Meaning No Disrespect . . .

The Confederate Battle Flag, designed by General P.G.T. Beauregard
The Confederate Battle Flag

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.

Embassy Row, Washington, DC
Embassy Row, Washington, DC

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.

69th New York battle flag
69th New York battle flag
11th New York Zouaves battle flag
11th New York Zouaves battle flag

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.

Father Ryan
Father Ryan

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.









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,

For its people’s hopes are dead!960-06-dfs09a03-262




9 Responses to Meaning No Disrespect . . .

  1. “For its peoples hopes are dead!”

    This is a powerful poem. I like it. The lowered battle flag was treated with extreme respect. There are so many who currently suffer under it. The those who honor it have done better under the flag of those who conquered it.

  2. Very eloquent, but none of what you said matters. To the vast majority, history means nothing…only the modern interpretation is deemed relevant. The complete removal and destruction of all things Confederate will continue unabated until it’s all gone.

    1. Doc, you may be right about the removal and destruction of monuments. And you may be very wrong about it. But you are certainly wrong when you say that what Meg wrote doesn’t matter. History will always matter. And it will continue to repeat itself to disastrous effect until and unless the people come to value it again. Thanks, Meg, for a well-written and thoughtful post.

      1. Thank you, good sir. Finding out the information helped me as well. My first clue came from Lesley Gordon’s A Broken Regiment: The 16th Connecticut’s Civil War. It specifically mentions the bag, and that sparked the idea for finding out more information.

  3. Well said, Meg. I am at peace with this now. I am grateful to you. Retain the flag, in whatever form, only in a Civil War, historical context, above the travesty of current or former politics. We have at least 2 relatives that served with their adopted Southern brothers. They and their families fled ‘the hunger’ in Ireland. It is my family, my history.

  4. Great article, and I did wonder about the flag etiquette of it all (especially the rolling). Makes me feel a lot better about the color guard. Still livid at the crowd, acting like high schoolers at a football game. Respecting the opinions of others with dignified silence would have been the proper course and more supportive of their side of the argument, IMO. Civility is too much to ask for these days, I guess.

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