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Whenever someone says ‘Confederate flag,’ most people’s minds conjure up the same image: the good ol’ Stars and Bars.

Or, do they?

The image most people know today as the ‘Confederate flag’ is not the Stars and Bars, although most people would refer to it with this name. The image most associated with the
Confederacy, a red, rectangular flag with a dark blue ‘X’ from corner to corner, filled with 13 white stars, is actually the Confederate Navy Jack, used from 1863 until the end of the war--not the Stars and Bars, but an adaptation of the battle flag. Some refer to the Confederate Navy Jack as the Confederate battle flag. Again, technically, this is not correct. The official Confederate battle flag, also known as the ‘Southern Cross,’ is indeed red, with the same dark blue ‘X’ and 13 white stars, but, whereas the Navy Jack is rectangular in shape, the battle flag is square.

So, what is the Stars and Bars?

The Bonnie Blue, a dark blue rectangular flag with a single white star in the middle, generally known as a flag of secession, was the unofficial flag just after the birth of the Confederacy. However, it was indeed the Stars and Bars that became the first the official flag of the newborn nation. This rectangular flag was similar to the U.S. flag. It had a wide red stripe on top, a wide white stripe in the middle, and a wide red stripe on the bottom. In the upper corner was a dark blue field containing a circle of 7 white stars--South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas. The similarity to the Union flag was confusing, and was a particular problem on the battlefield.

The second official flag of the Confederacy was adopted on May 01, 1863. The Southern Cross was placed as the canton on a rectangular white flag. In addition to the seven states represented on the Stars and Bars, four new states--Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina--had joined the Confederacy, and attempts at secession had been made in Kentucky and Missouri. Hence, 13 white stars on the new flag. The problem with this flag was also discovered in battle: when the flag hung limp, it appeared to be a white flag of surrender.

Before the Confederacy finally fell, a third official flag was adopted. On March 04, 1865, a wide vertical bar of red was added to the end of the second official flag. This was put in place to distinguish it from a surrender flag when hanging limp, but, by this time, the change was pointless--the last Confederate troops surrendered on May 26, 1865, and the Confederacy--and its need for new flags--came to a bloody end.