No one felt the cold on January 9, 1861 as the Star of the West approached CharlestonHarbor. South Carolina had seceded from the Union just a few weeks before, but FortSumter remained stubbornly in Union hands. Major Robert Anderson resolved to hold out as long as possible in his lonely, dangerous position in the harbor, but he needed support. That support was now steaming towards him.
But the South CarolinaCitadel cadets stationed at MorrisIsland were likewise prepared to defend their position. As the ship rolled in closer, they fired the first shot of the Civil War across her bow.
And over the heads of the cadets flew "Big Red," a flag that would not only become famous in its own right but its colors would also start a Confederate tradition.
The Colors of the Confederacy.
Contemporary sources tell us the flag had a “blood red field” on which was sewn a “remarkably executed white palmetto tree.”
The Charleston Mercury noted just four days before that the flag was presented to the cadets by the ladies in the family of flag maker Hugh Vincent. Eyewitness reports tell us that flags at FortJohnson and Castle Pinckney looked similar. Shortly thereafter, red and white flags with stars or palmettos began appearing across the state.
As the color scheme caught on, it became associated particularly with secession and the Confederacy. Years later as the United Daughters of the Confederacy were organizing, they wanted to choose en emblem for their organization.
Their records state that, "Only one flower was considered by the committee, this one flower belonging exclusively to the South, giving the clear white and red of the Confederacy. The white for truth, the red for sacrifice, and again the white of a transcendent purity." Thus the cotton boll became the UDC's national emblem, and red and white became the organization's official colors.
But of course, what grabbed my interest was the cockades!
Shortly after South Carolina seceded, striking cockades appeared across the South of red, or red-and-white.
Fannie Beers wrote in her memories of the war, "Hats and bonnets of all sorts and sizes were made of straw or palmetto, and trimmed with the same. Most of them bore cockades of bright red and white (the "red, white, and red"), fashioned of strips knitted to resemble ribbons. Some used emblems denoting the State or city of the wearer, others a small Confederate battle-flag."
I love this sharp looking color combo! I've been inspired to re-create several of these gorgeous cockades, such as this one.
Artist's rendition of the firing on the Star of the West in Harper's Weekly. Note the palmetto flag.
And what became of the flag that started it all?
After analyzing it's construction, design and history, experts finally agreed that a flag in the Iowa Historical Society collection is likely the original "Big Red" of MorrisIsland fame. The famous flag was captured at the fall of Fort Blakeley, AL in April 1865, shortly before the war ended.
In 2010, "Big Red" came home to the Citadel, on loan for the four years of the War's sesquicentennial. And the design of Big Red lives on in the Citadel's flag today.
If you need a red and white cockade, check out the ones in my shop! Nothing says southern patriotism like these fiery beauties.
Back issues of the Cockade Column are now available on my Pinterest site. Enjoy reading the ones you missed! If you are reading this online and want it to come right to your inbox, you can sign up on this form.
Thanks for reading... see you next week!
Regards, ~Heather Sheen Owner, Creative Cockades
Every Cockade Has A Story To Tell!
Click on the icons below to connect with me via your favorite social media!