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Stars and Bars flag: Confederate States of America

First National Flag of the Confederacy

Last modified: 2022-11-26 by rick wyatt
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[stars and bars - 7 stars]
image by Clay Moss, 2 November 2007
7 Star Version
      [stars and bars - 13 stars]
image by Clay Moss, 2 November 2007
13 Star Version

See also:

Stars and Bars (First National Flag)

[stars and bars which flew over Ft. Sumter] image by Wayne J. Lovett, 24 June 2001
The flag which first flew over Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, SC in 1861.

The first official flag of the confederacy was the Stars and Bars, and was reported to the provisional congress of the C.S. by the flag committee on March 4,1861. It appears to have not had a recorded vote. It was written into the journal of the congress. It is said to have been designed by Nicola Marschall, a Prussian Artist and to have been inspired by the Austrian flag. It appears in many variations with stars ranging from 7 to 15 stars. 11 states that seceded from the Union, 2 (Kentucky and Missouri that had confederate and union governments), 1 (Maryland) that attempted to secede but whose legislature was disbanded by federal officials and was unable to join the confederacy, even though it furnished more troops to the cause then at least one member of that country and 1 slave state (Delaware) that remained loyal to the union.
William M. Grimes-Wyatt, 29 April 1996

There is a tombstone in Henderson, NC for Orrin Randolph Smith with an inscription "designer of the Stars and Bars". He claimed (some time after the fact) that he had designed the original national flag of the Confederate States of America, commonly known as the "Stars and Bars". His claim is in conflict with a similar claim by Nichola Marschal. There was a great conflict between the descendants and partisans of these two claimants in the early years of the 20th century.

Without going into great detail, I am inclined to favour Marschal's claim, because he was known as a designer and painter of flags, and Smith was not, and Marschal was in Alabama, not far from the seat of the Confederate government, when the flag was adopted, while Smith was in North Carolina, which was still a member of the United States on 4 March 1861.

However, there is a good possibility in my mind that Smith and Marschal submitted similar designs. The design of the Stars and Bars is a simplification of the Stars and Stripes that could have been the composed by both men, and in fact, in the records of the Committee on Flag and Seal of the Confederate States Congress, there is another design, submitted by someone from South Carolina, which is the same design, but with the stars on a red canton, with blue/white/blue horizontal bars.
Devereaux D. Cannon, Jr., 3 July 2000

Nicola Marschall was Prussian and lived in Alabama at the time the flag was adopted. He had an Austrian connection. I believe that he served in the Austrian army or held a civil service position in the Imperial government prior to his immigration to America. Because of that, it has been suggested that he drew the three bars from the flag of the Austrian Empire. Whether or not that is true, I suspect that the Confederate Congress approved the flag because it retained an impression of an "American" flag, while theoretically being different enough to be distinguishable as a separate flag.
Devereaux D. Cannon, 5 March 2002

This is also a tombstone erected by the UDC in Wilson, NC which claims Rebecca Winborne was "maker" of the original Stars and Bars.
George I. Woodall, 27 January 2003

I was not aware that another North Carolinian had laid claims to making the first Confederate First National flag. However, as William Porcher Miles, head of the Flag Committee stated when the flag was presented to the CS Provisional Congress, the flag was not chosen from any of the submitted designs - it was created by the flags committee itself! None of the period newspapers of the time (March, 1681) ever stated anyone else as being the designer - which I would think was a very important thing to announce if it was a flag designed by a Confederate citizen. Those that mention the details of how it came about all state it was designed by the flag committee.

Thus anyone that claims making the flag is incorrect. Nicola Marschall's claim, with his being in Alabama and having connections to the Confederate Congress through influential friends was the closest, I think, based on the evidence I have read over the years, to being its designer. However, with the similarity of so many of the designs as submitted (see the designs posted on the Flags Of The Confederacy website - this flag was bound to have been "designed" by at least two people as being the same. So the Committee on Flag and Seal came up with its design, which Miles reported - and so did Nicola Marschall and Orren R. Smith (of NC). Keep in mind, both of the latter people's claims are post-war - in the case of Smith WAY post-war!
Greg Biggs, 28 January 2003

Surviving examples of the Confederate First National flag are known with the following numbers of stars: 1, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 15 and 17 stars. Most of the stars have 5 points but other examples have 4 (especially the lance penons), 6 and even 8 points.
Greg Biggs, 15 March 2006, 25 June 2007

Neither Nicola Marschall of Alabama or Orren Randolph Smith of North Carolina designed this flag! In the National Archives there is the flags book of the Confederate Congress with all of the letters and documentation along with many design submissions for the various Confederate National flags. All of the names of the submitters (at least for those that gave their names) are in this book. I have copies of everything from the book in my files.

Neither Smith's nor Marschall's name appear anywhere in the book or the notations of the Confederate Committee on Flag & Seal. If you carefully read what Joe McMillan posted from the Journal of the Confederate Congress you will note that it stated that none of the designs submitted were chosen and that the flag was designed by the committee itself! This was written by committee chairman William Porcher Miles of South Carolina.

So the flag was designed by the flag committee and not either of the two claimants - both of whose claims date to some years after the American Civil War was over - just like the Betsy Ross claim for the first USA flag.
Greg Biggs, 7 March 2008

The Confederate Committee on Flag & Seal was in a big hurry to get a flag chosen and at least one made up and on a flag pole in the then capitol of Montgomery, Alabama by March 4, 1861. The reason was that, back then, this was the day that US presidents would be sworn into office after their election the previous November (that day is in January now). Thus, on March 4th, 1861, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln was to be sworn in and the Confederates desperately needed to have one flag on a pole in defiance of this act.

Once the committee made their report to the Confederate Congress, an example was quickly made at the sewing machine store of Cowles in Montgomery and a hasty flag ceremony put together for later in the day. Grand-daughter of former U.S. President John Tyler, Letitia Tyler, was chosen to hoist the first Confederate flag. Sadly, this first Confederate flag has been lost to history.

This completely explains their haste and the lack of proper flag dimensions in the provision creating this flag as well as there even being a proper legal flag act.
Greg Biggs, 8 March 2008

Variation of the number of stars

The reason for the variations in number of stars in the Stars and Bars was due to lack of centralized purchasing. The original ones had 7 stars and more were added as additional states joined and the flag makers became aware of the number of states.

In Oct. 1861, a rump legislative body in Missouri dissolved the bond to the union and joined the confederacy. Kentucky was recognized as neutral at first but later was represented in the Confederate congress, bringing the stars to 13. However many flagmakers only recognized those states that were able to maintain state governments within their own territory, so that 41% of the over 300 surviving STARS AND BARS have only 11 stars. Missouri and Kentucky were overrun by the union and maintained representation in the federal government.

One interesting variation is the 12 star version, used by Nathan Bedford Forest, who swore not to include the star for Georgia, "as long as a Yankee remains on Georgia's soil."

Of the survivors those having eight stars, 9%; nine stars, 5%; ten stars, 4%; twelve stars, 9%; fourteen stars, 0.6%; and 15 stars, 5%. The fourteenth star was for Maryland, whose governor was under house arrest and whose legislature was disbanded until the jailed members were replaced in a election where all voters had to take an oath of allegiance to the federal government. The 15th star was for Delaware, the other slave state. Unlike Maryland, who raised a number of regiments in exile from citizens who escaped across the river into Virginia and actually had more troops in the field for the confederacy then Florida, Delaware, the first state in the union, remained loyal to the federals.
William M. Grimes-Wyatt
, 24 January 1996

10-star flags

Officially, the flag of the Confederate States was to have "a circle of white stars corresponding in number with the States of the Confederacy." Unofficially, however, a circle of stars around one star in the center was quite common.

Ten star flags were not very common, as a result of the very brief span of time between North Carolina's admission to the Confederacy and the admission of Tennessee. One that does exist has a circle of eight stars around two in the center.
Devereaux Cannon, 13 September 2005

12 Star Version from the Vicksburg Garrison

[stars and bars - 12 stars - Vicksburg Garrison] image by Devereaux Cannon, 24 June 2001

The 12th star indicates Missouri, which was admitted to the Confederacy by act of Congress on 28 November 1861. The provisional government of Kentucky was admitted as the 13th State on 10 December 1861.
Devereaux Cannon, 24 June 2001

12 Star Version from Ships in North Carolina

[stars and bars - 12 stars - NC Naval] image submitted by Frederik Prohaska, 20 April 2003

This ensign was used from 1861 to 1863.
Frederik Prohaska, 20 April 2003

It is an image of a Confederate naval ensign. However, the Union source which produced it is wrong in its implication that it was "the" Confederate naval ensign. There are two surviving flags of this pattern. The one illustrated belonged to the CSS Ellis. A similar flag with 9 stars belonged to the CSS Curlew. Both of these vessels were part of the naval squadron at Roanoke Island, North Carolina, commanded by Commodore W. F. Lynch. They are evidence that the other ships of the Roanoke Island squadron may have used ensigns with similar linear star patterns, but there is no evidence that any other Confederate naval vessels used that pattern. There are about 20 surviving CS naval ensigns of the Stars & Bars pattern. One has a lone star, one has eleven stars arranged in a "Great Star" type pattern, and all of the rest use some variant of a circular pattern.
Devereaux Cannon, 21 April 2003

13 Star flag sold in 2022

[stars and bars - 12 stars - NC Naval] image located by Bill Garrison, 14 October 2022

Huge First National Flag with Inspiring Motto. The 72" x 39" flag is made of a blend of wool and cotton. The canton has thirteen stars arranged in a circular pattern, with one star in the center and a star at each corner. The stars are made of silk. Entirely hand-stitched. The white stripe has a stenciled inscription: "In God, Will We Put Our Trust." This is a direct quote from a letter written to John Adams by Samuel Swift on October 20, 1774, in the run-up to the Revolutionary War. The seceding states saw the War for Independence as an inspiration, model, and justification for their actions. Sleeve-style hoist. Issued in the very early days of the war, likely April 1861, when the Confederates hoped for thirteen states, including border states, to throw their lot in with the South.
Bill Garrison, 15 October 2022

Seventeen Stars

[stars and bars - 17 stars] image by James J. Ferrigan III, 4 May 1999

The 1861 Pattern AKA "1st National" Confederate National flag and Ensign is known to have occurred with a wide range of both star patterns and numbers of stars. Examples of surviving flags as well as period drawings allow us to identify flags with as few as one star (at least two known) and as many as 17 stars (one surviving example.) The most stars displayed on an 1861 Pattern Confederate flag is 17. The flag still survives and was taken by Capt. Jack Biderman an officer of the California State Militia on July 4th 1861, in Sacramento, California after an incident with an armed secessionist.

The flag, sometimes called the "Biderman Flag", is an example of the irredentism that affected Confederate flag design in general, in that they often contained stars for territory that was coveted, but not under actual Confederate control. The flag is believed to have been associated with a secret society which was active the American West called the Knights of the Golden Circle. Their avowed goal was to take California, Nevada, Washington and Oregon out of the Union and either have them join the Confederacy or start a new nation to be called Pacifica or the Pacific Republic.

The actual 26"x46" flag is preserved in the museum at the capitol in Sacramento, CA.
James J. Ferrigan III, 4 May 1999