The Confederate Flag
If you frequently read Civil War Times, the Confederate battle flag is a familiar and integral aspect of your realm. The flag symbolizes the Confederate faction in the conflict that you find pleasure in researching. It is highly probable that your understanding of the flag has grown and become more refined over time. Eventually, you discovered that the Confederate battle flag is not actually referred to as “the Confederate flag” and is not commonly known as the “Stars and Bars.” The name refers specifically to the initial national flag of the Confederacy.
If you have examined the conflict in the Western and Trans-Mississippi theaters, you would have discovered that the term “Confederate battle flag” is inaccurate. Several Confederate regiments were deployed with battle banners that bore little resemblance to the iconic red flag featuring a blue cross adorned with stars. You may have acquired a comprehensive understanding of the flag’s connection to the Confederacy and its troops, as well as a deep respect for the flag due to its affiliation with your Confederate ancestors. If you did not, it is probable that your interest in the war has exposed you to individuals who possess a profound emotional attachment to the flag. At a certain juncture in your life, you realized that there existed a divergence in the way people perceive the Confederate flag. If you were previously unaware, the remarkable series of events and the subsequent public response in June 2015 have prompted evident inquiries that all students of Civil War history must address: Why do individuals possess divergent and frequently contradictory interpretations of the significance of the Confederate flag, and how have these distinct interpretations developed over time?
What is the origin of the Confederate flag?
The flag, as we are familiar with it, originated not as a symbolic representation, but rather as a highly utilitarian standard. The commanders of the Confederate army in Virginia, often referred to as the Army of the Potomac at that time, desired a unique symbol to replace the initial national flag of the Confederacy, known as the Stars and Bars. This new emblem was intended to be used specifically as a combat banner. The Stars and Bars, chosen by the Confederate Congress in March 1861 due to its similarity to the cherished Stars and Stripes, proved to be ineffective and even hazardous in military operations due to this likeness. The issue prompted Confederate commanders to create and utilize a wide range of battle flags within Confederate armies over the whole war.Battle flags serve as symbolic objects that hold great significance for the soldiers that fight under them, representing their strong sense of unity and camaraderie, as well as the hardships and selflessness they endure. These objects hold emotional importance for the families of servicemen and their future generations. To see why numerous Americans regard the flag as an object of reverence, one must acknowledge its significance as a tribute to the Confederate soldier.
Was the Confederate flag exclusively a military emblem?
Creating a symbolic sanctuary for the Confederate battle flag only as the banner of the soldier is unattainable due to its broader usage beyond just representing soldiers. The meaning of the battle flag is closely connected to the Confederacy and, thus, to the topics of slavery and states’ rights. This connection leads to ongoing and passionate discussions among readers of Civil War Times and the general American public. In 1862, some Southern officials disdained the Stars and Bars due to its striking resemblance to the Stars and Stripes, which was the same reason why the flag had been chosen the previous year. As the conflict escalated and individuals from the South aligned themselves with the Confederacy, they gradually distanced themselves from the emblems associated with the previous Union. Instead, they actively sought a fresh symbol that would effectively represent the Confederacy’s firmly established state of independence. The symbol in question was the Confederate battle flag. According to historian Gary Gallagher, it is evident that the Army of Northern Virginia, led by Robert E. Lee, represented Confederate nationalism more effectively than the Confederate administration. The remarkable triumphs achieved by Lee’s army in 1862-63 resulted in the widespread adoption of his army’s battle flag as the preferred option for the new national flag. The Confederacy officially adopted a flag, commonly referred to as the Stainless Banner, on May 1, 1863. This banner displayed the ANV battle flag on a white background. Throughout the duration of the Confederacy’s existence, the soldiers’ flag served as the de facto national flag.
What is the current significance of the Confederate flag?
Even if all Confederate flags were permanently lowered in 1865, they would continue to be controversial emblems as long as individuals debate the Civil War, its origins, and its execution. However, the Confederate flag did not permanently transition into the domain of history until 1865. In order to comprehend the present-day reactions it elicits, it is imperative to scrutinize its usage and perception since then. The Confederate flag has consistently remained a symbol of the Confederate soldier and continues to be highly regarded as a tribute to the Confederate soldier. Since 1865, the history of the flag has been characterized by the gradual accumulation of extra connotations stemming from its expanded applications. Shortly after the war, and even prior to the conclusion of Reconstruction in 1877, white Southerners commenced employing the Confederate flag as a commemorative emblem for deceased heroes. During the “Lost Cause” movement at the beginning of the 20th century, white Southerners established organizations, built and dedicated monuments, and spread a Confederate version of the “War Between the States” history. As a result, Confederate flags were increasingly common in the public life of the South.
What were the ways in which the Confederate flag was utilized to resist civil rights?
The “Dixiecrat” Party emerged as a response to the Democratic Party convention’s inclusion of a civil rights plank. The Confederate flag emerged as an emblem of opposition to civil rights and endorsement of Jim Crow segregation. The “flag fad” was a well publicized nationwide phenomena led by young people. Many analysts speculated that the craze was driven by a persistent “Dixiecrat” mentality. African-American newspapers criticized the flag’s exceptional popularity among the Armed Forces as a cause of perilous division during a period when America required unity against Communism. However, the majority of observers deduced that the flag trend was simply another expression of material culture influenced by the younger generation. Confederate heritage organizations accurately recognized the Dixiecrat movement and the flag fad as a significant challenge to their control over the Confederate flag. In November 1948, the UDC expressed its disapproval of the flag being used “in specific demonstrations by college and political groups” and initiated an official campaign to safeguard the flag from “inappropriate use.”
Following that, a number of Southern states enacted legislation to penalize the act of “desecrating” the Confederate flag. All those endeavors proved to be ineffective. Following the trend of flag popularity, the Confederate flag, as described by a Southern editor, became trivialized and treated with little regard. Rather than being primarily utilized for commemorating the Confederacy and its troops, the flag has now become the subject of various consumer products such as beach towels, T-shirts, bikinis, diapers, and various trinkets. Despite the UDC’s ongoing criticism of the widespread presence of kitsch, its prevalence eventually led others to gently alter their understanding of “protecting” the flag. They began to support the freedom to wear and exhibit the very items that were previously considered acts of sacrilege. With the bursting of the dam, Confederate flag material culture was no longer under the authority of heritage groups. Consequently, the flag took on a new identity as a sign of “rebellion,” detached from its historical association with the Confederacy. The flag acquired a new significance that surpasses the South and extends beyond the United States, thanks to truckers, motorcycle riders, and the iconic portrayal in the hit TV series “The Dukes of Hazzard”.
Simultaneously, while the civil rights movement gained momentum, particularly after the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, advocates of segregation started using the battle flag as a representation of their cause. The flag’s reputation suffered the most when it was utilized by the Ku Klux Klan. Despite being established by former Confederate soldiers shortly after the Civil War, the KKK did not extensively or at all include the Confederate flag into its ceremonies during the 1860s, 1870s, or its resurgence and widespread appeal from 1915 to the late 1920s. The battle flag gained prominence among the Klan only during its resurgence in the late 1930s and 1940s.
What significance does the Confederate flag hold for African Americans?
To comprehend why the Confederate flag is viewed as a symbol of hate by many African Americans and others, it is crucial to acknowledge the significant influence of white supremacists who historically employed the banner. The Civil Rights Era has had a significant impact on the historical trajectory of the Confederate flag in multiple ways. Since its inception, the flag has been consistently associated with white supremacy, which has heavily influenced the ongoing dispute around its use. Equally significant, the successful achievement of civil rights reinstated African Americans as fully recognized citizens and reinstated their involvement in the continuous determination of what is deemed appropriate or inappropriate for America’s public symbolic environment. Individuals in the United States who are 50 years of age or older reached adulthood during a time when a significant number of Confederate flags, monuments, and street names were prevalent in the country’s symbolic environment. The existing state of affairs was, without a doubt, the outcome of a lengthy period during which African Americans were systematically prevented from participating in the formation of the symbolic environment.
With the acquisition of political power, African Americans actively contested and disturbed the existing state of affairs. Over the past fifty years, the flag’s history has been marked by a continuous succession of disputes occurring at the local, state, and national scales. Over the years, there has been a tendency to decrease the prominence of the flag in symbolic settings, particularly in areas that could be interpreted as public domain. As historians, we often perceive history as a phenomenon confined to the past and overlook the fact that history is currently unfolding, with us actively participating as key figures in this ongoing narrative.
The Confederate battle flag did not become obsolete in 1865; instead, it persisted and acquired new purposes and interpretations, remaining relevant in an evolving historical context. In order to comprehend the present-day historical events, it is imperative for students of Civil War history to examine the complete historical trajectory of the battle flag, rather than confining it solely to its setting during the Civil War. Examining the complete historical background of the flag enables us to participate in a more productive conversation regarding its appropriate position in both the present and the future.
The debate around the Confederate flag cannot be disregarded.
We must acknowledge America’s extensive history of bigotry. The Confederate battle flag is often regarded as a representation of racial bias, therefore, it is justified to demand its removal from official areas, such as the South Carolina Capitol grounds. The original flags should be conserved and displayed in museums.