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Controversial Confederate flag was born in Northern Virginia

William Reed, a visitor from California, visits the historic marker on Main Street in the city of Fairfax that pronounces the origin of the Confederate flag as a modified battle flag of the Southern rebels in the early days of the Civil War in 1861. Reed said he was spurred to visit the flag’s birthplace by the ongoing controversy to remove the Confederate flag from the South Carolina courthouse. Tin Nguyen/Fairfax County Times
The so-called “Confederate” flag that has spawned controversy nationwide after the fatal shooting of nine black people last month in Charleston, S.C. by a shooter who brandished it was born right here in Northern Virginia. But it was never officially the flag of the Confederacy; at least not on its own.

A historical marker in the City of Fairfax relates the tale of how and why the flag was created.

“During the first Battle of Manassas, amid the smoke of combat, troops found it difficult to distinguish between Union and Confederate flags,” the marker reads.

Historians say the original Confederate flag, often referred to as the “Stars and Bars” was very similar to the American flag of the time, which still resembled the colonial flag designed by Betsy Ross.

At a distance, in the fog of battle amid smoke and confusion, the two flags were said to be virtually indistinguishable. “Confederate Generals P.G.T. Beauregard, Joseph E. Johnston and Quartermaster General William L. Cabell met here in September, 1861 and approved the first Confederate battle flag: a square red flag with blue diagonally-crossed bars, with 12 stars,” the marker reads.

The 12 stars represented the growing number of states in the Confederacy. When Missouri joined in late 1861, a 13th star was added, decreasing the distance between the stars along the diagonal bars.

That flag was designed by William Porcher Miles, a former mayor of Charleston, S.C., who served in the United States House of Representatives from 1857 until South Carolina seceded in December 1860. While serving in the Confederate Provisional Congress, Miles chaired the “Committee on the Flag and Seal.” After his flag was designed, its physical creation was then said to be tasked to a pair of Fairfax City sisters.

“I believe they were the Adams sisters, and they made three flags,” said Fairfax city resident and history buff Lee Hubbard, 79. Hubbard’s family has lived in Fairfax for 13 generations — since 1678.

“One of those three flags was given to Confederate President Jefferson Davis when he was in town,” Hubbard said.

But history shows that Miles’ design was rejected by Confederate leaders, never offically becoming the official flag of the Confederacy. Instead, it was adopted by Confederate General Robert E. Lee as the battle flag for the Army of Northern Virginia. Lee’s army used it in battle beginning in December 1861 until the fall of the Confederacy.

The design—used as the upper left corner part of a flag called a “canton”— later “was incorporated into the national Confederate flag in 1863,” the marker states.

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