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What is the Stars and Bars?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 19 November 2016
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The Stars and Bars was the first official flag for the Confederate States of America. Formally adopted in March 1861, the flag remained in use until May 1863. Many people are unfamiliar with the Stars and Bars, and tend to think of either the Confederate Battle Flag or the Navy Jack flag as the official flag for the Confederacy. The first appearance of the Stars and Bars was over Fort Sumter in the harbor of Charleston, North Carolina in 1861.

The design for the Stars and Bars was somewhat similar to that of the official Union flag for the United States. The same basic color scheme of red, white, and blue was used for the Stars and Bars. A blue boxed area appeared in the upper left-hand corner of the design. Included in the blue area were seven white stars, representing the original seven states that seceded from the United States to form the basis for the Confederacy. The remainder of the flag was devoted to wide stripes alternating in red and white. Later versions of the official flag expanded the number of stars to thirteen.

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While the adoption of the Stars and Bars as the official flag for the Confederacy is documents in the records of the provisional Confederate Congress, there is some doubt as to who actually designed the original flag. Many sources hold that Nicola Marschall created the original design. Marschall was a well-known Prussian artist of the day who is also credited with the basic design for the Austrian flag. However, other sources indicate the design was the invention of Orrin Randolph Smith of Henderson, North Carolina. Two key points that are noted by supporters of Marschall as the designer are that he was well known for his work with flags and he was also located in Alabama, not far from the first capital of the Confederacy in Montgomery.

One disadvantage to the Stars and Bars was that the Confederate flag was very similar in design to the official United States battle flag. This often led to some confusion on the battleground. By 1863, the original design was retired, and a new official flag was adopted. In addition, several Confederate battle flags came into common usage that were markedly different from US battle flags. Of all Confederate flags used during the Civil war, the Navy Jack is the one that is most easily recognized by most people.

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