Former UVa-Wise history chairman examines the history and meanings of the Confederate Flag in its many forms
On Wednesday September 2, former History Department chair Brian Wills spoke to a crowded Rhododendron Room in the student center about the history of the Confederate battle flag.
Wills’ academic lecture brought in over a hundred people. Additional seating had to be carried in from the Dogwood room in order to make room for the viewers.
Most of the audience members were students, but some were professors and retired professors like Preston Mitchell, whom Wills referred to numerous times in his lecture when making small jokes.
The atmosphere was light, and small chuckles filled the room. He had cartoons and images to help him explain the controversial battle flag.
Southern heritage has passed along meanings of the battle flag that is seen as negative history in the United States. Wills did not necessarily speak about the negative connotations of what the flag represents today, but instead he spoke about the history of the Confederate flag and over the past few hundred years and what changes to the battle flag meant.
“One reason this flag is flying in the face of history, the controversies, is because it is wrapped in some issues that are unsavory at best and brutal and harsh at worst,” Wills said.
There are multiple versions of the Confederate battle flag other than what most people are familiar with that hangs on the back of people’s pickup truck. The Confederate battle flag we’re familiar with wasn’t even represented by the president of the Confederacy. It was not first introduced until it was printed on a 500-dollar bill.
William Porcher Miles was in charge of coming up with the design of the Confederate battle flag. Wills mentions that the flag draws more attention to South Carolina due to the fact that South Carolina was the first state in the Confederacy.
The final product of the national banner for the Confederacy did not have many stars, and that is because secession occurred in two waves. The other states seceded during the second wave. Thus, the first flag was quite different than what we see it as today.
“Fort Sumter is not why there is a Confederacy. If you don’t know Civil War history, the election of Abraham Lincoln is going to bring deep heavy thinking by the deep Southern states and South Carolina.”
Wills continues to say, “A series of Southern states are going to secede after that.”
With that, Wills begins to explain more about the series of events that occur after the secession. Many different versions of the battle flag are being used according to their time period.
One of the flags actually had more white in it. According to how the wind blew, the white in the flag could represent surrender, and that is not something the Confederates wanted to happen. Thus, the flag changed again to include more red.
Soldiers carried the battle flags to the battles to show a record of defeat. It was not until the defeat of Robert E. Lee’s army that the Confederate battle flag was actually carried as a defeat after his battle loss.
The Confederate battle flag was not only seen at battles, but it could also be seen in things such as sheet music, photographs and cartoons. The sheet music would have the flag and music of that time period.
Regardless of how many times the flag has changed or reasons it was carried and placed in certain territories in the past, the Confederate battle flag certainly has negative connotations due to racism.
Still, many people in this region celebrate the Confederate battle flag. Some go as far as participating in parades that help people preserve their rights to keep Southern tradition.
“The Confederate flag has been seen in a lot of places, and it’s been seen for a lot of reasons,” Wills said. “Is it because people are proud of their heritage that they don’t have the background? I think there’s some truth in that.”