Last modified: 2011-06-10 by rick wyatt
Keywords: alabama | cross | cross of burgundy | confederate | republic of alabama | square | rattlesnake | united states |
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image by Joe McMillan, 23 February 2000
In 1820, two stars were added, representing Alabama and Maine, bringing the total number of stars on the U.S. flag to 23. There were thirteen stripes representing the thirteen original colonies.
Alabama state flag was adopted on Feb. 16, 1895 by act no. 383.
The state flag was to be a crimson cross of St. Andrew on a field of white. The bars forming the cross were not to be less than 6 inches broad and must extend diagonally across the flag from side to side.
Dov Gutterman, 9 October 1998
While both the modern Alabama and Florida state flags may have some historical tribute to Spanish rule in their design - both were definitely patterned after the battle flags of the Army of Northern Virginia - under which the bulk of the troops from both states fought.
Both of these flags have documentation stating the influence of the ANV battle flags in their design - particularly the flag of Alabama - which was created under the administration of Governor William Oates. Oates was a former regimental commander in the ANV. He is most famous for leading the confederate assault on Little Round Top at the Battle of Gettysburg.
Greg Biggs, 21 December 1999
image by Zach Harden, 26 June 2001
It seems that the designers of the flag intended it to resemble the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, which was square. As early as 1917, Byron McCandless, in the National Geographic flags issue [geo17], said "the flag should be square," and depicted it that way.
But the statute describing the flag does not specify proportions or dimensions other than that the arms of the St. Andrews cross (so termed in the law) must be no less than six inches across. An Alabama native, I have never seen a square Alabama state flag in person or in photographs. I think generations of successive vexillologists have been repeating McCandless' conclusion that, because the flag is supposed to be modeled on the ANV battle flag, it should therefore be square. The designers may have intended it to be so. But it isn't!
Joe McMillan, 26 June 2001
I have never actually seen a square Alabama flag in a large size. However, I have a square Alabama flag purchased about 1970 that measures one foot on each side, mounted on a wooden dowel with a spear top. All other state flags were one and one half feet long, but the Alabama flag was a one foot square.
Devereaux Cannon, 27 June 2001
In 1987 the state attorney general (now the governor) issued a formal legal opinion that the state flag should be rectangular. The document can be found at
http://www.ago.state.al.us/oldopinions/8700238.pdf of which I quote the relevant portions below:
87-00238submitted by Joe McMillan, 7 November 2001
Office of the Attorney General
Jun 29 1987
Absent further legislative elaboration, Section 1-2-5 of the Code of Alabama 1975 requiring a cross of St. Andrew with diagonal bars crossing the flag from side to side would suggest that the modern state flag of Alabama should be rectangular in shape.
As the exact shape of the flag cannot be determined by the words of the statute, precedent and practice would support the conclusion that our state flag is rectangular in shape, as all other state flags with the exception of Ohio are rectangular.
Although the Legislature modeled the state flag after the battle flag, there is no requirement that its measurements should be exactly the same so as to require the flag be square in shape.
[That] our state flag has appeared in print since 1896 and in the Alabama Official and Statistical Register since 1907 as rectangular and has been reproduced millions of times as a rectangle . . . would suggest that the proper shape of the state flag of Alabama should be rectangular.
While researching Alabama's Civil war flags at their state archives some years ago I came across a drawing of the state flag - and it was intended originally to be square! The flag is patterned after the battle flag of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia in which a large number of Alabama troops served as well as one of its post-war governors, William Oates (a veteran of Gettysburg where his regiment fought against the famous 20th Maine led by Col. Joshua Chamberlain). Over time the flag became rectangular because........well that's what the other states had! I have never heard of the square state flag being patterned after the battle flag of the 60th Alabama Infantry. In fact, the only surviving flag of the regiment is a Confederate Second National flag!
Greg Biggs, 7 November 2001
The attorney general acknowledged this designer's intent, although not attributing the design to Oates. The opinion says that "Representative John W. A. Sanford, Jr., the sponsor of the bill served in the 60th Alabama Infantry Regiment in the Civil War and modeled the flag after the Regiment's battle flag." But if I understand the reasoning, and I think I do, the Attorney General held that because any intention to have a square flag was not enacted into law, it was irrelevant to a determination of the proper shape of the actual state flag, which was fixed in practice as oblong within a year of the enactment.
Joe McMillan, 8 November 2001
Around 20 years ago, they [square flags] were very popular and could be seen flying in front of most public schools. Valley Forge Flag Co. had produced a big mess of 4 x 4 footers in cotton at one time. This practice died off, but has had
a history prior to the 1980's.
Clay Moss, 23 July 2002
The red diagonal cross is based on the Confederate war flag. [güt92]
Jan Kuhlmann, 4 December 1995
The "Cross of Burgundy" (argent, sauteur gueules raguely) was one of the standards of Spain used by the Spanish Military in the South Eastern U.S. I'm not sure, but it just struck me that this may be the inspiration for the Alabama and Florida flags.
Nathan Blisss, 20 January 1998
The post-war official state flag (please recall that the 1861 flag was more of a secession banner) was indeed patterned after the St. Andrews Cross battle flag of the confederate Army of Northern Virginia.
Greg Biggs, 13 October 1998
Alabama's flag was presented for consideration to the state sometime in late 1894, and was then officially adopted in February, 1895. I have heard different stories as to the flag's origin, but tend to believe that a group of Montgomery, Alabama women were responsible for the design. The flag was intended to be an abstract of the Confederate battle flag, with the "crimson" saltire representing the blood spilled by Alabama's soldiers in battle. When I was in Boy Scouts, we were told that the saltire represented all past and future Alabamian's who have or will make the ultimate sacrifice for the cause of freedom, liberty etc.. I believe the flag's resemblance to the Cross of St. Patrick, or the code letter V is purely coincidental.
I think the years of 1894 to 1895 are key where southern U.S. history is concerned. Among other things, Confederate veterans were beginning to transition into their "golden years", and if I read old newspaper excerpts correctly, there was a sense of urgency abounding whereby Southerners became somewhat preoccupied with honoring the last of their living veterans while they could. Life expectancy was not nearly as long in those days. Today in the U.S., we are going through a similar ritual where our World War II vets are concerned. Anyway, under those 1894-95 pretenses, Alabama's flag makes perfect sense.
Keeping all of the above in mind, I think Alabama's flag started becoming part of greater Alabama lore some 30 years later, and it had to do with a sporting event. Right after Christmas, 1925, the University of Alabama football team boarded a train for Pasadena, California. They had been invited to play the University of Washington in the 1926 Rose Bowl. No southern team had ever been invited to the Rose Bowl as southern football teams were thought to be grossly inferior. Alabama pride and Southern pride for that matter swelled as Alabama's tiny 23 man squad headed west. Washington had a team that would rival any modern football squad while Alabama's team appeared malnourished and poorly equipped. I am told that Alabama didn't even have enough cleated football shoes for everyone and that players had to swap out shoes during the game. Suffice it to say that Alabama's team was a heavy underdog. At the end of the day, Alabama had come from far behind to win the game 20 to 19, and the South's football tradition was set into motion. What does that have to do with the flag?
Well, it's estimated that upwards of 250,000 Alabamians lined the 55 miles of railroad track from the Mississippi state line all the way to Tuscaloosa to greet the team as they returned from California. That would have constituted a huge chunk of the state's population in those days. My grandmother, having grown up on what is today U.S. Highway 82 was among the crowd and told me that she had never seen so many Alabama flags in her life. My great-grandmother quickly sewed one together for my great uncle to carry to the tracks and wave. It seems that from then on, Alabama's flag had a significant place in the hearts of Alabamians. The University of Alabama's nickname is the "Crimson Tide". It would seem as if the team's colors and nickname were inspired by the flag. (See comment.)
Speaking of the color "crimson", I want to say that I have never seen an Alabama flag with a crimson saltire. Come to think of it, I have never seen the Crimson Tide actually wearing crimson either. In fact, "crimson" is a much brighter color than conventional wisdom would indicate. The University of Alabama's sports teams wear a color much closer to "burgundy" or "cardinal". Crimson is not only brighter, but also has a violet tint to it. RGB 220-20-60 is about the closest thing to actual crimson that the RGB system will produce. Where the University's tradition is concerned, "crimson" is a sort of metaphor. I would suggest the same is true for Alabama's flag.
I have never seen a "crimson" saltire Alabama flag nor a "burgundy" saltire Alabama flag. I have seen some very old Alabama flag samples and of course, modern samples, and they have all been (more or less) Old Glory red. I reckon the cardinal variety could be out there somewhere, but I haven't seen one.
Should it be square? It can be. Today, the proportions are variable with the vast majority of flags being rectangular. There have been square versions in the past (see FOTW section on square Alabama flags).
I have a copy of the September 1934 edition of National Geographic. It gives a very rigid specification of Alabama's flag, saying that it should be 51 by 51 inches with the arms of the saltier being 81/2 inches. I have no clue where that piece of information came from.
Clay Moss, 4 November 2005
I'm afraid there's considerable doubt of that. The colors were established by 1892, when the first football team was fielded and when the student newspaper, "The Crimson White" was established. This is several years before the state flag was introduced. By the way, the nickname Crimson Tide was also in use before the first Rose Bowl trip, having been used for the first time in 1919.
Joe McMillan, 4 November 2005
An unofficial variant of the Alabama state flag in 1861 had a single gold star on a blue field.
William M. Grimes-Wyatt, 29 April 1996
image by Joe McMillan, 23 February 2000
The state coat of arms, adopted in 1939 and blazoned in Section 1-2-2 of the Code of Alabama as: "arms: quarterly, the first azure three fleur de lis or (for France); second quarterly first and fourth gules a tower triple towered or, second and third argent a lion rampant gules (for Spain); third azure a saltire argent and gules over all a cross of the last fimbriated of the second (for Great Britain); fourth gules of a saltire azure, fimbriated argent 13 mullets of the last (for the Confederacy); at center in escutcheon chief azure paly argent and gules 13 (for United States) arms supported by
two American eagles displayed. Crest: A full rigged ship proper." Section 1-2-1 explains the significance of the coat of arms as representing "the flags of four of the five nations which have at various times held sovereignty over a part or the whole of what is now the state of Alabama: Spain, France, Great Britain and the Confederacy. The union binding these flags shall be the shield of the United States. . . . The crest of the coat of arms shall be a ship representing the 'Badine' which brought the French colonists who established the first permanent white settlements in the state. Beneath the shield there shall be a scroll containing the sentence in Latin: 'Audemus jura nostra defendere,' the English interpretation of which is 'We Dare Maintain Our Rights.'"
Joe McMillan, 23 February 2000
The great seal of Alabama was created in 1939, based on the 1817 seal. From 1868 until 1939 another seal was used. However, today's seal is found in two different versions, even in official sites.
Story about the seal from www.netstate.com/states/symb/seals/al_seal.htm:
"The Great Seal of Alabama was approved by the Alabama Senate and House in 1939. The seal prominently displays the words “Alabama Great Seal” in the outer circle. The inner circle of the seal features an outline of the state of Alabama showing the state’s major rivers, as well as the adjacent states. Interestingly, this version of the seal had actually been used prior to 1939 way back in 1819 when Alabama first became a state. Even before that, the same seal was used when Alabama was just a territory. The first seal of the state of Alabama lasted from 1819 for 50 years, until the legislature decided that a new seal was needed during the Reconstruction period. The original seal was scrapped, and a new one featuring the U.S. seal and an eagle became the official seal, lasting until 1939. That’s when the original seal regained the approval of the legislature, and the first “Alabama Great Seal” became law again."The description of the seal is at www.legislature.state.al.us/CodeofAlabama/1975/1-2-4.htm:
"Flag of Alabama I salute thee. To thee I pledge my allegiance, my service, and my life."
Joe McMillan, 13 August 1999
image by Joe McMillan, 23 February 2000
The state military crest, which is the crest used in the coats of arms of units of the Alabama National Guard, as granted by the precursor organizations of what is now the Army Institute of Heraldry. The official Institute of Heraldry blazon is "On a wreath of the colors a slip of cotton plant with full bursting boll proper."
Joe McMillan, 23 February 2000