The Real Confederate Flag Looks Like This

Jun 23, 2015 at 3:47 PM ET

The flag currently at the center of a national controversy—popularly described as the “Confederate” flag—was never actually the official flag for the Confederate States of America.

The flag celebrated by Dylann Roof and flown controversially atop the South Carolina capital building was actually rejected as the Confederate States national flag in 1861. Instead, General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia used it as their battle flag—the flag that represented their fight.

That flag (also known as the rebel flag or dixie flag) became a popular symbol of the Confederate States after the Civil War, likely because most people who celebrated the Confederacy were veterans. It thus became a potent symbol of the slavery-era South. It wasn’t a Confederate flag, but here are the ones that were:

The First Confederate Flag

The first flag of the Confederate States was designed by German-American artists Nicola Marschall. It looks like a fusion of the flag of the Austrian Empire and the U.S. flag, with three red-and-white stripes around the outside, and a blue center with a star for every state of the Confederacy. Many in the Confederate South criticized the flag for its resemblance to the Union’s flag.

The Second Confederate Flag

The second official Confederate flag was undeniably racist, and was designed by Georgia newspaper editor William T. Thompson. For his “Stainless Banner,” Thompson put the battle flag in the top left corner of an otherwise pure white flag, because, as Thompson explained: “As a people we are fighting to maintain the heaven-ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race; a white flag would thus be emblematical of our cause.”

The Third Confederate Flag

The problem with the Thompson’s flag was that it was too white. Many were concerned—particularly in a time of war—that it could be seen as a flag of surrender. The “Blood-Stained Banner,” which added a vertical red bar to the previous design, became the new Confederate flag with the passing of the Flag Act of 1865. However, since the Civil War was coming to an end, this final flag only flew for two months.

States that incorporate the Confederate flag into their flags

Mississippi is the only state whose flag still includes a symbol of the battle flag, though Florida and Alabama incorporate a cross that is likely a nod to the battle flag. Just one state still uses characteristics of the first Confederate national flag. Georgia, which voted to remove the battle flag from their flag in 2001, still flies a flag that is practically identical to the first official symbol of the Confederacy.