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The state flag of Louisiana was officially adopted in July 1912. It depicts an Eastern Brown Pelican, the state's official bird, feeding her three offspring by piercing her own breast with her beak. This image is believed to originate from an early belief that the pelican sustained its offspring with its own blood during times of scarcity. The state flag of Louisiana shows the mother bird and her chicks in a nest on a backdrop of blue. A sash below the birds generally bears the words "Union, Justice & Confidence," Louisiana's official state motto.
The pelican symbolism used on the state flag of Louisiana also appears on the state's great seal, the design for which was adopted in 1902. The image of the pelican feeding her young from her own flesh and blood is symbolic of selflessness and piety. The pelican is depicted on the state flag of Louisiana with exactly three drops of blood springing from her flesh.
Louisiana may be among the more unique American states because it has been owned by three countries during its history. The state was originally a Spanish colony, and it then became a French colony before the United States acquired it as part of the Louisiana purchase. As a result, Louisiana has flown a number of flags throughout its history. Louisiana earned its statehood in 1812, and though it did not fly an official state flag until 1861, scholars believe that early unofficial flags may have followed the pelican theme used on the modern flag design. Historians believe that an early version of the modern state flag of Louisiana was used prior to and throughout the Civil War, as well as after the war.
The state was briefly independent for about two months in 1861, after it seceded from the United States of America, but before it officially joined the Confederate States of America. Some consider the state flag flown during these weeks to have been the flag of a sovereign country. This flag depicted 13 red, white, and blue stripes. In the upper left corner of this flag was usually displayed a yellow star against a red backdrop. In addition to this flag, the state may have also flown a flag similar to that of the French.
During Louisiana's time with the Confederate States of America, the state flew the flags of that nation. The Confederate States altered their flag design at least three times during the Civil War. These alterations are each believed to have occurred due to concerns about how the flags would appear on the battlefield. The Confederacy's original flag pictured a ring of white stars against a blue backdrop in the upper left corner, with two horizontal red bars separated by a white bar on the right. This design was eventually altered due to concerns that it could not be distinguished from the enemy's flag on a battlefield. Subsequent flag designs were largely white, and some people seemed to fear that these flags could be easily mistaken for surrender signals.