FLAGS

 

The battle flag displayed above and at the top of the HOME page of this website is a graphic representation of the colors of the 26th Louisiana Infantry, the regiment in which my paternal great-grandfather and two of his brothers served.  The original colors are held by the State Historical Society of Iowa, whose restrictions on use of the original's image prevent its display here.

The web pages for most of the units in this study display the official flag of the State of Louisiana, which was adopted in 1912, the centennial of Louisiana's statehood.  Therefore, this distinctive flag bearing the state bird, the brown pelican, and the state's motto, "Union, Justice and Confidence," did not exist during the War Between the States.  However, flag expert Greg Biggs, on Devereaux D. Cannon, Jr.'s authoritative website, Flags of the Confederacy, states about the official Louisiana flag of February 1861:  "While Louisiana did create a new state flag, very, very few actually seemed to have been used by her troops. Instead, her companies and regiments seemed to go for the pre-war state coat of arms on blue flags. These arms were not deemed very martial-like though, for they depict a pelican feeding her young (this is the state flag today). Despite this, numerous examples of these flags exist, with the coat of arms even being used on Confederate First National flags as well."  

The new state flag referred to above was adopted by the Louisiana state convention a few weeks after Louisiana seceded from the Union and became an independent republic.  Howard Michael Madaus & Ken Legendre write in Flags of the Confederacy:

The newly independent "Republic of Louisiana" adopted a state flag by action of the State Convention on 11 February 1861. On that date, the committee, which had been appointed on 4 February 1861 for the task of devising a national flag for Louisiana, composed of John K. Elgee of Rapides Parish (chairman), A. Bienvenu Roman of St. James and St. John the Baptist Parish, and Claiborne C. Briscoe of Madison Parish, proposed an ordinance "to establish a flag for the state of Louisiana" that read:

We, the people of the State of Louisiana in convention assembled, do ordain and establish that the flag of the State of Louisiana shall consist and be composed of thirteen horizontal stripes of the colors hereinafter described, and to be disposed in the following order, commencing from the upper line or edge of the flag, to wit: the first stripe blue; second, white; third, red; fourth, white; fifth, blue; sixth, white; seventh, red; eighth, white; ninth, blue; tenth, white; eleventh, red; twelfth, white; and the thirteenth, or bottom stripe, blue.

We do further ordain and establish that there shall be in the upper or chief corner of the flag, a square field, the color whereof shall be red; and the sides therefore equal to the width of seven stripes, and that in the center of said field there shall be a star of due proportionate size, having five points or rays; and that the color of the said star shall be a pail yellow.

We do further ordain and establish that the said flag, and no other, shall be the national flag of the State of Louisiana.

The traditional (and in use today) Pelican symbol was discarded because as Mr. Elgee said, "The pelican is in form unsightly, in habits filthy, in nature cowardly." With regard to the symbolism of the new flag, the committee stated that: "The thirteen stripes represent the original 13 colonies"; "The blue, the white, the red are emblems of hope, virtue and valor"; and "To the children of Spain we dedicate the colors of red and yellow, which we have woven into our plan."

No one knows who directly deserves credit for the design of the flag. However on Feb. 12, 1861 the Convention resolved "that the sum of 25 dollars be allowed to C. A. DeArmas as a compensation for having made and painted the original drawing which was used in the making of the flag adopted by this convention as the flag of Louisiana."

A committee was formed to arrange the matter of unveiling the flag to the public. This was done on Feb. 12th. The Convention took recess to attend. The ceremony took place in Lafayette Square fronting Gallier Hall (New Orleans City Hall at the time). The military of the city turned out and the flag was run up the city hall flagstaff. A salute of 21 guns was given by the Washington Artillery. The flag remained there until taken down by Ben Butler's troops in April 1862. It was taken to Boston where it was stored in the city clerk's vault. It was borrowed by some veterans for the Bunker Hill celebration of 1875 and never returned.

Nine days after the flag was adopted, the state purchased six storm flags of this state pattern from Henry Cassidy of New Orleans at the price of $25.00 each. The size of these flags was not recorded, but a 25 foot fly state flag purchased from Cassidy on 28 May cost $40.00, so it is presumed that the six ordered on 19 February were smaller. Two even smaller state flags were also purchased on 25 February 1861 from Henry Cassidy for the recruiting rendezvous of Captain Scott and Captain Fry for respectively $9.00 and $7.00 each.

The state flag adopted on 11 February 1861 saw little use beyond these early state purchases, as the Confederate 1st national flag soon superseded the state flag over Confederate forts and garrisons within the state. As a military unit flag, it was also only briefly used. Only one unit flag survives that conforms to the 11 February 1861 state flag resolution, and it is unidentified as to the unit who received it.

However, another flag survives that was captured at Port Hudson that nearly conforms to the design. It, however, bears a canton that substituted the French tricolor (blue, white, and red vertical bars) for the plain red canton, with the yellow star on the white central bar. This flag was not alone in this distinction. The "French Legion" raised in New Orleans in June and July of 1861 was presented a nearly identical flag with the embroidered inscription "Francaise Legion, July 1861" according to local newspaper accounts.

Despite the statement in the adoptive resolution that "no other shall be the national flag of the State of Louisiana", local sewing circles prepared several flags that reflected the pre-War militia flags that had occasionally represented the military units of the state. These flags were generally made of blue silk with a panel or large five-pointed star in their center, upon which was borne the state coat-of-arms-- a Pelican feeding its young, with scrolls bearing the state mottoes, "Union" (sometimes left out), "Justice", and "Confidence". Such a flag of the "Home Guard/Iberville Greys" (Company A, 3rd Louisiana Infantry) was described as being "a blue silk field with gold fringe trim. A large crimson star at the center had the arms and motto of Louisiana in it. A floating scroll of red ribbon edged with gold was above the star and had in it in gold letters, "Equality In The Union." A similar scroll was below the star and contained the words, "Or Independence Out Of It." Only a few of these flags survive.

(based on reserch by Ken Legendre, Arthur Bergeron, Greg Biggs, Devereaux Cannon, and Howard Michael Madaus.)

The February 1861 Independent flag is not nearly as familiar a symbol of the Pelican State as the flag adopted by the Louisiana state legislature in 1912.  Despite the anachronism, the 1912 flag is used on this website as a symbol of the Pelican State and will remain on a unit's page until I find an actual flag or a representation of an actual flag that a Louisiana unit carried on the field of battle. 

Louisiana units during most of the War would have carried variations of either the national flag of the Confederate States--the First National, or Stars and Bars, such as the 26th Infantry's flag; and later the Second National, or Stainless Banner--or variations of the Confederate Battle Flag.  

Here are representations of the Confederate flags that Louisiana units would have carried into battle:

 

                              First National, or Stars and Bars

                              Second National, or Stainless Banner

                                     Battle Flag, Army of Northern Virginia pattern

                                  Battle Flag, Army of Tennessee pattern

 

Here are the Louisiana flags of 1861 and 1912:

 

                                        Independent Louisiana, adopted February 1861

                                    Official state flag of Louisiana, adopted 1912

 

And, of course, the West Florida Lone Star flag of 1810, known as the Bonnie Blue Flag, also was carried by some Louisiana units in battle:

 

 

For an interesting history of these and other flags of Louisiana, see the website of the Secretary of State of Louisiana.

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Copyright (c) 2003-04  Steven A. Cormier