Navy has a remarkable history, a history that does not get nearly enough print
time. Part of the challenge is the loss of records at the end of the war. But
there are still plenty of avenues to explore.
|CSS Alabama Ensign Mariners Museum |
flags are just one of those subjects. A ship could have two or more flags. A
naval jack is flown from a jackstaff at the bow (or front) of the vessel, while
an ensign is frown from a mast. An ensign is usually much larger than a jack. There
are also naval pennants and signal flags. Unfortunately, we really don’t have
any photographs of Confederate naval vessels under sail, or steam, so our
images are limited to artist renditions or surviving flags (we’ll talk about
written accounts in another post). In May 1863, Secretary of the Navy Stephen
Mallory adopted regulations for naval flags. The Second National was the
official ensign. According to regulations, the width of the flag was to be
two-thirds its length. “The Jack,” according to the same regulations, was “to
be the same as the union for the Ensign, except that its length shall be one
and a half times its width.”
|CSS Alabama Ensign Mariners Museum|
It seems that the
majority of the surviving Confederate naval flags are the Ensigns. These are
usually First or Second National flags and are usually quite large. At the same
time, no two Confederate naval ensigns seem to be the same size. The First Nationals
in the old Museum of the Confederacy’s collections are recorded as such (in
inches): CSS Calhoun, 61x150; CSS Jeff Davis 77x92; unknown,
53x132; and, another unknown 80x120.
Other vessels had Second National flags. The CSS Albemarle
lost two Second Nationals when the ship was captured in October 1864. The first
was 105x200, and the second was 80x125. The Second National of the CSS Shenandoah
measured 88x136. The museum’s collection has only one Confederate naval jack –
from the CSS Savannah--which measures 63x103.
Several flags from the CSS Alabama, probably the
second-most-famous of all Confederate naval vessels, survive. One of those is a First National,
64x112 ½ inches. The flag is considered an “auxiliary flag,” and according to
tradition, was found floating among the flotsam after the battle with the USS Kearsarge
(it was purchased from a shop in Paris in 1884). It is possible that this flag
was also used on the CSS Sumter. This flag is at the Alabama Department
of Archives and History. The Mariner’s Museum in Virginia has both a First
National Ensign (33x50) and a Second National Ensign (108x186) in its
collections attributed to the CSS Alabama. The Tennessee State Museum has a Second
National, measuring 106x209. This flag was captured by a sailor from the USS Kearsarge
on June 19, 1864.
|CSS Jeff Davis Ensign, Museum of the Confederacy|
The Alabama Department of Archives and History also has the
flag of the CSS Florida, a Second National measuring 72½ x 142¼; and,
the Second National of the CSS Huntsville (could not find the size).
|CSS Savannah Naval Jack, Museum of the Confederacy|
The South Carolina Confederate Relic Room & Museum has a
Confederate Naval Jack. It measures 22 ¼ x 30 ½. It has a red field with eleven
stars in a Christian cross pattern.
There are undoubtedly other naval flags out there. The
National Civil War Museum in Columbus, Georgia, has several naval flags in its
collection, but a good online description could not be found. The above post is
not to be seen as a definitive account.
Dedmondth, The Flags of Civil War Alabama (2001)
Dedmondth, The Flags of Civil War North
Dedmondth, The Flags of Civil War South
Rose, Colours of the Gray: An Illustrated Index
of Wartime Flags from the Museum of the Confederacy’ Collection (1998)