Naval Jack flag one of six flown by Confederacy

July 31, 1994|By Laura Lippman | Laura Lippman,Sun Staff Writer

When someone calls Flags, Banners and Pennants in downtown Baltimore looking for a Confederate flag, general manager Bill Barr likes to play what he calls a "mind game" with the caller.

"I say, 'Which Confederate flag?' " he says, which leaves most nonplused. Others will try to muddle through, saying nonchalantly: "The Stars and Bars?"

Wrong again, probably.

There are at least six versions of the Confederate flag -- two versions of the familiar battle flag, at the center of the current controversy, the three national flags of the Confederacy and the "Bonnie Blue."

At issue in South Carolina, where the NAACP and others want the flag removed from the State House, is the Naval Jack -- the rectangular battle flag used by the Confederate Navy. A square version of the same design -- the familiar crossed blue lines with 13 stars, on a field of red -- was carried by the army.

In its emergency resolution calling for the ban, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People got it right. Most don't.

For example, some call the battle flag the Stars and Bars, Mr. Barr explains.

But the Stars and Bars was the first official Confederate flag. Its design -- a circle of seven stars against a field of blue in the upper left corner, with two horizontal red stripes separated by a white stripe, was so similar to the U.S. flag of the 1860s that it created confusion in the first battle of Manassas, or Bull Run, in Northeast Virginia.

So the second national, also known as "The Stainless," was put into use after that fight in 1861. This flag, which can be seen flying from the Charleston fort in the film "Glory," had the battle flag in the corner and a large field of white. Too much like a flag of surrender, it was decided.

Baltimore radio talk show host Les Kinsolving says his great-uncle designed the third national, a flag used in the final months of the war, which ended in 1865.

"Arthur Lee Rogers, a major in the Virgina Infantry, on Stonewall Jackson's staff, was badly wounded at Chancellorsville [in 1863]," Mr. Kinsolving explained.

Forced to sit out the war, Rogers contributed to the effort by coming up with a new flag. "He designed it with one big red bar, to indicate no surrender," Mr. Kinsolving said. "But it was never really manufactured, until just at the end."

(The Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Va., confirmed Mr. Kinsolving's version, although they say Arthur Rogers was a captain when he suggested the addition of a red bar, running vertically along the right edge of the flag.)

Finally, there is the Bonnie Blue, a white star on a light blue background, one of the most popular flags in the Confederacy before the war began in 1861. It may be most familiar to readers of "Gone With the Wind." Scarlett and Rhett's daughter, christened Eugenie Victoria, is nicknamed for the flag, after cousin Melanie declares: "Her eyes are as blue as the bonnie blue flag."

By popular acclaim, however, the Naval Jack is now the Confederate flag, for better or worse. One can readily find a full-size version of it, but would have to settle for the others in miniature. And the square battle flag, while available on special order, may cost up to $200, Mr. Barr noted.

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