- The Washington Times - Monday, October 16, 2000

JACKSON, Miss. A small but growing number of Southern history buffs, grappling with the emotional symbolism of the Confederate battle flag, have rediscovered another, less familiar battle flag the flag Confederate soldiers called "the Bonnie Blue."

With its deep blue field and single white star, the flag that was paraded around Jackson in 1861 to celebrate Mississippi's secession from the Union is little known and has so far not irritated those who want to erase Confederate symbols from public display.

"I've seen an increase in Bonnie Blue tags on the front of cars," says Don Todd, manager of the bookstore at Shiloh Battlefield National Military Park, just over the Tennessee line near Corinth, Miss. "We don't sell the tags, but we sell Bonnie Blue flags and we've sold a lot of those over the summer. It's something people feel good about, and it doesn't offend anyone."

In the wake of controversy over Mississippi's flag, which includes the Confederate battle flag in one corner of the banner, and a state Supreme Court decision finding that the state flag is not prescribed in state law, a gubernatorial commission is exploring whether to redesign the banner.

The commission begins public hearings on the proposal Thursday in Tupelo.

The Mississippi proposal follows a protracted debate in South Carolina that resulted in lowering the Confederate flag from its accustomed place atop the Statehouse to display it at a monument in front of the building. There's argument over Georgia's flag, which also incorporates the Confederate battle flag, and even a small controversy over the Arkansas flag, which includes a small blue star commemorating the Confederacy.

But the flag flaps appear to stem, for some, as much from modern abuse of the Confederate flag by "hate" groups as for its origin in the Civil War.

The Confederate battle flag, based on the St. Andrew's cross, was incorporated into Mississippi's state flag in 1894 and was adopted as a symbol of states' rights and resistance to federal school desegregation orders in the 1950s.

The Bonnie Blue has no such history. In fact, during last year's legislative debate in Jackson over the flag, one black lawmaker suggested returning to the state's previous flag, which includes a magnolia tree on a white field with a small replica of the Bonnie Blue incorporated into one corner of the banner.

"People are more familiar with the battle flag and the negative connotations associated with it," says state Sen. Hillman Frazier, a member of the flag commission. "Some have done research on the Bonnie Blue and have objections to it, but we're going to sit down and look at everything."

The Bonnie Blue, according to Mississippi historian David Sansing, first appeared in 1810 as a flag of rebellion by Americans who attempted to secede from Spanish Florida to form the Republic of West Florida. A quarter of a century later, Texas adopted the symbol as it seceded from Mexico.

But its real significance in the Civil War came in 1861 when Mississippi seceded from the Union and spectators in the Capitol balcony handed down the flag to delegates on the floor.

"The appearance of that famous banner prompted a tumultuous response," Mr. Sansing writes in an article published by the Mississippi Historical Society.

"Later that night, residents of Jackson paraded through the streets under the blue banner bearing a single white star. Harry McCarthy, a singer and playwright who observed the parade, was inspired to write 'The Bonnie Blue Flag,' which, after 'Dixie,' was the most popular song in the Confederacy." The flag was carried by Hood's Texas Brigade, Lee's favorite, throughout the war. The brigade included at various times regiments from Arkansas, South Carolina and Georgia in addition to Texas regiments.

Bob Hawks of Memphis, a Civil War re-enactor and member of a Sons of Confederate Veterans chapter in Mississippi, where he lived for 25 years, thinks the Bonnie Blue's popularity is clearly due to its insider status. "I fly it sometimes at my house. There's quite a bit of people getting interested in it … it's not quite as racially sensitive. It was the first flag of secession. It's kind of a way for Southern patriots to know other Southern patriots."

• Distributed by Scripps Howard

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