The Confederate Flag

Editorial in the Virginia Richmond Dispatch
December 7, 1861

The adoption of our present flag was a natural, but most pernicious blunder. As the old flag itself was not the author of our wrongs, we tore off a piece of the dear old rag and set it up as a standard. We took it for granted a flag was a divisible thing, and proceeded to set off our proportion. So we took, at a rough calculation, our share of the stars and our fraction of the stripes, and put them together and called them the Confederate flag. Even as Aaron of old put the gold into the fire and then came out "this calf," so certain stars and stripes went into committee, and then came out "this flag." All this was honest and fair to a fault. We were clearly entitled to from seven to eleven of the stars, and three or four of the stripes.

Indeed, as we were maintaining the principles it was intended to represent, and the North had abandoned them, we were honestly entitled to the whole flag. Had we kept it, and fought for it, and under it, and conquered it from the North, it would have been no robbery, but all right and fair. And we should either have done this, i. e., kept the flag as a whole - or else we should have abandoned it as a whole and adopted another. But if we did not choose to assert our title to the whole, was it politic or judicious to split the flag and claim one of the fractions? We had an equal right also to "Hail Columbia" and "Yankee Doodle." We might have adopted a part of "Yankee Doodle," (say every third stanza,) or else "Yankee Doodle," with variations, as our national air. In the choice of an air we were not guilty of this absurdity, but we have perpetrated one exactly parallel to it in the choice of a national flag. There is no exaggeration in the illustration. It seems supremely ridiculous, yet it scarcely does our folly justice.

There is but one feature essential to a flag, and that is distinctness. Beauty, appropriateness, good taste, are all desirable, but the only thing indispensable is distinctness - wide, plain, unmistakable distinction from other flags. Unfortunately this indispensable thing is just the thing which the Confederate flag lacks. And failing in this, it is a lamentable and total failure, absolute and irredeemable. The failure is in a matter of essence. It is as complete as that of writing which cannot be read - of a gun which cannot be shot - of a coat which cannot be worn. It is the play of "Hamlet" with the part of Hamlet left out. A flag which does not distinguish may be a very nice piece of bunting - it may be handsomely executed, tasteful, expressive, and a thousand other things, but it has no title at all to bear the name of flag.

We knew the flag we had to fight, yet instead of getting as far from it, we were guilty of the huge mistake of getting as near to it as possible. We sought similarity. Adopting a principle diametrically wrong, we made a flag as nearly like theirs as could, under favorable circumstances, be distinguished from it. Under unfavorable circumstances (such as constantly occur in practice) the two flags are indistinguishable. In the wars of the Roses in Great Britain one side adopted the white and the other the red rose. Suppose that one side had adopted milk white and the other flesh white, or one a deep pink and the other a lighter shade of pink, would there have been any end to the confusion?

When a body of men is approaching in time of war it is rather an important matter to ascertain, if practicable, whether they are friends or foes. Certainly no question could well be more radical in its influence upon our action, plans, and movements. To solve this important question is the object of a flag. When they get near us there may be other means of information; but to distinguish friends from enemies at a distance is the specific purpose of a flag. Human ingenuity is great, and may conceive some other small purposes - presentations, toasts, speeches, &c. - but that this is the great end of a flag, will not be denied; and it is in this that the Confederate flag fails.

There is no case in history in which broad distinction in the symbols of the combatants was more necessary than it has been in the present war. Our enemies are of the same race with ourselves - of the same color and even shade of complexion - they speak the same language, wear like clothing, and are of like form and stature. (The more shame that they should make war upon us.) Our general appearance being the same we must rely solely upon symbols for distinction. The danger of mistake is great after all possible precautions have been taken. Sufficient attention has never been paid to this important matter, involving life or death - victory or defeat. Our badges, uniforms, flags, should be perfectly distinguishable from those of the enemy. Our first and distant information is dependent solely on the flag.

To argue this objection further would be a waste of words. And yet this one objection is vital and insuperable. We shall, nevertheless, add some considerations in another article on the same subject. |