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Published June 21, 2015

What Does The Confederate Flag Really Mean?

In the wake of the tragic acts of horror committed by Dylann Roof, the Confederate flag he waved has been under closer scrutiny than ever. Some southern states, like Georgia, fly it proudly as a declaration of their independent heritage. It’s easy to forget its lineage, and what the flag truly states.

The popular “rebel flag,” as it’s commonly known, is not actually representative of the Confederate States of America as everyone mistakes it for. That honor belongs to three other flags that are rarely seen on bumper stickers, the backs of pickups, and flying high above Georgia courthouses like the popular rebel flag today.

The first flag to mark the Confederacy, nicknamed the “stars and bars,” was similar in style to the classic stars and stripes of the United States Flag. It was adopted and updated throughout 1861 as more states joined the Confederate States of America.

What-Does-The-Confederate-Flag-Really-Mean-1

The first national flag of the Confederate States of America.

 

The Second flag, adopted two years later as combat raged, features the “rebel cross” we’re familiar with, but only in a small corner. It’s largely white, and was called “the white man’s flag” by its designer W.T. Thompson. Thompson was delighted to have his design adopted by the Confederacy, claiming that it symbolized the “superior race.”

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The second national flag of the Confederate States of America.

 

The design was altered again in 1865. This change was suggested to break up the all-white background so it would not be mistaken for a flag of surrender or truce. A red bar was added along the right edge, and it was nicknamed “the blood-stained banner.” However, by the time this flag was put into use, the war was nearly over and many Confederates never saw it raised.

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The third national flag of the Confederate States of America.

 

The popular “rebel cross” of today actually did see use during the war, just not as a national flag. This Confederate flag was actually a banner reserved for battle, being used by General Robert E. Lee during a tour of combat in Virginia. It gained in popularity as a symbol for the Confederacy and the south in general after the war had concluded, thanks to Confederate Veterans groups copyrighting the image and using it for their gatherings. Southern soldiers in World War II used it as their unofficial emblem. And of course, The Dukes of Hazzard also played a large role in popularizing it to a 20th-century audience.

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The Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia.

 

After all its history, the Confederate flag still symbolizes rebellion, divisiveness, and even an unsettling association with racial superiority. Dylann Roof identified with the ideas it symbolized in the worst way possible.

RELATED: Should McCrory Remove The Confederate Flag From NC License Plates?

Perhaps it’s time to retire the flags of the Confederacy to their place in history, to be displayed in museums, and in proper context, not publicly flown over state owned property.

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  • Greg Trombley

    Greg

  • I'm an RDU-based novelist and passionate champion of scientific progression. Nature and science live side-by-side in my heart. I clean dinosaur bones in my spare time, and love reading about local history. All my articles.

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