Despite its bitter association with secession and Civil War, the battle flag—often called the Stars and Bars or the Stainless Banner—was not born as a symbolic emblem. Instead, its origins lie in a desire to provide a distinguishable banner for the Army of Northern Virginia. Its resemblance to the Union flag, combined with similarities between the two sides’ uniforms and the confusion of battle, caused serious confusion at First Manassas and contributed to the Confederate defeat there.Find out

This is one of a series of national flags produced in March and April 1861, prior to the adoption of the Second National Flag (May 1, 1863). It is patterned after the Army of Northern Virginia’s battle flag. A blue saltire—like the one on the Scottish national flag and in the state flag of Alabama—is featured within a white canton, which contains seven white stars representing the Confederacy’s current states. In addition, a single, large, central star resembles the St. Andrew’s cross, the traditional symbol of Scotland.

Legacy of the South: Understanding the First National Confederate Flag

Since the Civil War, use of the battle flag has been a source of controversy. Its champions have argued that it is a flag of Southern culture and a historic symbol of the South’s struggle against the United States. Critics have argued that it is a racist symbol that represents a fight to preserve slavery and to oppose the civil rights advances of African Americans. This debate has grown even more contentious in the wake of the murders of nine black parishioners in Charleston, South Carolina, in June 2015 by a white supremacist group displaying the Stars and Bars.