7

William Tappan Thompson is not infrequently referenced as the "creator" and "designer" of the Confederate States of America (CSA) national flag in popular media, see William Thompson Designed the Confederate Flag Explicitly as a Racist Symbol by Daniel Miessler, William Thompson, The Confederate Cause, And The White Man’s Flag.

It appears that Thompson was able to convey his opinion as to the design and purpose of the CSA national flag to the public due to his position as editor of the newspaper Daily Morning News (Savannah, Georgia) which later became the Savannah Morning News.

The idea of Confederacy was expressed unequivocally by CSA Vice-President Alexander Stephens

Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition.


Thompson's ideas were in accord with Stephens', as can be found in Thompson's writings as to the purpose of the CSA national flag. Although there is some historical debate as to the significance of Thompson's role in actually designing one or more of the national flags which the CSA adopted, his published works relevant to the CSA national flag survive.

It should be noted here that the practical purpose of the (re)design of the flag appears to be the issue of the prominence of the color white being mistaken for the sign of surrender by the army

Our idea is simply to combine the present battle-flag with a pure white standard sheet; our Southern Cross, blue on a red field, to take the place on the white flag that is occupied by the blue union in the old United States flag, or the St. George’s cross in the British flag. 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.


While we consider the flag which has been adopted by the Senate as a very decided improvement of the old United States flag, we still think the battle-flag on a pure white field would be more appropriate and handsome. Such a flag would be a suitable emblem of our young confederacy, and, sustained by the brave hearts and strong arms of the South, it would soon take rank among the proudest ensigns of the nations, and be hailed by the civilized world as THE WHITE MAN’S FLAG.


As a national emblem, it is significant of our higher cause, – the cause of a superior race, and a higher civilization contending against ignorance, infidelity, and barbarism. Another merit in the new flag is, that it bears no resemblance to the now infamous banner of the Yankee vandals.

If disambiguation is necessary to distinguish between the "Rebel" flag or other terms used to describe the contemporary "Confederate" flag, kindly do so within the text of the answer.

Did the Confederate States of America ever officially adopt any of the descriptions of William Tappan Thompson as to the national flag of the CSA?

  • Please provide sources for any quoted material. – justCal Jul 8 '18 at 20:25
  • @justCal The primary sources are listed at the links in the question. In particular see the references at the article The Confederate Cause, And The White Man’s Flag by thiscruelwar. The quote attributed to Vice-President Alexander Stephens (CSA) can be located at the Wikipedia page for that name. Which specific sources for the quotations at the question are you not able to locate? – guest271314 Jul 8 '18 at 20:35
  • 2
    Is anything missing from the answers to this similar question on Skeptics:SE? – sempaiscuba Jul 8 '18 at 22:11
  • @sempaiscuba That would appear to answer the present question in the negative as to William T. Thompson's literary publications of the national flag of the Confederate States of America actually being adopted by the CSA. Do we have the final official description of the CSA national flag to definitively exclude all of Thompson's literary publications from incorporation of any kind into the official description of the CSA national flag? – guest271314 Jul 9 '18 at 4:37
  • The links provided in the answer certainly appear to provide that. Do you have some reason to doubt their veracity? – sempaiscuba Jul 9 '18 at 9:32
5

According to the answers to this essentially similar question on Skeptics:SE, it looks like the answer is no (although it seems Thompson did try to claim credit in his newspaper).


In fact, P. G. T. Beauregard, who would become the first prominent general of the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War, independently advocated an essentially similar design in a letter to Confederate Congressman C. J. Villeré dated April 24 1863. Beauregard wrote simply:

"Why change our battle-flag, consecrated by the best blood of our country on so many battle-fields? A good design for the national flag would be the present battle-flag as union-jack, and the rest all-white, or all blue."

Edward D. Townsend, Anecdotes of the Civil War in the United States, p206.


Beauregard's role in the design of the battle-flag of the CSA is described in some detail in the 1872 book Our Flag. Origin and Progress of the Flag of the United States of America by George H. Preble. Given his prominence in that regard, it seems likely that his recommendation would have carried much greater weight than that of a newspaper editor from Savannah.

Preble also notes the wording that accompanies the recommendation for the Flag and Seal Committee to the Senate of the CSA:

The committee humbly think that the flag which they submit combines these requisites. It is very easy to make. It is entirely different from any national flag. The three colors of which it is composed, red, white and blue, are the true republican colors. In heraldry they are emblematic of the three great virtues of valor, purity and truth. Naval men assure us that it can be recognized at a great distance. The colors contrast admirably and are lasting. In effect and appearance it must speak for itself.

You'll notice that the supremacist interpretations that Thompson (and others) wished to attach to the colours of the flag are entirely absent from the Committee's recommendation.


The design agreed by committee was put before the Senate of the CSS on 1 May 1863. It's passage is recorded in the Journal of the Congress of the Confederate States of America, Volume 6, pp 275-280.

The bill establishing the flag was eventually approved in the following terms:

The Congress of the Confederate States of America do enact, That the flag of the Confederate States shall be as follows: the field to be white, the length double the width of the flag, with the union, (now used as the battle flag,) to be a square of two thirds the width of the flag, having the ground red; thereon a broad saltier of blue, bordered with white, and emblazoned with white mullets or five pointed stars, corresponding in number to that of the Confederate States.


As noted in the first answer to the question on Skeptics:SE, if you are looking for a comprehensive description of the evolution of the flag of the CSA, you may find the Illustrated Documentary history of the flag and seal of the Confederate States of America, 1861-1865, by Raphael P. Thian, to be of interest. As the answer to that question notes:

Numerous flag designs were considered before the flag as introduced by Hartridge was adopted. Some people gave extremely racist reasoning for their designs, with white representing the supremacy of the white race, while to others white represented, purity, innocence or peace.

  • 1
    +1 for a well-researched and well-reasoned answer. – Lars Bosteen Jul 9 '18 at 23:04
  • Additional primary source material: Confederate Flag Designer William Porcher Miles on the Heraldry of the Battle Flag (a letter written by William Porcher Miles, whose design of a Confederate flag was adopted by the Army of Northern Virginia as a battle flag and later incorporated into the second Confederate States of America national flag, to Gen. G. T. Beauregard) – guest271314 Jul 10 '18 at 1:35
  • @guest271314 Thank you, yes. That letter is included in full (with the sketches) on page 2 of the Illustrated Documentary history of the flag and seal of the Confederate States of America, 1861-1865.mentioned in the text. – sempaiscuba Jul 10 '18 at 2:02
  • Good answer, though it doesn't seem to contradict the question of whether the CSA adopted such a flag as the answer would be yes they did. The Stainless banner and the blood-stained banner match this description closely. The only argument appears to be who had the greater influence in getting it adopted which was not the question. – Daniel Jul 12 '18 at 12:20
  • @Daniel The flags certainly match Thompson's description, but that doesn't mean that the Congress of the CSA adopted his designs. The question here is Did the Confederate States of America ever officially adopt William T. Thompson's descriptions of the CSA national flag. Thompson's editorials would have you believe they did. In reality, most of the Congress of the CSA probably didn't even hear about Thompson until after the event. Beauregard, on the other hand, was already known to the Congress and actually explicitly wrote to them with that design. – sempaiscuba Jul 12 '18 at 16:33

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