The banner which we now recognize as the Confederate flag was conceived as a battle flag
after the first battle at Mannassas. The original flag, the stars and bars, proved to be
too similar to the Union flag for soldiers to recognize in the haze of battle.
The new, easily distinguishable battle flag consisted of a square blue St. Andrew's cross, on a red background. The cross contained 13 stars, one for each of the 11 states that seceded plus one for both Kentucky and Missouri.
The rectangular shaped flag that is most common today is called the Navy Jack flag (pictured on Introduction page). For a more detailed history of the succesion of flags of the Confederacy, see Battle Flags of the Confederacy, another U.Va. American Studies project.
Now that we have established the technical origins of the flag, the task is to trace how it has arrived at the status it holds today. The flag was a symbol of the Confederate States of America, the losing party in the Civil War. Volumes upon volumes have been written about the causes of the Civil War, but most historians agree slavery was the one single issue without which the war could have been avoided. The war was not fought over slavery in the South, but slavery in the territories, especially those acquired from Mexicoin 1848. Southerner's feared any kind of government regulation of their "peculiar institution," and saw the outlawing of slavery in the territories as a sure sign that slavery in the South would soon end as well. Southerners became strong advocates of state's rights and sympathized with all those who were persecuted for being different, like the Mormons. Most historians will also agree that the war was not fought over concerns about racial inequality. Abolition was never a widely popular movement, even in the North, in the years leading up to the Civil War. The primary source of anti-slavery sentiment in the North grew from the fact that slavery was incompatible with free labor. If slavery was allowed to exist in the territories, working class white citizens would simply not be able to compete. What wage worker could compete with a slave? Northerners generally wanted the territories to be a place where white people could go to earn an honest living, without the menacing negroes. The South, on the other hand, looked at the "wage slavery" in the North as worse than slavery in the South. Southerner's thought that at least they took care of their slaves even in old age or when they were not able to work. So, at the time of the Civil War, the North and South were generally in agreement on white supremacy.