Fact check: The origins of the colors and symbols of the Confederate flag

Correction June 20, 2020: The letter written by Miles to Beauregard dated to August 27, 1861, not 1868

Reuters Fact Check. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt

A widely circulated image on social media makes the claim that the Confederate battle flag’s colors have religious significance. This is false.

Examples of the claim are visible here and here  .

The Confederate flag was flown by the breakaway southern states, which defended slavery, in the 1861-65 American Civil War. Controversy over the modern use of the flag has intensified since protests erupted across the United States over the death of George Floyd last month ( here ).

The posts say: “The red represents the blood of Christ. The white border represents the protection of God. The blue ‘X’ represents the Christian cross of Saint Andrew, the first disciple of Christ Jesus and patron Saint of Scotland. The 13 stars represent the 13 Southern states of succession.”

Ted Kaye, a vexillologist (flag expert) with the Portland Flag Association and Secretary of the North American Vexillological Association, told Reuters this description was “mostly inaccurate”.

To the flag’s creator William Porcher Miles, the significance of red, white, and blue was that they were “the true republican colors,” emblematic in heraldry of valor, purity and truth ( ).

Kaye pointed to a letter from Miles to General P.G.T. Beauregard from August 27, 1861 where he explained his design of the flag, quoted by Philip Katcher in the book “Flags of the Civil War”: “The Stars ought always to be White … because they are blazoned ‘Proper’ (or natural color)… The white edge…is necessary… It would not do to but a blue cross…on a red field; [it] adds also much to the brilliancy of the colors…”

The claim states the blue cross represents the Christian cross of Saint Andrew. In reality, the flag’s design explicitly sought to avoid ecclesiastical meaning, according to Kaye. In the book “The Confederate Battle Flag”, historian John M. Coski explains that the cross was turned diagonally with the explicit intention of not being a Christian symbol. As Coski points out, the creator of the flag said he wanted it to be "more Heraldric [sic] than Ecclesiastical" ( here ). Coski further documents how according to Miles  the diagonal cross was preferable because “it avoided the religious objection about the cross (from the Jews and many Protestant sects)” ( here ).

The claim states the 13 stars represent the 13 Southern states of secession. Kaye confirmed this claim to be true. These were the 11 Confederate states plus the contested states of Kentucky and Missouri, which the Confederacy claimed as part of its union ( here and here ).

More background on the history of the flag can be found here and here .


Partly false. The colors of the Confederate battle flag do not have religious significance, nor does the cross. The stars do represent the 13 Southern states of secession.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our work to fact-check social media posts here  .