Confusion about Confederate states flagged

Staff Reporter

HILLSVILLE – Confederate and American flags flew side by side in a cold wind at Hillsville Elementary School Wednesday as students learned about Civil War history.

Two visiting members of the Jubal Early Camp, a chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, stayed warm in their woolen Confederate grays.

Andy Jackson wore three colonel stars and decorations and a replica officer sword. Jerry Cooper Sr. was clad with all the equipment of an infantryman in sergeant’s stripes, a cap box, ammunition box, bayonet and haversack belted around his waist.

The students and the teachers had to go inside due to not being as insulated to the breezes after a few days of 60-degree weather.

It gave Principal Bob Martin a taste of what Civil War soldiers from balmy Alabama must have felt when they came up from the Deep South to fight Union forces, he told Jackson as students and teachers hurried to get back inside.

A version of the Confederate seven stars flag whipped next to its inspiration, the Betsy Ross, the flag that Americans adopted in the days of the Revolutionary War.

It’s the seven stars flag that’s actually the "Stars and Bars," Jackson said. The second Naval Jack and battle flags of the Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of Tennessee are often mistakenly called the Stars and Bars.

Flags of the Confederacy often confuse students, adults and media outlets, Jackson told a cafeteria full of fourth graders.

The Confederacy had six flags as its symbol during the War Between the States.

The many flags stemmed from the need for the Confederacy to distinguish itself from Union soldiers on the battlefield, he said.

The seven stars – with one star for each state that joined the Confederacy – looked too much like the American flag, so soldiers couldn’t tell one side from the other on a battlefield smoky from black powder rounds from firing rifles and artillery.

The secession states adopted the seven stars in 1861 in honor of their ancestors who fought in the Revolutionary War, Jackson explained. Typically, soldiers who volunteer for war are following in the tradition of their ancestors.

Many of the South’s soldiers had grandfathers who fought under George Washington in the Revolutionary War, he said.

Virginia was not one of the first seven, but became the eighth star on the flag, he said. The ninth was for North Carolina.

In all, 11 states seceded and joined the Confederacy, Jackson said. But one version had 13 stars.

Two of those counted for the border states – Kentucky and Missouri – that sent representatives to both governments and troops to both armies.

Maryland sent more troops to the Confederacy, but President Abraham Lincoln held the state militarily so it couldn’t secede from the Union, Jackson said.

The design for the second Confederate national flag consisted of a large field of white with a St. Andrew’s cross in the corner, also called the "Stainless Banner."

Again, this caused trouble on the battlefield. Jackson asked the students why and what the flag looked like.

"Like a surrender flag," a blonde student on the front row answered.

"It looks like a flag of truce," Jackson agreed.

To solve that, officials added a red field opposite the St. Andrew’s cross in 1864.

Most Confederate soldiers didn’t fight under this flag, though.

"We almost let the war get away before we got the flag right," he said.

The St. Andrew’s cross – the symbol most associated with the Confederacy – had special meaning for the secessionists, Jackson said. The symbol was typically adopted by oppressed people who were fighting for freedom.

St. Andrew died by crucifixion on an X-shaped cross. "It’s a Christian symbol," he said.

But the St. Andrew’s cross on the red field wasn’t the Confederate national flag, he said. The Confederate Navy flew that flag from ships.

The armies of Tennessee and Northern Virginia used a similar flag, which differed only in its size and shape. Tennessee’s flag was more oblong than Virginia’s.

Jackson explained that Sons of Confederate Veterans often model uniforms after their ancestors.

Misunderstandings about the Confederacy can often be traced back to movies or other media with poor historical fact checking, he said.

It took him many years to realize that the St. Andrew’s flag wasn’t the one that most Confederates fought under.

Cooper told students that the Confederacy didn’t have the factories to equip soldiers with supplies, so women often sewed and dyed the gray coats.

Soldiers with shoes often wore brogans, which were pegged together. The heels had something like a horseshoe on the bottom to keep them wearing out so quickly.

Most of the soldiers were Southern farmers, so they preferred slouch hats with wide brims.

Blankets often doubled as a soldier’s pack.

Students shivered outside during the second part of the demonstration, among four different kinds of tents that Civil War soldiers used.

Jackson showed students a single-shot black powder rifle and a bayonet.

When he got to a gray overcoat, some students murmured, "Let me wear it."

Though soldiers fought on battlefields for four years, disease took many of the 600,000 who died on both sides. Cooper said most rural farmers were not used to the living conditions that the soldiers had to endure and disease spread rapidly in the camps.

Trying to avoid a cold himself, Martin ended the demonstration to have a warm lunch and invited the camp members to join him