The removal of South Carolina’s Confederate battle flag from the grounds of the Statehouse on Friday (7/10/2015) caused quite a kerfluffle, for many reasons. Most ECW readers will know that the smaller banner brought slowly down the flagpole was not the original Confederate flag. That would have been the “Stars and Bars” used in 1861 to such disastrous effect in the battle of First Manassas, when its similarity to the U.S. flag created confusion as to just what side troops were on.
Nor is it the “Stainless Banner” which, when not blowing in the wind, unfortunately looked like a flag of surrender. A strip of red was added to the Stainless Banner, creating the “Blood-Stained Banner,” and about that time the South actually did surrender.
All of these flags were considered in their time to be national flags. National flags have their own set of strict rules. Embassy Row, in Washington, DC is the best place to observe them en masse: national flags should be flown from sunrise to sunset on a clear day, the flag should be raised in a brisk manner and lowered slowly, flags flown at half-mast should be raised to full mast then slowly lowered to half-mast, a national flag should never touch the ground, water, or the floor, and finally, there are placements of the flag when in a grouping with other flags. There are rules for flag folding as well, especially for the American flag. None of these rules apply to the flag removed from the State House, however. It is NOT a national flag–it is a replica of the battle flag flown by Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.
Battle flags have their own set of rules, which include furling, not folding. Furling means to roll up a flag. To unroll it is unfurling. Now you know. National flags are rectangular, but the Confederate battle flag is square–48″ x 48″. When carried in battle, a battle standard travels in a dark brown or black glazed bag. It is rolled, or furled, in the bag, and then removed and unfurled by the color bearer. Often it is part of a group of flags identifying a particular unit. Two particularly famous flags of this type are the green harp of the 69th New York, and the fireman’s flag of the 11th New York Zouaves.
So, when South Carolina’s Confederate battle flag was taken down last Friday, it was done in the same way other battle flags were taken down and stored: uniformed state troopers marched to the enclosed area in procession, stood at attention as the battle flag was gracefully lowered, respectfully straightened, then folded in half, and then furled, or rolled up. It was then tied with a white ribbon, not a plastic strip tie, as some have claimed. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley ordered that the flag be brought down “with dignity,” and that is exactly what happened. It was honored as a battle flag, not a national banner. It will be housed in the Confederate relic room at the state’s Military History Museum.
For those who still view this as disrespectful, I would direct you to a poem by Father Joseph Ryan, the “Poet-Priest” of the Confederacy.
THE CONQUERED BANNER
Furl that Banner, for ’tis weary;
Round its staff ’tis drooping dreary;
Furl it, fold it, it is best;
For there’s not a man to wave it,
And there’s not a sword to save it,
And there’s no one left to lave it
In the blood that heroes gave it;
And its foes now scorn and brave it;
Furl it, hide it–let it rest!
Take that banner down! ’tis tattered;
Broken is its shaft and shattered;
And the valiant hosts are scattered
Over whom it floated high.
Oh! ’tis hard for us to fold it;
Hard to think there’s none to hold it;
Hard that those who once unrolled it
Now must furl it with a sigh.
Furl that banner! furl it sadly!
Once ten thousands hailed it gladly.
And ten thousands wildly, madly,
Swore it should forever wave;
Swore that foeman’s sword should never
Hearts like theirs entwined dissever,
Till that flag should float forever
O’er their freedom or their grave!
Furl it! for the hands that grasped it,
And the hearts that fondly clasped it,
Cold and dead are lying low;
And that Banner–it is trailing!
While around it sounds the wailing
Of its people in their woe.
For, though conquered, they adore it!
Love the cold, dead hands that bore it!
Weep for those who fell before it!
Pardon those who trailed and tore it!
But, oh! wildly they deplored it!
Now who furl and fold it so.
Furl that Banner! True, ’tis gory,
Yet ’tis wreathed around with glory,
And ’twill live in song and story,
Though its folds are in the dust;
For its fame on brightest pages,
Penned by poets and by sages,
Shall go sounding down the ages–
Furl its folds though now we must.
Furl that banner, softly, slowly!
Treat it gently–it is holy–
For it droops above the dead.
Touch it not–unfold it never,
Let it droop there, furled forever,