below article was published by Newsweek in July 2015. Yes, it is older, but it is
one of the first items that pops up when one begins researching “Confederate
flags” online. You can see the full article here. I chose to respond because of
its top-tier ranking, and because it errs several different times. If you are
interested in reliable sources on Confederate flags, I recommend the 1995
edition of The Returned Battle Flags and Deveraux Cannon’s The Flags
of the Confederacy. My comments are in red.
was April 1865 and the Union had just declared victory. Except, they did not. The
war lingered for months. President Andrew Johnson did not declare the war officially
over until August 20, 1866. A rebel soldier with the 9th Virginia Cavalry was preparing
to hand over his weapons. He kept only the clothes on his back and probably his blanket,
canteen, haversack, etc. A certain number of Confederate soldiers in the Army
of Tennessee were even allowed to keep their rifles to protect groups of veterans
from roving bands of outliers and Federal deserters as they traveled home. and, in a final act
of rebellion, hid a Confederate battle flag by tying it around his torso. Union soldiers who were
captured in battle often did this as well. It’s less an “act of rebellion,” than
one of of love and devotion, for both sides. Over a century later, the flag,
deemed one of the rarest relics from the Civil War, sold for $82,000 at
years, the Confederate flag has served as a powerful symbol, one that's meant
wildly different things to different folks. For some, it harks back to the old
South, for others it's a reminder of the sanctity of states' rights. For
memorabilia enthusiasts, the flag is an intriguing antiquity, while for another
ilk it's a decal to put atop a Dodge Charger that proudly proclaims membership
in Redneck Nation.
for white supremacists, the Confederate flag represents a preferable alternate
reality, one in which the South won the Civil War and slavery was never
abolished. Debate about the Confederate flag's true meaning flared up after
Dylann Roof was arrested in connection with the Charleston, South Carolina,
church killings, in which nine African-Americans were gunned down in the middle
of Bible study. Roof, a self-proclaimed white supremacist, authored a
racist manifesto that has photographs of him holding the Confederate flag,
posing in front of a Confederate museum and visiting a Confederate cemetery.
Legislators rushed to
debate whether the flag ought to be taken down from statehouse
flagpoles, and many businesses removed the flags from their shelves. Even
reruns of the late-'70s TV show The Dukes of Hazzard, in
which the car driven by the main characters is emblazoned with a Confederate
flag, were dropped from the TV Land schedule because of the controversy. All
the while, Confederate memorabilia collectors squirmed.
estimate that there are only 20 to 50 authentic Confederate battle flags on the
private collectors' market today. These flags, also called the rebel flag and
colloquially called the Confederate flag, are marked by a large blue 'X' and
adorned in white stars. Though this flag is today primarily associated with the
Confederacy, it was only the flag used during combat. There were actually dozens
of different types of Confederate flags used in battle, or as battle flags. It was rejected as
official flag of the Confederate States of America, which used four other
flags, all variations of the American flag. There were only three National
Confederate flags. Only one resembled the flag of the United States. Nonetheless, that battle flag is the
enduring icon of the Confederacy.
flags were often destroyed by Union soldiers following a battle that went in
the North's favor. Considering there were over 500 battle flags that were captured
during the war and survived, this is not true. Did it happen? Yes. Often? Probably
not. Flags were valued as trophies, so it is unlikely that a Federal soldier
would destroy a prime prize rather than carrying it home. That’s why so many flags
ended up in the North. The Confederate soldiers were more likely to cut up
their flags rather than surrender them to the enemy. Others were turned over
to the United States Congress Actually, they were sent to the
Adjutant General’s office, then in 1867 to the War Department building. and eventually made
their way into the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia. Surrendered or captured,
yes. “turned over”? Rarely. President Grover Cleveland tried to return the
flags to various Southern states in 1887. There was such a cry against this
that he rescinded the order. Finally in 1905, the flags were returned. Those
that could be identified went to their respective states. Those that could not,
or were flags identified to Virginia, went to the Confederate Memorial Literacy
Society in Richmond, later called the Museum of the Confederacy. The remaining flags wound up at auction,
though a few are believed to be with the families of the soldiers who brought
them home after the war. There are flags in various museums across the South, and even some
held in museums in the North. A museum in Iowa has dozens, testimony to the
trophy-hunting aspect of flag capturing by Union soldiers.
is usually a good thing for collectors, but memorabilia experts say the
Confederate flag market is "softening"—a polite way of saying sales
are plummeting. And that can't be pinned on the recent controversy. In 2007, a
Confederate flag in moderate condition commanded $77,000 at Heritage Auctions
in Dallas. A similar flag brought only $50,000 in 2010. "Had it sold at
the same auction in 2007, it would've been in the $77,000 price range as
well," says Marsha Dixey, the consignment director for the auction house.
Heritage, founded in 1976, boasts over $900 million in revenue a year and employs
hundreds of memorabilia experts. It's also the largest collectibles auctioneer
in the world, which is why so much Civil War memorabilia ends up there. The market has not softened.
The flag of the 4th North Carolina Cavalry was sold at auction in
2018 for $96,000.
lot of factors contribute to the changing market, the most obvious being the
economic downturn of 2008. However, the generation that typically collected
Civil War memorabilia in general—and Confederate flags in particular—is also
dying out without being replaced by a younger generation of collectors. "A
40-year-old is not as interested as an older person who remembers their
grandfather talking about the war," Dixey explains. I actually know many of the
under 40 crowd who are interested in history.
say the culture is also changing. History teaches us that the “culture”
is always changing. "It has a lot to do with political change, especially
with what happened recently with Charleston. That will impact flag sales,"
explains Michael Collins, executive director of the Civil War Antiques
Preservation Society. "That flag should never have been flying on the
statehouse. It's a battle flag, and that sends the message that you are going
against the Union."
says backlash against antique Confederate flags has changed the policies of
auction houses. Some houses often specify what kinds of items they will and
will not trade in: Ivory and looted items are among common items auction houses
refuse to sell under their social responsibility policy. The largest and most
venerable auction houses in the world, Sotheby's and Christie's, rarely deal in
Confederate flags. "They want to make it clear that they do not agree with
the philosophies associated with the flag being offered up for sale," says
the biggest auction houses voluntarily out of the game, two houses—Heritage and
James D. Julia Incorporated, based in Fairfield, Maine—have established
themselves as the leaders of the Civil War market. Heritage deals in so much
Confederate memorabilia that a change in its sales policy regarding flags could
radically alter the market. Collins says that if it refuses to handle them, "It
would actually drive the price [of memorabilia] up because then there would be
a very limited place to buy and sell such items."
D. Julia sells only about 3,000 items a year, but that inventory includes some
of the rarest collectibles in the world. A planned October auction will include
the only flag known to have been carried by both Confederate soldiers and
marines during the Civil War. John Sexton, one of the nation's leading experts
in Confederate memorabilia, estimates that even in the softened market, this
flag could bring as much as $250,000. "The market can never really hurt
rare and desirable objects, even if there's a lack of interest and lack of
demand," he explains.
flags are still pieces of history," says Sexton. "It's a shame that
some racist fool used a mass-produced prop in his violence. But this is still a
great, iconic piece of American history that turned out to be on the losing
asked if he would ever ban the flag from his auctions, auction house owner
James D. Julia said he would not, just as he has not banned Nazi memorabilia.
"I deal in historical items, not symbols," Julia explained.
"People who buy these things are institutions, museums, major collectors.
They are not reinventing the pre–Civil War South. I understand why some firms
don't handle them—because it's not politically correct. But if we did this with
relics of every generation that happened before us, we would have no history
left. We would know nothing."