine how many of these flags have been made. The number would have been smaller than the Richmond Depot for the forces in the department would be numerically smaller than Lee's army. In addition, the way the flags were made did not lend itself to rapid manufacture.
Unlike the ANV flags which were made with the field being constructed first, the Charleston Depot flags were made with the cross as the basis for construction. Three pieces were sewn together in an overlap fashion. From there the white edging along the cross was sewn to the edges. This edging was wider on these flags than on ANV flags. Next, the red fields, cut in quadrants, was sewn to the edges of the white edging. This, therefore, required cutting the cloth to the right size before sewing to the flag.
Afterwards the exterior borders were sewn to the edges, but not in the overlap fashion of the ANV flags. Instead, these borders were extensions of the fields, and while decorative, did not reinforce the exterior edges of the flags like the borders of the ANV flags did. This would surely result in the edges wearing out sooner than the edges of ANV flags. Overall, these flags were made using quilting techniques of the day, which fit well with the sewing styles of the ladies contracted to make them. But it was a longer process to sew them and as such, they could not have been produced as rapidly as the ANV flags could.
Mobile, Alabama, had long been a major flags manufacturing city for Southern troops. Using private civilian contractors as its source, this city would rival New Orleans, Charleston and Richmond in terms of privately made flags. In 1864, this was no exception, as the flag makers of the city would come through with the largest amount of flags they would ever be asked to make.
The Department of Alabama, Mississippi and East Louisiana was, in 1863, commanded by Gen. Joseph Johnston. After the fall of Vicksburg and reorganizing the defense of the department, Johnston turned to standardizing the battle flags of his troops. The first examples of the new pattern started appearing in October, 1863, probably to units of Gen. William Jackson's cavalry division. After Johnston's transfer to Georgia in late December, Gen. Leonidas Polk, carried out the standardizing of battle flags for the troops of the department which included the Army of Mississippi, Nathan Bedford Forrest's Cavalry Corps and the troops of the District of the Gulf, which included Mobile.
Resembling the Army of Tennessee pattern in that it too was rectangular, and lacked color exterior borders (again Johnston's preference), the new flag featured only 12 stars. This may have been due to the flag of the 5th Company, Washington Artillery of New Orleans being sent to Mobile for safekeeping during the war and that flag serving as a model.
Overall the flags varied in size somewhat, with the flags for Forrest's Cavalry being the smallest in terms of dimensions. The gamut runs from flags of 42 by 53 inches to 48 by 55 inches. The stars were a uniform 4 1/2 inches across and were spaced every 8 1/2 inches typically. The blue bars varied from 6 to 8 1/2 inches in width. Forrest's flags were 37 by 46 inches usually and the cross was 7 inches wide. The star spacing varied from 6 3/4 to 7 1/2 inches. The exterior borders were double hemmed to prevent fraying. On many of the flags of this pattern the hoist edge was folded over and sewn into a sleeve for attachment to the pole, while other examples have a white canvas heading sewn to the hoist edge.
Two contractors were responsible for making these flags. One, a husband and wife team and local residents Jackson and Sarah Belknap, he a sign painter by trade, had been making flags for troops since the early days of secession, even advertising his services in neighboring states. His wife Sarah had even gotten into the act of making flags after her husband had been appointed clerk of the military court in October, 1863 (although she was probably already involved with the other flags).
The other contractor involved with this new pattern was Memphis transplant James Cameron. Cameron had made flags in Memphis before being forced to leave the city when it fell to the Federals in June, 1862. Between Memphis and Mobile, Cameron made money manufacturing tents for the army.
The Belknaps, according to invoices in the National Archives, made some 42 flags prior to May, 1864 and even more after. These were the new pattern of 12 star battle flags. Cameron furnished an additional 25 flags in March. In the late Fall, 1863, Belknap made a few Second National battle flags for Gibson's Louisiana Brigade as well as the first issues of the 12 star departmental design for Jackson's troopers. .
Mobile flag contractors and flag making.
The Mobile flags are constructed in a style similar to the Atlanta Depot flags. However, with their slightly smaller size, the cloth bolts used for the red fields tended to fit being cut into the quadrants using only one piece of cloth. There are some flags of this pattern that had very small pieces of red sewn to complete the quadrant however, usually at the tip of the triangle.
As with the Atlanta and Charleston Depot flags, this pattern also began by sewing the three piece cross together first. Then, like the Atlanta flags, the white edging was sewn to the edges of the cross. To this edging was then sewn the red fields.
Unlike the other flags of the St. Andrews cross pattern, which had stars sewn on both sides of the cross, the Mobile made flags had the stars only sewn to one side, and then the blue cross was cut away to expose the stars on the other side. This was possibly done as an economy measure.
Though a good number of these flags were produced by the Belknaps and Cameron, their manner of manufacture still did not lend themselves to being quickly produced as the ANV flags were.
In late November, 1863, the Confederate Army of Tennessee (which had been the old Army of the Mississippi), was soundly defeated at the Battle of Missionary Ridge near Chattanooga, Tennessee. It fell back into North Georgia in battered condition, finally stopping its retreat at Dalton, Georgia. Its morale was shattered and desertions rose dramatically. Its long time commander, Gen. Braxton Bragg, had finally had enough of the infighting with his officer corps and relinquished command of the troops. His replacement was Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, and upon his arrival at Dalton in mid-December, quickly took stock of his new command and began the long road to rebuilding the army.
One of the first things Johnston ordered was a new battle flag for the army to boost flagging morale as well as to help spread the design he had helped create in Virginia in 1861. The orders for the new flags went to the Atlanta Depot. Johnston seemed to prefer the rectangular shape that lacked colored exterior borders (whereas Beauregard liked the square shapes with colored borders), and it was in this configuration that the Atlanta Depot made the flags despite the difficulty in sewing flags of this shape.
The flags were fairly similar in size with two basic issues - one for infantry and cavalry that averaged 37 by 54 inches overall and one for artillery that averaged 30 by 41 inches overall. The white edging along the cross was about 2 inches wide and was often filled with battle honors. The stars were from 3 1/2 inches to 4 inches across and were set every 8 inches on the 6 inch wide cross. As per Johnston's wishes, there were no color exterior borders and the seams were doubly hemmed to protect the edges from fraying.
The new flags began arriving in late December, 1863, with the first examples going to Finley's Florida Brigade. The Kentucky Orphan Brigade received their flags in mid-January, 1864, with other units getting them at least through March. Gen. John Bell Hood, one of the army's corps commanders wrote on March 11, 1864,
"To avoid dangerous confusion in action, each regiment will be required to bear the Confederate battle-flag. The lieutenant general commanding can well understand the pride many regiments of the corps feel in other flags which they have gloriously borne in battle, but the interests of the service are imperative."Hood would, in April, order that the new flags for his corps be marked with sewn on letters stating the respective unit designation.
During the war many Confederate flags were decorated with "battle honors". These were the names of battles that the respective units had served in with distinction, and decorating their flags with the names of those battles added even more luster to the unit colors. The tradition of decorating flags in such a manner began in the mid-1700's with the British Army and was followed by the Napoleonic French Army.
For the Confederate Army, regulations began appearing in 1862 that would standardize what was already going on the field by individual regiments. The first known authorized battle honor for a Confederate unit was for the Battle of Bethel in 1861. This name was added to the flag of the 1st North Carolina Volunteers by act of the North Carolina legislature.
The first authorization for honors took place in the East. On July 23, 1862, the Confederate War Department authorized the placement of battle honors on unit flags. Beginning with Longstreet's Right Wing (later corps), honors for "Seven Pines" and "Williamsburg" were authorized to be placed on the flags of those units that had performed gallantly in those battles. The decision as to who got the honors was usually up to the division or corps commanders. These first honors were block painted in black on white strips, which were then usually cut in half to be placed on the flags. There was no order as to how these were to be sewn to the flags so sometimes the placement got creative. The honors did tend to go on the flags chronologically, a characteristic which remained in use when depot painted honors began later.
In the Fall of 1862 and into 1863, other units on a brigade level had honors placed on their flags by order of the brigade commanders. The styles of these honors tended to be somewhat unique with only a particular brigade having a certain style of battle honors on their flags. The Florida Brigade's flags had sewn on white strips that were narrower than the honors of the summer of 1862. Kershaw's South Carolina Brigade had white painted on battle honors in both straight lines and curved styles, while Lane's North Carolina Brigade followed suit with a similar lettering style for their flags The two brigades of Hood's Division (Whiting's and the famed Texas Brigade) had honors block painted in gold along the exterior sides on the fields of their flags. An example of this style is the flag of the 2nd Mississippi Infantry captured at Gettysburg.
It soon became apparent that some standardization was needed for battle honors or the battle flags might end up being obscured with names. This began in April, 1863, when the first full divisional issue from the Richmond Depot was delivered to Gen. Daniel H. Hill's Division. The honors on these flags were stencil painted in dark blue paint by contractors hired for that purpose and as such were quite uniform in lettering style. Over the center star, in gold paint, was the unit designation. The honors were placed chronologically from top to bottom with the last honor for these flags being for "Fredericksburg."
The next divisional issue came in May and these flags were presented to Gen. A.P. Hill's Light Division. Identical to the April issues in terms of style, the last honors for the flags were for "Chancellorsville." In June, the Richmond Depot issued yet another set for Gen. George Pickett's Division, but these flags lacked battle honors. Only the unit designations, painted on the fields from left to right in white, were placed on these new flags. This style replaced an older style done seemingly on a unit by unit basis in the division where the letters were crudely painted on or cut from cloth and sewn on the flags. A few other brigades of the army also marked their flags with only designations, usually on sewn on strips, like Bennings's Georgia Brigade.
After the Gettysburg Campaign, in late August, Gen. Edward Johnson's Division and those units of Gen. Henry Heth's Division that had lost flags at Gettysburg received depot flags with the last battle honor being "Gettysburg." In the case of Johnson's Division these new battle flags were also finally replacing older First National flags still be used by many of his regiments. Richmond sign painter Lewis Montague, who earlier on had painted Virginia state flags, was the artist contractor that painted the honors for the flags of Johnson's Division, according to invoices in the National Archives.
The divisional issues with honors ended at this point. For the rest of the war the issues went back to a brigade by brigade basis using the style of honors that began in April. Cox's and Clingman's North Carolina Brigades both received new depot flags in 1864 decorated in a style identical to the 1863 flag issues.
Charleston Depot battle flags had their honors (and that practice seems rarer for this pattern of flags than any of the others being discussed) done in cut out and sewn on white letters, attached to the red field. Most of the flags of this depot were not marked at all, and only two are simply marked with cut and sewn on white strips with the unit designation painted on in black (16th and 24th South Carolina Infantry). This was most often done with the number being sewn to the upper quadrant and the state abbreviation being sewn to the lower quadrant. While this practice was easy enough to handle by the depot itself, it is possible that this work was outsourced like in other flag making locales. However, no evidence either way has yet to surface.
In the Western Theater, the first known battle honor was for the Battle of Belmont, placed on the flag by the regiment itself. Beginning in July, 1862, regiments of the Army of the Mississippi were allowed to decorate their battle flags with honors for "Shiloh", and after October, with honors for "Perryville." After succeeding campaigns more honors were placed on flags, usually in painted on styles on the fields or other areas of the flags. Some honors were sewn on letters or embroidered.
The most interesting battle honors for Confederate units were the crossed cannon barrels inverted, added to flags to honor those units that had captured Federal artillery in battle. The order for these honors, issued in November, 1862, specified that the barrels be inverted (muzzles down), but just as often they were placed muzzles up. When flags so honored were captured by the Federals, these special additions often led to the flags being identified by the captors as artillery units, rather than infantry! This type of honor was only found on flags in the Western Theater which certainly adds to their uniqueness over other Confederate flags.
For the flags issued by the Atlanta Depot and the Mobile contractors, the placement of honors was somewhat different that how the ANV did things. For the Atlanta made flags, the honors were almost exclusively painted in black within the confines of the white cross edging, should the flags have honors at all. Only a couple exceptions to this exist - the flag of the 51st Tennessee has a sewn on honor in individual letters for "Shiloh" in the left quadrant, as well as a period drawing of the flag of the 1st/27th Tennessee Infantry, which has an honor for "Perryville."
The unit designations for the Atlanta Depot flags were sewn to the fields using cut out white letters for that purpose. This was in obedience to the orders of a couple of the army's corps commanders. As in Virginia, the job of decorating flags seems also to have been contracted out to individuals with skill in cutting or painting. John D. Clarke, of Rome, Georgia, for example, was paid $15 in February, 1864 "for lettering battle flags for the regiments of Brown's (Tennessee) Brigade."
For the Mobile made flags, the honors were almost always done in cut out and sewn on white letters or crossed cannons. These were almost always sewn to the fields, although the cannons were usually sewn to the junction of the blue cross. Unit designations were handled in the same manner.
Both Jackson Belknap and James Cameron were paid additional for decorating flags they made for the army. Belknap had been doing so for some time with earlier contracted flags, such as the Second National flags he made for Gibson's Louisiana Brigade. In February, 1864, Belknap was paid $15 "for lettering flag Mo. (Missouri) regt. and $20 on the same invoice "for lettering flag Miss. Regt." Belknap's wife Sarah was paid, in December, 1863, $12 each "for lettering 4 flags" with an additional $10 "for lettering 1 flag."
Cameron, for his invoice of March, 1864, received $100 "for inscriptions on seven flags (50 names) @ $2". It is therefore evident that, while sewn on honors would not wear out like painted honors could, they were tedious to sew on and expensive to contract for. This is in contrast to Lewis Montague's invoice of September, 1863 where he was paid $218.50 for painting battle honors and unit designations for 26 flags, and in October $70 more for inscribing 9 flags.
It is evident by this examination, and a survey of surviving flags, that the St. Andrews cross pattern battle flag, as adopted in 1861 by the Army of Northern Virginia, was certainly intended to be spread around the Confederacy by the men that adopted that flag as the one and only battle flag for the Confederate Army. It is also evident that, by
an examination of other patterns of Confederate battle flags and matching them to dates of issue, that Gens. Johnston and Beauregard were only partially successful in their plans, although they certainly came closest to realizing their dreams
in 1864. It was at this time that the use of the ANV/Richmond Depot pattern, Charleston Depot pattern, Atlanta Depot pattern and the privately contracted Mobile (and some remaining New Orleans) pattern battle flags were in use in the army simultaneously! Each officer used the version of the flag in the preferred geometric shape for his respective command, with those created by Beauregard adding color exterior borders. When one considers the homemade versions of St. Andrews cross flags that also popped up for individual units as well as at least a divisional sized issue of similar flags in the
Trans-Mississippi Theater (although these were blue flags with red crosses), it is possible indeed to state that the flag of the Army of Northern Virginia certainly had tremendous influence on the creation of similar patterns.
Yet, despite the best efforts of the two generals, other patterns of battle flags, each deeply loved by their troops, still proliferated in the armies defending the South through the end of the war. And this included the very first standardized Confederate battle flag - the First National, whose similarity to the U.S. flag started the whole thing back in 1861!