Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

The Politically-Correct Origin of the Confederate Battle Flag

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on May 17, 2013

MilesFor many True Southrons™ today, the Confederate Battle Flag (or “Southern Cross”) has taken on a significance not only as a symbol of the Confederate military forces of 1861-65, but of the South as a whole. Some go farther still, insisting that the flag itself is a sacred Christian object, bearing the Cross of St. Andrew, reflecting the Confederate cause as explicitly Christian one.

While some folks choose to project their own religious interpretation onto the Confederate Battle Flag, the origin of the design was not only not sectarian, it was explicitly designed to avoid religious symbolism. As John Coski relates in his definitive study, The Confederate Battle Flag: America’s Most Embattled Emblem, the banner was designed by Confederate Congressman William Porcher Miles (right, 1822-1899), who set out in March 1861 to create a distinctive pattern for a national flag for the new Confederacy. Miles began with a familiar secessionist emblem, but subsequently modified his original layout with the intent to remove any overt Christian symbology:


SCSecessionWilliam Miles’s disappointment with the Stars and Bars [i.e., the “First National” flag of the Confederacy] went beyond his strong ideological objections to the Stars and Stripes. He had hoped that the Confederacy would adopt his own design for a national flag-the pattern that later generations mistakenly and ironically insisted on calling the Stars and Bars. The design that Miles championed was apparently inspired by one of the flags used at the South Carolina secession convention in December 1860. That flag featured a blue St. George’s (or upright) cross on a red field. Emblazoned on the cross were fifteen white stars representing the slaveholding states, and on the red field were two symbols of South Carolina: the palmetto tree and the crescent. Charles Moise, a self-described “southerner of Jewish persuasion,” wrote Miles and other members of the South Carolina delegation asking that “the symbol of a particular religion” not be made the symbol of the nation.
In adapting his flag to take these criticisms into account, Miles removed the palmetto tree and crescent and substituted a diagonal cross for the St. George’s cross. Recalling (and sketching) his proposal a few months later, Miles explained that the diagonal cross was preferable because “it avoided the religious objection about the cross (from the Jews & many Protestant sects), because it did not stand out so conspicuously as if the cross had been placed upright thus.” The diagonal cross was, Miles argued, “more Heraldric [sic] than Ecclesiastical, it being the ‘saltire’ of Heraldry, and significant of strength and progress (from the Latin salto, to leap).” [1]


Miles’ design didn’t get much traction as a national flag in early 1861, but it was remembered by General P. G. T. Beauregard later that year, and was soon adopted as the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia. [2] In that capacity is gained wide popularity in the South, and eventually became the key element in both the Second National and Third National Flags of the Confederacy. Miles’s original design was ultimately vindicated, and remains today one of the most widely-recognized flags anywhere.

Miles had made a point of using the heraldic term “saltire” to describe the diagonal pattern he settled on, and explicitly distanced his design from any intent at religious symbolism – “more Heraldric [sic] than Ecclesiastical.” This may come as a shock to some present-day Confederate heritage activists, some of whom wield their own religious beliefs like a cudgel and project back onto the Confederacy their own brand of Christianism. Nonetheless, the reality is that the revered Battle Flag was the result of a conscious attempt by Miles and his collaborators to make its design less Christian, and so less offensive to people of other faiths. Miles rejected the notion that his flag was a religious symbol at all, and instead sought to make it an explicitly secular one. And he did so as a member of the congressional delegation from South Carolina, the fire-eating state that led the South into secession in the first place. To put it in terms familiar to those who follow debates about its use and meaning, the design of the Confederate Battle Flag was, in the context of its time and place, a cave-in to “political correctness.”

Furthermore, as Coski pointed out recently in an essay at the New York Times Opinionator blog, contemporary references to the design as the “Southern Cross” were allusions to the astronomical constellation, not the Cross of Calvary. For patriotic Southerners like George Bagby, editor of the Southern Literary Messenger, it was the constellation — usually invisible below the southern horizon to those in the northern hemisphere — that was a symbol of the Confederacy’s future greatness. Channeling the imperialistic ambitions shared by groups like the Knights of the Golden Circle, Bagby saw in the constellation the destiny of the Confederacy:


The “Southern Cross” holds its place steadily in the Southern heart. It was in every mouth long before the war began; it remains in spite of all arguments against it. These arguments are ridiculous. First, we don’t see the Southern Cross in the heavens. Indeed! Do the British see the lion and the unicorn on the land or in the sea? Do the Austrians behold the double headed eagle anywhere in nature or out of it? What has seeing got to do with it? The truth is, we shall see the Southern Cross ere the destiny of the Southern master and his African slave is accomplished. That destiny does not stop short of the banks of the Amazon. The world of wonders in the animal and vegetable kingdom, of riches incalculable in the vast domain, watered by that gigantic stream, is the natural heritage of the Southron and his domestic slave. They alone can achieve its conquest and lay its untold wealth a tribute at the feet of commerce, the Queen consort of King Cotton. [3]


Anyone looking for the “Southern Cross” known to the Confederates of 1861 should look to the night sky, not the Holy Bible.

People can, and always will, find religious imagery and inspiration in all manner of temporal objects. That’s a matter of their particular belief, and they’re welcome to it. But neither should we confuse what people believe as a matter of faith, with the historical record. While symbols like the Confederate Battle Flag evolve through their use and association to have many different meanings to people, it’s also important to keep discussions about those meanings grounded in the words and actions of those associated with them, over the last 152 years. Open and frank discussion about those things will avail a far more comprehensive understanding of this symbol and its troubled past – and its future.


[1] John M. Coski, The Confederate Battle Flag: America’s Most Embattled Emblem (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006), 5-6.

[2] Devereaux D. Cannon, Jr., The Flags of the Confederacy: An Illustrated History ( Memphis: St. Lukes Press, 1988), 58.

[3] George Bagby, “Editor’s Table,” Southern Literary Messenger, January 1862, 68.


Image: William Porcher Miles, Library of Congress.


Lexington Flag Case, Reidsville Monument Updates

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on May 17, 2013

Oral arguments were held Wednesday in the Virginia SCV’s appeal to reinstate their lawsuit against the City of Lexington, that had been dismissed by the district court last year. There are several news items about this, but the only one I’ve seen that describes events in the courtroom is this item from the Washington Post and the AP:


The Southern heritage group contends the city snuffed its speech and violated a 20-year-old court order when it enacted an ordinance in September 2011 banishing its flags from holders on dozens of city light poles, other than the city, state and U.S. flags.
The three judges of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which seemed skeptical of the appeal, typically rule in several weeks or more.
The group is appealing a decision last summer by a federal judge who concluded the ordinance did not violate a 1993 consent decree, which blocked the city’s attempt to ban the display of the Confederate flag during a parade honoring Jackson.
The 2011 ordinance does not restrict the flying of the flag elsewhere in the city.
You can still march down Main Street with the flag? Judge Robert King asked.
“You can still do that,” replied Thomas E. Strelka, representing the SCV.
Strelka argued, however, that the ordinance had “closed a public forum” and the city’s action appeared to be directed at the group.
Jeremy E. Carroll, representing the city, said Lexington has the right to say who can used city-owned light poles and the regulation “treats everybody the same.” Local colleges that used to use the poles to fly their banners are also prohibited from using the poles.
City officials adopted the ordinance after they received hundreds of complaints after Confederate flags were planted in holders on light poles to mark Lee-Jackson Day, a state holiday in Virginia.
The flags were provided by SCV, and the city authorized them to be flown on the city poles. The SCV also paid for city workers to install the flags on approximately 40 poles.


My earlier thoughts on why the Virginia SCV is probably going to lose this one are here.

In other news, it looks like the Reidsville, North Carolina monument knocked down in an automobile accident two years ago is finally being restored, this time in the Confederate veterans’ plot at the local cemetery, owned by the UDC. The question of who owned the monument itself has been central in the dispute over whether to restore at its previous location or move it to the cemetery, as the UDC wanted to do. Over time, though, challenges to ownership of the monument seem to have fallen away:


The UDC claimed ownership of the monument shortly after it fell. The city searched for records saying otherwise and never found any.
Traveler’s Insurance Company, who represents Vincent, paid the UDC $105,000. The UDC said it planned to use the money to recreate the soldier for the monument and use the original base as the platform.
City officials helped the UDC find a new location for the monument. The city deeded a plot of land in Greenview Cemetery to the UDC years prior. The plot houses the body of Confederate soldiers.
The Confederate monument continues to be a controversial issue in the community. After the 2011 earthquake, a group, the Historical Preservation Action Committee formed to ensure the monument returned to its original location in the South Scales and West Morehead Streets intersection.
In December 2011, the UDC made an announcement it planned to move the monument to the cemetery.
HPAC filed a lawsuit against the UDC and the city to stop the monuments removal. The lawsuit included the North Carolina Department of Transportation and the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources as well.
HPAC dropped the city and the UDC from the lawsuit. Davidson County Superior Court Judge Mark Klass dismissed the case citing the organization lacked standing to bring it forward. Rockingham County Judge Moses Massey dismissed the case as well.


Naturally, the usual crowd is furious about this development, in the comments section. But there’s also this little gem of information, that I hadn’t been aware of before:


It remains unclear when the soldier might be installed. In a February interview, Ezell said there wasn’t a timetable to install the new soldier. She did add that this soldier would have a Confederate uniform. The previous monument’s designer outfitted the soldier in Union attire.


You really can’t make this stuff up.



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Do (Ever-Higher) Fences Make Good Neighbors?

Posted in African Americans, Leadership, Memory by Andy Hall on September 26, 2011

Some folks may recall the case last year in South Carolina where Annie Chambers Caddell moved into a historically African American neighborhood, and put a Confederate flag on the front of her house. Her neighborhood’s origins go back to the close of the Civil War, when the area was settled by several former members of the 1st USCT, who’d been stationed there at the end of their military service. Caddell, who is white, argued she was honoring her Confederate ancestors; her neighbors, not surprisingly, see the flag as a symbol of something else entirely.

Inevitably there were protests against Caddell, and counter-protests in response (above). It got worse; someone reportedly threw a rock through Caddell’s front window. There has been inflammatory, over-the-top rhetoric on both sides. Not surprisingly, both sides have chosen to escalate the dispute.

Earlier this year, two solid 8-foot high wooden fences were built on either side of Annie Chambers Caddell’s modest brick house to shield the Southern banner from view.

Late this summer, Caddell raised a flagpole higher than the fences to display the flag. Then a similar pole with an American flag was placed across the fence in the yard of neighbor Patterson James, who is black. . . .

“I’m here to stay. I didn’t back down and because I didn’t cower the neighbors say I’m the lady who loves her flag and loves her heritage,” said the 51-year old Caddell who moved into the historically black Brownsville neighborhood in the summer of 2010. Her ancestors fought for the Confederacy.

Last October, about 70 people marched in the street and sang civil rights songs to protest the flag, while about 30 others stood in Caddell’s yard waving the Confederate flag.

Opponents of the flag earlier gathered 200 names on a protest petition and took their case to a town council meeting where Caddell tearfully testified that she’s not a racist. Local officials have said she has the right to fly the flag, while her neighbors have the right to protest. And build fences.

“Things seemed to quiet down and then the fences started,” Caddell said. “I didn’t know anything about it until they were putting down the postholes and threw it together in less than a day.”

Aaron Brown, the town councilman whose district includes Brownsville, said neighbors raised money for the fences.

“The community met and talked about the situation,” he said. “Somebody suggested that what we should do is just go ahead and put the fences up and that way somebody would have to stand directly in front of the house to see the flag and that would mediate the flag’s influence.”

Caddell isn’t bothered by the fences and said they even seem to draw more attention to her house.

“People driving by here because of the privacy fences, they tend to slow down,” she said. “If the objective was to block my house from view, they didn’t succeed very well.”

You can see where this is going; by this time next year, one side or the other will have put up a big-ass flag.

More seriously, this is just headache-inducing. The only people benefiting from this rancorous business are flagpole installers and the local lumber yard.

I don’t know what the answer here is. Caddell has a right to display her flag; her neighbors have a right to make their objection to it clear. But neither benefits from continually upping the ante, nor does it help to bring in outside groups and activists to use this case to fight a larger proxy battle for historical memory, as recently happened in Lexington. That only serves to harden the resolve of all concerned, by raising the purported stakes beyond what they actually are. I hope Caddell and her neighbors eventually come to some sort of resolution in this business. But that doesn’t seem likely anytime soon, so long as all parties insist on following the tired script of action and reaction, and insist on having others fight their rhetorical battles instead of talking to each other like responsible grown-ups.

Image (Original Caption): Brownsville Community resident Tim Hudson (right) tells H.K. Edgerton of Ridgeville he looks “ridiculous” in his Confederate uniform as he stands with outside the home of Annie Chambers Caddell Saturday, October 16, 2010. Brownsville community members marched past Caddell’s home to protest her flying of the confederate flag outside her home in the predominantly black neighborhood. Hudson was not a marcher in the protest group. Photo by Alan Hawes,

Remembrance, Entertainment and History

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on January 8, 2011

This weekend was the 148th anniversary commemoration of the Battle of Galveston. Events continue Sunday, January 9, but the weather’s supposed to be uncooperative, so I went today.

I started out on the cemetery tour (left, the grave of Lieutenant Commander Edward Lea, U.S.N.). The tour got off to a late start, due to the prior commemoration ceremony running over-schedule. The ceremony was well done, and commendably non-partisan, with a C.S. reenactor color guard and a U.S. firing party. The cemetery tour itself was led by Linda McBee, who is rightly famous here for her unflagging work in documenting cemeteries around the county. It’s a personal labor for her; she’s a sixth-or seventh generation islander in some branches, and counts seventeen direct ancestors buried in just the one cemetery complex on the tour. I don’t know her personally, but I think I’d like her; I laughed a little at her no-nonsense, pragmatic approach to the subject. Asked if burials still occurred in the cemetery, she replied that they did, but rarely, when someone is interred in a plot still owned by the family.  She added that her family is one of those that has a plot with spaces available, so if the need arose, “we’d stick ’em in there.”

Ed’s tour of Civil War Galveston was first-rate, as usual; he added some large-scale maps and photos to his interpretation that help a great deal in visualizing the city in 1861-65 generally, and the Battle of Galveston specifically.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the reenactment, really. There were some efforts at re-enacting the Battle of Galveston thirty years ago, but I didn’t see those. This one was impressive, if for no other reason than it was necessarily up-close and personal. The reenactment was done more-or-less on the site of the actual fighting, which means smack in the middle of town, on a public street and adjacent parking lot. As you can see in the photos, it was all very up-close. There were some professional photographers who put themselves in the middle of it, and a few clueless tourists, but as far as I know the only injury was to the ego of a Confederate soldier who face-planted himself tripping over a curb. He quickly rejoined the fight.

On thing I noticed was that although the battle reenactment attracted a big crowd, it didn’t have a particularly partisan feel. (One old guy, trying to be clever, shouted “blue-bellies go home!” No one else in the crowd even seemed to hear it.) There wasn’t much chest-thumping on either side, and examples of the Confederate Battle Flag — a hot-button point of contention if there ever was one — was not much in evidence. As at past events in which they participate, the Confederate reenactors didn’t carry it, I think by prior arrangement with the sponsors. There was no shortage of Confederate reenactors, either — they outnumbered the bluecoats four- or five-to-one — so if any declined to participate on that account, they weren’t missed. (And I honestly don’t whether it was present at the historical Battle of Galveston in any case.) There were fewer CBFs in the crowd than I might have expected, as well — I noticed three: one on a stick waved by some kid, a Dixie Outfitters shopper, and a biker from the SCV’s “mechanized cavalry.” But that was it. (Ed didn’t get any interruptions from his audience who set out to harangue him on some obscure point with him, either, which all of us on the tour greatly appreciated.)

Certainly the organizer of the event didn’t want anything controversial in this event, and I suspect has eased into commemoration of the Battle of Galveston very carefully over a period of years. There’s always a fine line to be drawn between history-as-it-was, and history-as-entertainment. The reenactment today was fun to watch, and I’m sure today’s events will be marked as a popular and fiscal success. But it’s good to keep in mind that it’s an entirely different animal from history.

More photos after the jump, approximately in order.