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Posted at 11:50 AM ET, 12/ 6/2010

The Civil War Flag Flap

By Linda Wheeler




New logo. (Photographs © Armed Forces History, NMAH, SI)

With this posting, our new Civil War logo makes its debut, featuring the battle flags of one Union and one Confederate regiment. The logo you see here will appear on these web pages as well as with Civil War-related stories in the daily print paper.

Our previous logo was not very different, but it was different enough to arouse the ire of one reader, Christopher J. Casey of Alexandria.




Original logo. (istockphoto)

He pointed out that the Confederate flag we had used resembled the Confederate battle flag, but was not an exact match. Moreover, it was paired with the Union national flag (the Stars and Stripes). Casey thought that we should use the national flag of the Confederacy with its circle of stars and three broad stripes of red and white (the Stars and Bars).




National flag of the Confederacy. (The Museum of the Confederacy/Photography by Katherine Wetzel)

And with his letter, we realized that we had stepped into another of the still-raging controversies that surround so many aspects of this sesquicentennial. Casey acknowledged that “we have grown attached to” the image of this inaccurate Confederate flag but suggested that it was time to put it aside.

When we circulated his e-mail within our Civil War circle, opinions proved to be hot. Gene Thorp, a cartographer and war expert, said the main reason the Confederate battle flag, with its big blue X of stars, came to be was because the Confederate national flag was too similar to the Union flag, making it difficult to distinguish between the two on the battlefield.




Confederate battle flag. (The Museum of the Confederacy/Photography by Katherine Wetzel)

“For this same reason,” he wrote, “it would make a bad logo.” Besides, he added, “using the battle flag for a hopeful country that never knew anything but war is not only accurate but proper and preferred.”

On the other side, some people argued that the battle flag had been co-opted by the Ku Klux Klan to express its racial hatred and by some motorcycle gangs to express their lawlessness, and now held a negative connotation. Yet others said the Stars and Bars was so little known that readers would not recognize it as a symbol of the Confederacy at all. Moreover, in its short life, the Confederacy had three different national flags, so why single out one of them?




Three national flags of the Confederacy. (The Museum of the Confederacy/Photography by Katherine Wetzel)

In the end, we decided on a logo of two crossed battle flags. Although a square version of the U.S. flag as battle flag may not be well known, it was the type used by many Union regiments such as the 2nd Wisconsin, 71st New York, 20th Maine and 75th Ohio Volunteer Infantry regiments. This one belonged to the 84th Regiment U.S. Colored Troops.

The controversy over the various Confederate flags is a familiar one for me. My very first column for “A House Divided” 10 years ago was about the flag debate. Still, today, there are many Americans who revere the Confederate battle flag because of its association with ancestors who bravely and willingly gave their all for what they believed in.

We’ve made our decision. Readers, what do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments area.

By Linda Wheeler  | December 6, 2010; 11:50 AM ET
Categories:  150th anniversary, News  
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Next: Harold Holzer: Was the election of Abraham Lincoln a threat to the South?

Comments

I can't believe there is preference for one confederate flag over another due to negative connotations.

Posted by: HardyW | December 6, 2010 12:15 PM | Report abuse

I equate the Confederate battle flags with the Third Reich battle flags. I see no honor in the act of waving these in front of patriotic Americans.

But then, I am not a 21st Century Republican.

Posted by: Provincial | December 6, 2010 12:49 PM | Report abuse

I'm no historian, but can anyone name another country where the symbol of a defeated rebel army are not only allowed to be publicly displayed but are actually venerated in much of the nation? That such behavior is accepted speaks well for the strength of our underlying unity, that it can tolerate the diversity of formerly treasonous beliefs. But it doesn't speak well for our cohesion as a nation that we can still revere "ancestors who bravely and willingly gave their all for what they believed in" when "what they believed in" was the right to enslave other human beings for their own economic benefit.

Posted by: mcrouter1 | December 6, 2010 12:50 PM | Report abuse

It's good and proper to honor the anniversary of this war but there are those of us who see the Confederacy in much the same light as the German National Socialists, i.e. Nazis in that they shot and killed tens of thousands of U.S. Army men and women. Any flag that flew above their government or its soldiers would be equally stained.

Posted by: Mathonwy | December 6, 2010 12:51 PM | Report abuse

How a symbol is perceived is powerful indeed. Some driving by the giant obelisk on the Mall in DC see it as a tribute to the Father of our Country. Others, particularly observing it at night being bathed in white light with its glowering red lights embedded in a pointed top see it as the final word from the South and a monument to that great southern patriot, Nathan Bedford Forrest.

Posted by: slim21 | December 6, 2010 12:56 PM | Report abuse

It is just and right that we honor our ancestors who gave so much in a bid to severe their free and indpendent States from a Federal government that continues to this day to overtax and interfere with the lives of it's citizens. I would caution those left wingers who constantly compare the Confederacy and my ancestors to Nazis. The Nazi Party did not exist until seventy years after the Confederacy. The Confederate States had a great many Jewish members in its armed forces. I can assure you their decendants take great umbrage at having their ancestors called Nazis. Not very politically correct for you liberals that espouse such policies.

Posted by: CMouse | December 6, 2010 1:10 PM | Report abuse

"Gave their lives for what they believed in." This phrase, often invoked to justify waving the flag of the slavocracy, always boils my blood. Why so coy? Why not just tell the truth, "gave their lives to keep African people permanently enslaved". All other reasons pale in comparison, say the vast majority of historians.

The rebel battle flag has great political significance today. It represents the ongoing sentiment AGAINST civil and political equality for African Americans, AGAINST the gains of the civil rights movement, AGAINST any progressive social change since the passage of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments. They weren't waved by howling racist mobs in the South in the 50's because they wanted to honor the fallen Confederate dead, and it isn't an accident that you see it waved wherever rightists and crypto-fascists gather today to challenge any expression of progressive democracy.

Sentimental nostalgia of the type this article endorses only legitimizes this deeply reactionary ideology. Don't buy it. Reject rebel mythologizing!

Posted by: reflecter | December 6, 2010 1:11 PM | Report abuse

what is it that makes you yankees hate us and our flag so much?

ofcourse you dont hate us enough to stay up north and off our hallowed ground

many a day ive had to fumigate

Posted by: Ciap | December 6, 2010 1:17 PM | Report abuse

Slim21, that is an interesting metaphor, and your comment is the first time I have heard it ever. I must tell you that I think your metaphor is a real stretch. Here I was thinking that the design of the monument was routed in classic Egyptian architecture. (I will leave it to you to wonder what the Egyptians were thinking when they built similar obelisks to honor thier dead leaders.)

Posted by: rob47 | December 6, 2010 1:19 PM | Report abuse

'Provincial' typed:

I equate the Confederate battle flags with the Third Reich battle flags. I see no honor in the act of waving these in front of patriotic Americans.

But then, I am not a 21st Century Republican.'

Then you have a lot to learn yet. Including about having a civil discourse without incendiary bomb throwing....but that is not surprising, since it is all about YOU and YOUR preferred version of politics (me, me, me).

If you had bothered to pick up a book and read up on the topic you would know that the majority of Southerners who fought for the Confederacy were: 1) drafted at the point of a gun, 2) were too poor to even be able to OWN a slave, 3) fought because the Federals 'were down here'. That means they felt invaded and were defending their homes.

Judging by your post, you should read up on the Nazi's as well....your post was more in line with their ideology.

Posted by: arioch666 | December 6, 2010 1:25 PM | Report abuse

Reflecter is right in some ways. The societal use of the confederate flag is to be against what is perceived to be over-reaching government. However, I don't believe that the front line soldier in the confedrate armed forces was fighting to keep slavery as an economic system (though I do believe that is exactly what the confedracy's leaders were doing.) The front line troop was convinced, by the hype, that the government was going to interfere with the decisions he was to make. Others fought for the sense of loyalty they felt for thier home state (as Lee professed he did-though I'm not so sure about it.)

Years ago I read a few issues of Klan Watch, a magazine put out by Morris Udall's organization. It pointed out that many of the Klan's leaders, now and in the past, were in it for the money: stir up hatred and play on people's fears is good business. The same type of hype is what drove the sotuhern population to fight as strongly as they did. It is the leadership that was leading them that was fighting for slavery.

It is hard to demonize those who were tricked, especially since it cost them so much.

Posted by: rob47 | December 6, 2010 1:32 PM | Report abuse

'Provincial' typed:

I equate the Confederate battle flags with the Third Reich battle flags. I see no honor in the act of waving these in front of patriotic Americans.

But then, I am not a 21st Century Republican.'

Then you have a lot to learn yet. Including about having a civil discourse without incendiary bomb throwing....but that is not surprising, since it is all about YOU and YOUR preferred version of politics (me, me, me).

If you had bothered to pick up a book and read up on the topic you would know that the majority of Southerners who fought for the Confederacy were: 1) drafted at the point of a gun, 2) were too poor to even be able to OWN a slave, 3) fought because the Federals 'were down here'. That means they felt invaded and were defending their homes.

Judging by your post, you should read up on the Nazi's as well....your post was more in line with their ideology.

Posted by: arioch666

===========================================

Don't bother trying to explain. There are so many people on these boards who contribute nothing to the debate but pathological hatreds.

We'll be better off if we just ignore the trolls and focus on what this page is about, Civil War history.

Posted by: bbface21 | December 6, 2010 1:33 PM | Report abuse

For the record, Union National Standard battle flags were not square. By regulation, the National colors were 6' on the hoist (height) and 6'6" on the fly (length).

Posted by: bdennison | December 6, 2010 2:11 PM | Report abuse

Those who claim the Confederate battle flag was co-opted by the klan should do some research; checking google images you find almost as many photos of klansmen parading with Old Glory as with the Southern Cross. Also, not all battle flags were square; and not all rectangular ones were naval jacks, some used by Confederate army units in the Western Theaters were rectangle.

Posted by: MadJack1 | December 6, 2010 3:53 PM | Report abuse

If you are interested in Civil War history, then check out:

http://www.civilwar-online.com/

We are following the Civil War as it unfolded day by day 150 years ago using original documents from the period.

Posted by: JCWilmore | December 6, 2010 7:54 PM | Report abuse

Confederate flags: Many folks incorrectly use the term "Stars and Bars" in reference to the St. Andrews Cross battle flags rather than the Confederate national flag. The "original" Confederate flag was the South Carolina palmetto flag. When Alabama seceded, a bright blue banner [known as the "Bonnie Blue Flag"] was devised for state regiments, followed later by the adoption of the "Stars and Bars" national flag.

During the first Battle of Manassas [Bull Run], the Stars and Bars flag was often confused with the Union Stars and Stripes. In order to reduce confusion, Confederate troops decided to adopt the now-familiar "St. Andrews Cross" battle flag.

One political note: At the outset, the Republican Party, known as the "Black Republicans", was a regional party with little or no support south of the Mason-Dixon Line. The election of 1860 was an apparent attempt to throw the election into the House of Representatives as happened in 1824. The Democratic Party actually split three ways, with Douglas supported by northern Democrats and John Breckenridge of Kentucky by southern Democrats. A third group, the Constitutional Union Party, comprised of a few border state Democrats and the remnants of the old Whig Party, nominated John Bell of Tennessee. The Civil War resulted when Lincoln carried a majority of the Electoral College, followed promptly by the secession of South Carolina; thus the South Carolina state flag [the palmetto] deserves recognition as the "first" Confederate flag.

Ironically nowadays many white Southerners vote Republican, a situation dating generally to the Goldwater/Thurmond election shift of 1964. Prior to 1964 the Democratic "Solid South" was a prominent feature of American politics

Posted by: Bombo47jea | December 7, 2010 12:42 AM | Report abuse

Visit S Florida where the flag of communist cuba flys everywhere,a rather lame defense being ,"its the flag of free cuba in exile".thats a foreign govt on your land folks,perhaps why english isnt the language of choice

Posted by: schmidt1 | December 7, 2010 8:39 AM | Report abuse

I equate the US flag and symbol with that of all empires in history which conquer and destroy other lands - which is exactly what the US did to the South in the 1860s. The US military, flying the flag above, burned down one of my family member's home (he was an old man - too old to fight and not bothering anyone) and shot him and left him to bleed to death in front of his home. The area where I live has lots of scattered grave yards full of local people who were killed by the US government. This was conquest and I for one reject the US flag and the government which it represents - the same as a conquered Pole would reject a Nazi flag or any conquered people would reject the symbol of the empire ruling over them.

Posted by: hammeroftours | December 7, 2010 12:34 PM | Report abuse

Regarding Hammeroftours:

If there is one thing I would condemn Southerners for (and I am a Southerner with deep family roots in Virginia) it is the near pathological focus on the past combined with a very selective memory for uncomfortable historical facts. Too bad about your ancestor, but after 145 years or more maybe its time to leave the grudge behind. I suggest you read what Southerners did to other Southern civilians who did not favor seccession. Nobody talks about that in the South. Surprise! You'll find some dead bodies there too.

Posted by: yankeebob | December 7, 2010 1:21 PM | Report abuse

Your logo is outstanding,portrays true history and reminds us of the logos used at the combined Confederate,(UCV) and Union,(GAR) Veteran Reunions held in the early 20th century.The American Veterans that fought each other in the 19th century, honored each other in the 20th century.

Posted by: Highreb | December 7, 2010 7:52 PM | Report abuse

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