This Hidden History was created by SCAD student Philippe Dwyer as part of his SCAD art history department coursework, with guidance from art history professor Holly Goldstein, Ph.D., 2016.
The Fort Pulaski historical marker was dedicated in 1958. View the Fort Pulaski historical marker listing.
1. Fort Pulaski, Georgia Historical Society Collection of Photographs, 1870 – 1960, MS 1361. Courtesy of the Georgia Historical Society.
2. Confederate Flag Flying at Fort Pulaski, 2016. Courtesy of Philippe Dwyer.
3. Flag, circa 1960, Annin & Co. Courtesy of the Georgia Historical Society.
4. Flag, circa 1960, Annin & Co. Courtesy of the Georgia Historical Society.
5. Flag, date and creator unknown. Courtesy of the Georgia Historical Society.
6. Confederate battleflag from the Jeff Davis Legion, Company D 20th battalion Georgia Volunteer Cavalry, 1861 – 1865. Courtesy of the Georgia Historical Society.
7. Flag, date and creator unknown. Courtesy of the Georgia Historical Society.
8. Mississippi State Flag, date and creator unknown.
9. Fort Pulaski Marker, 2016. Courtesy of Philippe Dwyer.
10. Fort Pulaski, 2016. Courtesy of Philippe Dwyer.
The following essay is by SCAD student Philippe Dwyer, 2016.
After the War of 1812, U.S. President James Madison requested that a new system of coastal fortifications be put up in order to protect the United States against foreign invaders. In 1816, Congress moved to create the Board of Fortifications for Sea Coast Defense and Fort Pulaski was one of many forts that were built along the coastline as a result (Figure 1). Fort Pulaski remained fairly empty until 1861 when Confederate forces occupied it during the Civil War.[i] However, they surrendered shortly after when they came under fire with the United States’ new technologically advanced cannons and were afraid their stockpile of gunpowder would destroy the whole fort. Today Fort Pulaski functions as a national monument to serve as a remembrance of the American Civil War and still flies the first national Confederate flag (Figure 2).
The flag is a piece of fabric with a distinctive design which is used as a symbol, messaging device, or for decoration. Flags are a universal tool for rudimentary signaling and identification, especially in environments where communication is challenging. National flags are patriotic symbols with a wide range of interpretations. In general flags represent place. They represent culture, religion, and people, among other things. The evolution of the Confederate flag was an interesting process riddled with many visual and theoretical problems. However, by the time the Confederate designers fixed the problems, the Civil War was over.
On December 20, 1860, South Carolina seceded from the United States. Soon after, six other southern states followed suit and created the Confederate States of America. [ii] Among its first acts, the Provisional Congress of the Confederacy appointed a committee for the flag and seal. The committee collected ideas from many citizens and officials and received thousands of design suggestions. Nicola Marschall from Alabama is credited with designing the winning proposal called the Stars and Bars (Figure 3). [iii] It still contained the blue square in the upper left and the red and white stripes. However, there were fewer stripes and the stars were in the form of a circle. It had seven white stars for the seven cotton states, South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas which were the first to join. The flag was extremely similar to that of the existing U.S. flag. The Stars and Bars was raised over government buildings, including the Confederate capitol building in Montgomery, Alabama.
The flag nonetheless was used only once in battle at the First Battle of Manassas in Virginia on July 21, 1861. Confusion was everywhere. For one thing, Confederate soldiers who served in the U.S. Army before were still wearing their U.S. Army uniforms. Another problem was that the U.S. and the Confederate flags looked similar, especially from a distance when the wind was not blowing. [iv] Soldiers were confused, prompting a redesign of the flag.
The second national Confederate flag, the Stainless Banner, was designed by William T. Thompson from Savannah, Georgia. It consisted of a white background where the stripes were and the blue square turned into a red square with a blue cross and thirteen white stars (Figure 4). The red square was inspired by South Carolina’s state flag, which featured a blue cross on a red background (Figure 5). On the cross were fifteen stars representing the slaveholding states, and on the red background were two symbols for South Carolina, a palmetto tree and a crescent. [v] The symbols were removed because the committee did not want the symbol for one region to represent the whole nation and the blue cross was substituted for a diagonal cross to avoid any religious objections.[vi] This flag replaced the previous flag and was flown on top of all government buildings. The red square however turned specifically into the battle flag and came in different sizes for infantry, artillery, and cavalry (Figure 6).
There were a few issues with the Stainless Banner as well. For one, it could be easily stained to look like something else. Furthermore, when the wind was not blowing, it could be construed as an all-white flag of surrender. [vii] The Confederacy certainly did not want those mistakes to occur. The reaction from citizens was that it was a simple design, but extremely white. Another reaction was that a battle flag adorned on a flag of truce was sending a mixed message. [viii] So, the Stainless Banner also needed to be fixed.
Major Arthur L. Rogers proposed modifying the flag by adding a red vertical stripe down the outer edge. With written support from an impressive array of navel and army officers, Rodgers lobbied successfully to have his design introduced. [ix] The flag was called the Blood Stained Banner because it looked like it was dipped in blood and the design also symbolized the primary origins of many southern people. It had the cross of Britain and the red bar from the flag of France. (Figure 7). It became the national flag in March 1865, but it rarely flew because a month later the Confederate Army surrendered and the Civil War was over. [x] Today only the battle flag is known as a symbol for the Confederacy and still flies in some places.
There are parts of the southern Confederacy that still stand behind the flag and its meaning. Georgia’s state flag still resembles the first national Confederate flag however they have added the state coat of arms. Mississippi’s state flag features the confederate battle flag (Figure 9). After all, every flag is a representation of place, its people, and tells a story of its own.
[i] J. Faith Meader and Cameron Binkley, Fort Pulaski National Monument: Administrative History. Atlanta: Cultural Resources Division, Southeast Regional Office, National Park Service, 2003.
[ii] Earl P. Williams, What You Should Know About the Flags of the Confederacy. Gettysburg, PA: Thomas Publications, 1993.
[iii] John M. Coski, The Confederate Battle Flag America’s Most Embattled Emblem. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2005.
[iv] Williams, 5.
[v] The Confederate Battle Flag America’s Most Embattled Emblem, 5.
[vii] Williams, 8.
[viii] The Confederate Battle Flag America’s Most Embattled Emblem, 17.
[ix] Ibid., 18.
Robert E. Bonner, Colors and Blood: Flag Passions of the Confederate South. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2002.
John M. Coski, “The Confederate Battle Flag in American History and Culture,” Southern Cultures 2, no. 2 (1996): 195-231.
John M. Coski, The Confederate Battle Flag America’s Most Embattled Emblem. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2005.
J. Faith Meader and Cameron Binkley, Fort Pulaski National Monument: Administrative History. Atlanta: Cultural Resources Division, Southeast Regional Office, National Park Service, 2003.
Kevin Thornton, “The Confederate Flag and the Meaning of Southern History,” Southern Cultures 2, no. 2 (1996): 233-45.
Earl P. Williams, What You Should Know About the Flags of the Confederacy. Gettysburg, PA: Thomas Publications, 1993.