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What you should know about the Confederate flag's evolution

The flag is a symbol of slavery and white supremacy to many but a matter of states' rights and Southern heritage for others. Here's how the controversial flag has evolved:

First Confederate flag: “The Stars and Bars”

The first official flag of the Confederacy was adopted on March 4, 1861, and was almost immediately criticized by peers because of matters of principle and functionality. Some Confederates disliked "Stars and Bars" because it looked similar to the flag that represented the Union, a group to which they were ideologically opposed. The similarity also drew confusion on the battlefield, though separate battle flags eventually would flourish. The number of stars on the flag eventually totaled 13 by 1863.

Seven stars

March 4, 1861-May 21, 1861

First seven states to secede:

  • South Carolina
  • Mississippi
  • Florida
  • Alabama
  • Georgia
  • Louisiana
  • Texas

Nine stars

May 21, 1861-July 2, 1861

States added to flag:

  • Virginia
  • Arkansas

Eleven stars

July 2, 1861-Nov. 28, 1861

States added to flag:

  • Tennessee
  • North Carolina

Thirteen stars

Nov. 28, 1861-May 1, 1863

States added to flag:

  • Kentucky
  • Missouri

Second flag: “The Stainless Banner”

By 1863, the Army of Northern Virginia's square battle flag was so popular among the Confederacy that it was incorporated into the upper left corner of the new flag. The white rectangle symbolizes the "supremacy of the white man," according to William T. Thompson, the flag's designer. "As a people we are fighting to maintain the Heaven-ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race," Thompson wrote. The second flag faced criticism for being too white, with complaints that it could be mistaken for a truce sign in battle.

Third flag: “The Blood-Stained Banner”

The dominance of the mostly white design in the second flag became such an issue that a third flag design was successfully adopted on March 4, 1865. However, the third and last flag was rarely manufactured – the Confederacy fell within a month.

The Confederate flag today

The battle flag is what most Americans identify with the Confederacy today. It still recently hung in South Carolina's Capitol until state legislators approved removing it from the Statehouse grounds. The Charleston shooting may have propelled the state's governor and other legislators to vote for the removal of the flag, but a handful of other Southern states' flags also don the secession-era relic.

Influences in state flag designs

Alabama

In 1994, then-Gov. Jim Folsom Jr. had the Confederate flag removed from the Alabama state Capitol, where it had flown in 1965 when then-Gov. George C. Wallace sent state troopers to clash with Martin Luther King Jr. on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. The design remains a controversial issue – Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley ordered on Wednesday, June 24, 2015, that Confederate flags flown within a Confederate memorial on the Capitol grounds be removed permanently. But Alabama's state flag itself is still sometimes cause for controversy, as the design is generally thought to be a representation of the Confederate cross, according to the state's Department of Archives and History.

Mississippi

The Confederate battle flag has hung in the upper left corner of Mississippi's state flag since 1894. In 2001, the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, Netscape's chief executive and actor Morgan Freeman led a campaign to change that but lost significantly in a state vote by two thirds.

Georgia

For 45 years, the state flag was dominated by an image of the Confederate cross. But the state Senate passed a 2001 resolution that called for a new design, composed largely of Georgia's state seal across a field of royal blue. A banner running along the bottom boasted several historical flag designs, including the version that included the cross. In 2003, the flag was changed again, this time to a version without any depiction of the Confederate cross.

Images: Wikimedia Commons. Sources: Times reporting, American Civil War Museum, historian John M. Coski of the Museum of the Confederacy, "Our Flag: Origin and Progress of the Flag of the United States of America, with an Introductory Account of the Symbols, Standards, Banners and Flags of Ancient and Modern Nations" by George Henry Preble. James Queally also contributed to this report.

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