Georgia Unofficial State Flag (prior to 1879)
Unofficial Georgia State Flag
(18?? - 1879)
History does not record who made the first Georgia state flag, when it was made, what it looked like, or who authorized its creation. Likely, the banner originated in one of the numerous militia units that existed in antebellum Georgia.
In 1861, a new provision was added to Georgia’s code requiring the governor to supply regimental flags to Georgia militia units assigned to fight outside the state. These flags were to depict the “arms of the State” and the name of the regiment. In heraldry, “arms” refers to a coat of arms, which is the prominent design—usually shown on a shield—located at the center of an armorial bearing or seal. Arms usually appear on seals, but they are not synonymous with seals.The code gave no indication as to the color to be used on the arms or the flag’s background, though militia flags probably would have been on a field of blue.
Shortly after the Civil War, an artist reconstructed a scene of Georgia troops in action near Bull Run in July 1861. This engraving shows one of the soldiers is holding either a regimental or unofficial state flag with the Georgia coat of arms on a solid field.
With the exception of events surrounding Georgia’s secession in January 1861, there is no evidence that state flags in Georgia were political symbols flown over the state capitol, courthouses, or other government buildings. No engravings or photos of the state capitol buildings in Milledgeville and Atlanta ever show a state flag. Usually, no flag is visible—but if a flag is shown, it is always the U.S. flag.
Instead of a governmental symbol, state flags in Georgia well into the 20th century were primarily intended for use by state militia units. When the General Assembly finally adopted an official state flag in 1879, the language was inserted into the state code title dealing with the state militia. Only when a new state flag was adopted in 1956 was the flag provision removed from its state militia context.
Thus, because of the pre-1879 state flag’s origin as a military flag, it probably most often appeared on a blue field. However, some versions of the flag used a red background. The Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia, has one of the few surviving Georgia state flags from the Civil War era—a large 10- by 14-foot flag captured by Sherman’s forces when Savannah fell in late 1864. This banner consists of the columned archway from the Georgia coat of arms in white cotton on a field of red wool without any words or the customary soldier. Museum records identify this as a “storm flag.”
In addition to flags with fields of blue and red, there are some accounts of the Georgia coat of arms being sewn onto a field of white. Also characteristic of the fact that there were no official specifications, coats of arms probably were in a variety of colors—including multiple colors, gold, and white.
Based on the best available evidence, the above flag is a reconstruction of the pre-1879 unofficial Georgia state flag as it would have appeared using a color version of the coat of arms from the 1799 state seal. However, multi-color coats of arms would have been more difficult and expensive to make, and it is likely that many of the actual flags used a single color. Two versions of the pre-1879 flag (one with the coat of arms in gold, and one in white) on a blue backgrounds, are pictured here.