Respecting the Flag: A Query

Many of you are doubtless familiar with one of my favorite photographs of the American Civil War: that of Abraham Lincoln looking straight at George McClellan when he visited the general’s headquarters in October 1862.

lincoln McClellan 01  Most people are familiar with this image, although there was a second image taken at the same time:

Lincoln McClellan 02Note the sunlight on McClellan’s face and the slightly different position of Lincoln’s head, as if he’s looking past his general.

But there are two other matters of interest to me about this photograph. Let’s stay with the second image, and zoom out a bit:

Lincoln McClellan CBFSomething that’s plain with all three images is the use of the national colors as a tablecloth, which strikes me as odd and disrespectful … but perhaps people thought differently back then. What strikes me even more is the Confederate banner on the ground next to the table in question (I know of no other image showing Lincoln with a Confederate flag).

podium onePodium twoFinally, these two images suggest that people have found other uses for the Confederate battle flag that strike me as disrespectful. I’m not sure why someone would drape a flag over a podium. Then again, McClellan draped the national colors over a table, and I’m not too wild about that. Have traditions changed? In any case, is this the proper way to display a flag?

What do you think?

By the way, speakers usually have little input on the appearance of the podium. They do have a choice on whether to speak at a podium, however (I usually use one as a point of departure).

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21 thoughts on “Respecting the Flag: A Query

  1. It’s always possible the flag was drying off from a rainstorm. The US Code which governs flag etiquette wasn’t put out until 1926 so there were no real guidelines prior to that point, as far as I know.

    • Yes, flag etiquette has evolved and been codified over time. It was very common in the CW period, for example, for religious services held aboard warships to be done with the U.S. ensign draped over the podium or pulpit.

      I don’t think the size and arrangement of stars in the union/canton of the flag was codified until the early 1900s, so that’s why one sees such variation in CW-era flags.

  2. As with you, Brooks, it seems making use of the national standard as a table cover is a bit much, especially within the presence of the Chief Executive…But of course McClellan is himself “a bit much.”

    Hailing from Mississippi (born in 1944), I more or less grew up with the Confederate battle flag within my steady gaze. Ole Miss (my favorite school) was situated not far from our home and certainly I never felt waving the battle flag was disrespectful–especially considering my great-grandfather served for four years with Barksdale’s Brigade. But then, “something happened,” to the flag, and I’ll let Shelby Foote voice my last word on the matter.

    My wife Deborah Fitts wrote for the Civil War News for more than a decade and was at one point researching a story regarding display of the battle flag atop public institutions; so, diligent reporter she was, Deborah located his phone number (he was publicly listed) and called him up in Memphis just after the public airing of Ken Burns’ great documentary.

    Here is what Mr. Foote had to say, just about exactly… “We (Southerners) allowed hate groups to take over that flag and because we did or said nothing when they took over the flag, we have now lost it to the goons and thugs.”

    Shelby Foote concluded, “That flag should now be gently folded and forever put away.”

    • A wonderful post, Mr Hall.I keep my CBF hanging in my shed to remember my rebel folk.My mother’s family was truly a divided family during the war.

  3. The Confederate battle flag is below the national colors. It is, in fact, on the ground. Perhaps the photographer wished to suggest that the Confederacy was in its death throes. If so, he misplaced his trust in McClellan.

    • I’ve seen that flag code before. It’s pretty much a rewrite of the U.S. Flag Code, so it’s hardly original. More to the point, it completely dodges the core question, how the Confederate flag is to be displayed relative to that of the United States.

  4. I would think that someone whose whole purpose is to garner the respect of other for the Confederate flag, one would not use it as a table covering…but then again I am just little old me.

  5. Never noticed either flag before in that photo.

    The flag is an odd thing. Even nowadays self-described patriotic citizens wear the American flag on a variety of forms of clothing in a manner many other self-described patriotic citizens consider disrespectful to the flag.

    And if there is a flag code for the CBF it may well be different from the one for the USA flag. Which brings to mind the question of flag etiquette for multiple flags: the US flag is supposed to fly higher than the state flag which should in turn be higher than all other flags (POW/MIA, etc). What happens when the CBF is in the mix? Can you fly the USA flag and CBF (or any other CSA flag) alongside one another at any location other than a Civil War site without it being nonsensical and hypocritical? And should the state flag fly higher than a CBF or another CSA flag? We fly the USA flag higher than a state flag because the federal government is acknowledged superior to the state governments, but the CSA viewed it the other way around.

  6. Andy, I must admit that the Confederate flag at Grant’s City Point tent was pointed out to me by a facebook friend who specializes in Civil War photography. He guessed that it must have been a captured battle flag that had been presented to Grant. Nevertheless, I thought it was pretty amazing that he spotted it.

    • A standard infantry regiment battle flag was 48 inches square, but only 36 inches for artillery and 30 inches for cavalry — this one definitely appears to be one of the smaller types. The border is not white, presumably yellow or orange, which appears in some of the earlier examples.

  7. Windy day.

    As the stars on the flag are blurred, thus animated,
    “The Star-Spangled Banner” waves yet. (in spite of McClellan).

    The props probably set up by the photographer for sybolism.

    The tent pole divides the president from McClellan and his
    funky table.
    The president’s table is adorned with the gold tassles
    and candles (light) ,and the president’s hat, and is at the
    president’s right arm.
    Old newspapers are blowing (waving) on the ground
    and the confederate flag is on the ground, folded.

    This is a portrait of the president.

    There were five flags on the president’s box at Ford’s theater.
    Two were on poles and (how many?) three were so bunched
    up on the railing, they looked like some sort of “banner”.

    During the Atalnta campaigh, after Hood had to leave his
    headquarters at the Windsor Smith house, Col. Henry Barnum
    and staff were photographed there with a flag draped
    across the bacony. Instead of hanging down, it was
    bunched up in the middle like a big bow tie (banner).

    The flag back then probably represented the country, in
    general, or a celebration of the country and the martyr aspect
    was still in the making.

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