July 10, 2015

Earlier this week, the South Carolina legislature passed and Gov. Nikki Haley signed into law a measure to remove the Confederate battle flag from the state Capitol grounds. The decades-long controversy over the flag was reignited last month when the killer of nine members of a historically black church in Charleston was found to have posed with the flag. “That sort of symbolism is out of step with the justice of Jesus Christ,” wrote TGC Council member Russell Moore. “The cross and the Confederate flag cannot co-exist without one setting the other on fire.”

Here are nine things you should know about the flag, its history, and the controversy:

1. What is often called the “Confederate flag” was never the official flag of the Confederate States of America (CSA). It was also not called the “Stars and Bars”—that was the name of the first national flag of the CSA. The flag is properly known as “the battle flag of the Virginia army,” though it was sometimes called “Beauregard’s flag” or “the Virginia battle flag.” Today, it is most commonly called the “Battle Flag.”

2. During its four-year existence from 1861 to 1865, the Confederate States of America had three successive national flags, all created by different designers. William Porcher Miles, the chairman of the Confederate Congress’s “Committee on the Flag and Seal,” designed and submitted what was later known as the “Battle Flag.” His design was rejected in favor of the “Stars and Bars” design that more resembled the American flag. However, the last two flags of the Confederacy did incorporate his design.

3. Miles’s original flag design had an upright cross but he changed it after Charles Moise, a self-described “southerner of Jewish persuasion” objected that the symbol of a particular religion (i.e., Christianity) should not be made the symbol of the nation. Miles later explained the diagonal cross was preferable because it “avoided the religious objection about the cross (from Jews & many Protestant sects)…” Miles also claimed the diagonal cross was “more Heraldic than Ecclesiastical…” [All emphasis in original.]

4. During the early parts of the Civil War, both sides would carry their national emblems into battle. At the first battle of Manassas (Bull Run), the similarity between the USA’s “Stars and Stripes” and the CSA’s “Stars and Bars” caused considerable confusion and even led some Confederate troops to fire on their own units. General P. G. T. Beauregard resolved to adopt a “battle flag” for his command, the army of Virginia. To assist in this project, Beauregard turned to his former aide, William Porcher Miles. Miles submitted his previous design for a national flag, which was officially adopted by Beauregard’s army. Beauregard would later push to have the flag be the standard battle emblem for all CSA units.

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