Information and Articles About Flags from the Civil War

Civil War flags were a carnival of sizes, shapes, designs and colors. The primary Union Civil War flags were the Unites States flag, known as the Stars and Stripes, and the regimental colors. The latter was a dark blue cloth, usually with gold fringe; stars for each state appeared at the top, above a version of the Great Seal of the United States: an American eagle with a stars-and-stripes shield on his chest and a banner with the motto "E Pluribus Unum" ("Out of many, one") in his mouth. His talons hold arrows of war and an olive branch representing peace. Below is a banner with the regiment or battery’s name.
 
The Confederate States of America had three different national flags over the course of four years. The most recognizable Confederate flag, however, is not one of the South’s national flags but the Confederate battle flag, also known as the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia.
 
Additionally, on both sides there were corps, brigade and regimental flags, flags for various branches of military service, etc.

Union Flags

36 star U.S. Flag
36 star U.S. Flag
 

The United States flag: the red, white and blue standard—flying above ranks of blue-clad troops, remained mostly unchanged during the war other than to add a star when the 34th state, Kansas, was admitted to the Union on January 29, 1861. Read more about Union Flags.

Confederate Flags

First Confederate National Flag, 13 stars
First Confederate National Flag, 13 stars
 

The Confederacy had several official flags during it’s lifespan. The first Confederate National flag resembled the U.S. flag and was called "Stars and Bars." The Confederate Battle Flag was created so it would not be mistaken for the Union Flag in battle; it was used primarily by the Army of Northern Virginia. It has become the single most identifiable symbol of the Confederacy. Read more about Confederate Flags.

Unit Flags of the Civil War

Second Kansas Cavalry Regimental Flag
Second Kansas Cavalry Regimental Flag
Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia
Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia
 

Many corps, divisions, brigades, regiments, and even individual companies carried unique flags, many of them designed and sewn by women "back home" who presented the unit with the flag. In a number of cases, the state seal of a regiment would be embroidered or painted onto a flag. A unit that performed well in a battle might get permission to add the name of that battle on its flag, and veteran units might have a half-dozen or more battle names on their banners.
 
A few examples of unusual flags of the Civil War include:
 
Army of the Potomac Headquarters flag: a swallow-tailed guidon of purple with a golden eagle sitting on a silver wreath
 
The Irish Brigade, Union: Among the most famous Civil War flags, it is a field of green with a gold harp at center above shamrocks and below a sun peeking out from a cloud. A banner across the top names the regiment of the brigade and one across the bottom proclaims in Gaelic "Who never retreated from the clash of spears." Each regiment within the brigade carried its own variation on this design.
 
Company C, South Carolina 18th Artillery Battalion, Confederate: a white flag with a gold or red star at upper left; a green representation of a palmetto palm tree dominates the center
 
Van Dorn Flag, Confederate: A yellow rectangle around a red field containing 13 scattered stars and a white crescent moon at upper left, it was designed by the Confederate commander Earl Van Dorn


 

Articles Featuring Civil War Flags From History Net Magazines

Why do some people still fly the Confederate flag?Why do some people still fly the Confederate flag? Thank you, Teri Bennett Dear Teri, There is no one pat answer for the continued flying of the Confederate flag—it depends on what it means to the individual. Some insist on flying it alongside the Stars and Stripes (preferably with the number of stars it had […]
Confederate Flags in Times Square?Is it, or isn't it? That is our question!
Churchill Imagines How the South Won the Civil WarIn Winston Churchill’s fanciful alternative history, Robert E. Lee wins at Gettysburg, and Jeb Stuart prevents World War I
Capital Defense – Washington, D.C., in the Civil WarWhen the first inklings emerged early in 1861 that a fighting war pitting North versus South would soon break out, the residents of Washington, D.C.—at least those whose sympathies were with the Union—began to feel more than a little threatened. Though it was a haven for freed blacks, the District of Columbia also was the […]
N.C. reenactors work to conserve and display regimental flagsA historic flag captured from the 26th North Carolina Infantry at the Battle of Gettysburg has returned home. A reenactment unit, whose members include a number of descendants of the original unit’s soldiers, led the charge to acquire the flag, now on display at the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh. The unit is […]
Feeling the Past at GettysburgThe presence of the past can be felt at the Gettysburg battlefield, where so many Civil War soldiers laid down their lives.
Letters From Readers – January 2008 – Civil War TimesDon’t Forget Camp Morton In the October 2007 “Ask Civil War Times” section, a reader asked whether there was a Union equivalent to the Confederacy’s horrific Andersonville Prison. Your answer did not include Camp Morton, the infamous Union facility in Indianapolis, which I wrote about in my recent book Den of Misery: Indiana’s Civil War […]
Fighting and Dying for the Colors at GettysburgNearly two months after the battle of Gettysburg 24-year-old Isaac Dunsten of the 105th Pennsylvania Infantry lay on officers’ row at Camp Letterman, the large tent hospital established just east of the town. On July 2, 1863, the second day of the battle, a bullet had shattered the lieutenant’s right thigh. A splint was applied […]
Capturing Fort Pulaski During the American Civil WarAs a young U.S. Army lieutenant, Robert E. Lee helped to construct Fort Pulaski. As a Confederate general 30 years later, he confidently assured fort defenders it could not be breached. Union gunners were not so sure.
The Undertaker’s Role During the American Civil WarThe humble undertaker performed a distasteful but all too necessary role during the Civil War.
America’s Civil War: Rebel’s Stand at Drewry’s BluffWhile Union Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan's Army of the Potomac slowly advanced on Richmond in May 1862, the Union Navy made its own play to seize the Confederate capital.
Who Was the Common Soldier of America’s Civil WarCommon Soldier of the Civil War. Here's what the statistics tell us.
An Englishman’s Journey Through the Confederacy During America’s Civil WarSuave, gentlemanly Lt. Col. Arthur Fremantle of Her Majesty's Coldstream Guards picked an unusual vacation spot: the Civil War-torn United States.
American History: 1864 Attack on New YorkManhattan proved an irresistible target for Confederate saboteurs who wanted to set the city ablaze and settle some scores with the Union.
Mantled in Fire and Smoke – Sidebar: July ’99 America’s Civil War FeatureThe Colorful 44th New York Regiment Colonel Joshua Chamberlain’s 20th Maine may have won the most fame during the grueling fight for control of Little Round Top, but the largest regimental monument on the battlefield today commemorates a brother regiment that fought alongside the 20th Maine that desperate afternoon–the 44th New York, the “People’s Ellsworth […]
Storm Over Fort Pulaski – March ’98 America’s Civil War FeatureStorm Over Fort Pulaski By Peggy Robbins As a young U.S. Army lieutenant, Robert E. Lee helped to construct Fort Pulaski. As a Confederate general 30 years later, he confidently assured fort defenders it could not be breached. Union gunners were not so sure. In late 1860, as North and South stood face to face […]
An Englishman’s Journey Through the Confederacy – July ’96 America’s Civil War FeatureSuave, gentlemanly Lt. Col. Arthur Fremantle of Her Majesty’s Coldstream Guards picked an unusual vacation spot: the Civil War-torn United States. By Robert R. Hodges, Jr. After graduating from Sandhurst, Great Britain’s West Point, Arthur James Lyon Fremantle entered the army in 1852 and soon became an officer in England’s renowned Coldstream Guards (both his […]
Rebel Stand at Drewry’s Bluff – November ’97 America’s Civil War FeatureRebel Stand at Drewry's Bluff By Jon Guttman While Union Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan’s Army of the Potomac slowly advanced on Richmond in May 1862, the Union Navy made its own play to seize the Confederate capital. In mid-May 1862–little more than a year after South Carolina secessionists had fired the opening rounds of […]