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The Misunderstood Symbol: The Confederate Battle Flag

Introduction to the flag

In the annals of American history, few symbols are as instantly recognizable and controversial as the Confederate battle flag. Commonly mistaken as the ‘Confederate flag,’ this iconic emblem holds a unique place in the nation’s collective memory. In this article, we’ll delve into the history of the flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, its misnomer as the ‘Confederate flag,’ and the complex narratives it represents.

The Confederate Battle Flag: A Brief History

Ru Flag 52x52 Inch Rebel Confederate Battle Flag Calvary Cotton with Grommets

The flag that often comes to mind when people think of the ‘Confederate flag’ is, in fact, the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia. This design features a blue St. Andrew’s cross adorned with white stars, set against a red background. Its striking and memorable appearance made it one of the most enduring symbols of the Confederate States of America during the American Civil War. That flag was actually square and therefore the rectangular version is actual the The Second Confederate Navy Jack, 1863–1865.

Mistaken Identity: Why It’s Called the ‘Confederate Flag’

The misnaming of the flag stems from its widespread use and association with the Confederacy, particularly the Army of Northern Virginia led by General Robert E. Lee. While the Confederate States of America had several official flags during its existence, including the First National Flag (Stars and Bars) and the Second National Flag (Stainless Banner), the battle flag gained immense recognition due to its presence on the battlefield.

As the Army of Northern Virginia carried this flag into numerous battles, it became synonymous with the Confederate cause. Over time, this flag’s prominence led to its common but mistaken designation as the ‘Confederate flag.’ It’s important to note that the Confederacy had various flags, each with its unique design and symbolism.

Complex Symbolism and Interpretations

The Confederate battle flag’s legacy is complex and multi-faceted. For some, it is a symbol of Southern heritage and pride, while for others, it represents slavery, racism, and the struggle for civil rights. Its meaning varies widely depending on one’s perspective, making it a subject of ongoing debate and controversy.

Contemporary Debates and Its Use Today

In recent years, debates over the public display of the Confederate battle flag have intensified. Some argue that it is a historical artifact that should be preserved, while others see it as a painful reminder of a dark chapter in American history. Many states and institutions have grappled with decisions to remove the flag from public spaces.

Why is it called the rebel flag?

The misnomer “Rebel Flag” is another colloquial term often used interchangeably with the Confederate battle flag. This nickname reflects the flag’s association with the Confederate States of America, which was composed of Southern states that seceded from the Union, or in essence, “rebelled” during the American Civil War. The flag’s usage by Confederate forces and its prominent presence in Southern culture have contributed to its informal designation as the “Rebel Flag.” However, like the label “Confederate flag,” it’s important to note that this name simplifies a complex symbol with a range of interpretations and meanings, both historical and contemporary.


The ‘Confederate flag,’ often mistaken for the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, is a symbol that continues to evoke strong emotions and debate. Its history is intertwined with the complexities of the Civil War era and the enduring legacy of the Confederacy. As discussions about its meaning and use persist, it remains a symbol that challenges our understanding of American history and identity.

In this article, we’ve explored the origins of the flag, its misnaming, and the diverse interpretations it holds today. Whether seen as a symbol of heritage or a painful reminder of a divisive past, the Confederate battle flag remains a symbol that cannot be easily ignored or forgotten.

At, we employ the commonly recognized term ‘Confederate flag’ to refer to both the flag of the Army of Northern Virginia and the official 1st, 2nd, and 3rd national flags of the Confederate States of America. While we acknowledge that this terminology simplifies the diverse array of flags utilized by the Confederacy, we do so in response to prevailing public misconceptions and for search engine optimization purposes.

A list of the actual Confederate flags.


First National Confederate Flag 7 Stars and Bars Nylon Embroidered
7 Star First National Confederate Flag
2nd National Confederate Flag Double Nylon Embroidered
2nd National Confederate Flag
Ru Flag 3x5 Confederate Csa 3rd National Flag 3 X 5 Standard
3rd National Confederate Flag

Descriptive poster from the Library of Congress:

Our Heroes and Our Flags 1896

Our Heroes and Our Flags 1896 Poster
Three versions of the flag of the Confederate States of America and the Confederate Battle Flag are shown on this printed poster from 1896 The Stars and Bars can be seen in the upper left Standing at the center are Stonewall Jackson P G T Beauregard and Robert E Lee surrounded by bust portraits of Jefferson Davis Alexander Stephens and various Confederate army officers such as James Longstreet and A P Hill

Color lithograph from 1896 showing four versions of the flag of the Confederate States of America. Standing at the center are Stonewall Jackson, P. G. T. Beauregard, and Robert E. Lee, surrounded by bust portraits of Jefferson Davis and Confederate Army officers. Clockwise from upper-left corner: Gen. Braxton Bragg, Gen. P. T. Beauregard, Jefferson Davis, Alexander H. Stephens, Lt. Gen. T.J. Jackson, Gen S. Price, Lt. Gen Polk, Lt. Gen Hardee, Gen J.E.B. Stuart, Gen J.E. Johnston, Lt. Gen Kirby Smith, John H. Morgan, Albert Sidney Johnston, Gen. Wade Hampton, Gen John B. Gordon, Lt. Gen Longstreet, Gen A.P. Hill, Gen Hood.

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