Confederate Flag Designer William Porcher Miles on the Heraldry of the Battle Flag

Richmond, August 27,1861.
Gen. G. T. Beauregard,
Fairfax Court house, Virginia:

Dear General, I received your letter concerning the flag yesterday, and cordially concur in all that you say. Although I was chairman of the 'Flag Committee,' who reported the present flag, it was not my individual choice. I urged upon the committee a flag of this sort. [Design sketched.] This is very rough, the proportions are bad. [Design of Confederate battle-flag as it is.]

The above is better. The ground red, the cross blue (edged with white), stars white.

This was my favorite. The three colors of red, white, and blue were preserved in it. It avoided the religious objection about the cross (from the Jews and many Protestant sects), because it did not stand out so conspicuously as if the cross had been placed upright thus. [Design sketched.]

Besides, in the form I proposed, the cross was more heraldic than ecclesiastical, it being the 'saltire' of heraldry, and significant of strength and progress (from the Latin salto, to leap). The stars ought always to be white, or argent, because they are then blazoned 'proper' (or natural color). Stars, too, show better on an azure field than any other. Blue stars on a white field would not be handsome or appropriate. The 'white edge' (as I term it) to the blue is partly a necessity to prevent what is called 'false blazoning,' or a solecism in heraldry, viz., blazoning color on color, or metal on metal. It would not do to put a blue cross, therefore, on a red field. Hence the white, being metal argent, is put on the red, and the blue put on the white. The introduction of white between the blue and red, adds also much to the brilliancy of the colors, and brings them out in strong relief.

But I am boring you with my pet hobby in the matter of the flag. I wish sincerely that Congress would change the present one. Your reasons are conclusive in my mind. But I fear it is just as hard now as it was at Montgomery to tear people away entirely from the desire to appropriate some reminiscence of the 'old flag.' We are now so close to the end of the session that even if we could command votes (upon a fair hearing), I greatly fear we cannot get' such hearing. Some think the provisional Congress ought to leave the matter to the permanent. This might, then, be but a provisional flag. Yet, as you truly say, after a few more victories, 'association' will come to the aid of the present flag, and then it will be more difficult than ever to effect a change. I fear nothing can be done; but I will try. I will, as soon as I can, urge the matter of the badges. The President is too sick to be seen at present by any one.

Very respectfully yours,

Wm. Porcher Miles.


Transcribed by T. Lloyd Benson, Department of History, Furman University, from Peleg D. Harrison, The Stars and Stripes and other American Flags (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1908), 337-38. Old style block quotation marks removed.