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The Confederate Battle Flag: America's Most Embattled Emblem Reprint Edition

73 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0674019836
ISBN-10: 0674019830
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Editorial Reviews


Few emblems in American history have provoked stronger passions than the battle flag of the vanquished Confederacy. To some it symbolizes honor and independence; to others, hatred and slavery. This highly charged icon has finally found the fair and fact-based treatment it so desperately needs. John Coski probes every aspect of the flag's complex history, from Civil War to Civil Rights, from rebel icon to NASCAR kitsch. As readable as it is incisive, The Confederate Battle Flag shows how reactions to the banner have revealed fault lines in our culture from Appomattox to the present day. (Tony Horwitz, author of Confederates in the Attic)

At last we have a dispassionate history of that passionate symbol, the Confederate battle flag. John Coski has dispelled myths held by both supporters and opponents of the public display of the flag. Blending cultural history and the history of memory in a lucid manner, he has written a definitive account of the numerous 'flag wars' in both South and North during the past century and more. (James M. McPherson, author of Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era)

This book is a sorely-needed and unique achievement--a deeply researched, scholarly treatment of the Confederate battle flag and its many meanings over time. With an engaging writing style fully accessible to general readers, with international sweep, and with great sensitivity, Coski brilliantly shows that the battle flag is the 'second American flag,' fraught with both racism and endless popular uses across borders that no one can expect to control. (David W. Blight, author of Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory)

This splendid book is more than timely--it's long overdue. Coski shows how a flag originally designed to avoid confusion has become a sort of Rorschach blot. It still identifies partisans, but often they seem to be fighting different wars. Whatever the flag means to you (valor, bigotry, and boogie-till-you-puke are just three of the possibilities) you'll learn something here. (John Shelton Reed, co-author of 1001 Things Everyone Should Know About the South)

Coski presents a cogent history of the Confederate flag and the controversies surrounding it in the post-Civil War era...While some see it as emblematic of racism, to others it represents historic tradition. (Grant A. Fredericksen Library Journal 2005-04-01)

In his comprehensive new book, John M. Coski chronicles the rich history of the so-called second American flag...[He passes] along a plethora of surprising stories, anecdotes, economic statistics, and editorial quotations regarding the flag. As a result, Mr. Coski's book is ultimately worth reading. Mr. Coski's meticulously researched book boils down to a simple truth: The Confederate flag means different things to different people. (Felix Gillette New York Sun 2005-03-14)

John Coski...has given us the first documented consideration of the dispute over the appropriate use of what he calls 'the second American flag,' and he begins by dispelling a number of historical misconceptions about its origins and identity. (Edwin M. Yoder Jr. Weekly Standard 2005-05-02)

In his richly detailed book The Confederate Battle Flag, John M. Coski calls that very familiar symbol of the Old South 'America's most embattled emblem' and he is no doubt right. Is there any icon of the American past more beloved and at the same time reviled than the star-studded diagonal blue cross against a red background...Mr. Coski's book is not just about recent debates over the flag. It is about its whole history. (Steve Goode Washington Times 2005-04-24)

No symbol in the past few decades has been more divisive than the Confederate battle flag. In his important new book, The Confederate Battle Flag, John M. Coski shows how it got that way. The battle flag, though not the official banner of the Confederacy, emerged over the course of the war as the sentimental favorite among Confederate soldiers and civilians alike. Coski takes the story forward from there, but his most important contribution is his recounting of the tumultuous story of the flag in the second half of the 20th century, when the civil rights movement emerged, setting loose a variety of groups that made competing claims over the meaning of the flag--and the meaning of the war...Coski's book will speak to the flag's opponents as well as its defenders, but his most inspired message is aimed at those cheerleaders who insist that the flag has one, unchanging, fundamentally benign meaning. He shows that the history of the flag is simply too complicated for anybody to reach such simplistic conclusions...The depth and breadth of his research give his book real authority, and future disputants on both sides will have to reckon with his clear, reliable conclusions. (Joseph Crespino Washington Post Book World 2005-05-22)

John M. Coski's history, The Confederate Battle Flag, brings some needed rationality to a debate driven by the raw emotion of soul injury. (Diane McWhorter New York Times Book Review 2005-04-03)

If you'd like to dazzle your friends at the next cookout with what you know about the much-misunderstood Confederate flag, Coski's book is for you...Go ahead. Bring up the subject of the flag and then stand back. But if you have Coski's book under your arm, you might be able to turn the debate into something more than just finger-pointing. (Linda Wheeler Washington Post 2005-08-11)

Whether you love or hate the flag, after reading Coski you will love it or hate it in a different way. (Theo Lippman Jr. Savannah Morning News 2005-07-23)

A book that explains its history has been long needed, and now John M. Coski has written a very good one which everyone on both sides of the controversy over the flag should read and appreciate. Coski provides a well-researched, clearly presented, and most important of all, scrupulously fair account of the history of the battle flag and the controversies surrounding it, one that avoids polemics and strives to be true to the historical record. The Confederate Battle Flag is a splendid example of how a careful scholar can contribute to an important public debate. (Gaines M. Foster Civil War Book Review)

This is a solid and well-researched book. Coski's work is very much in the spirit of...David Blight's Race and Reunion. It is another excellent look at the history of Confederate memory. (Richard R. Hourigan III Southern Historian)

John M. Coski has given us a well-researched, clearly written history of the Confederate battle flag and how it became "America's most embattled emblem."...From Mississippi to Georgia to South Carolina to Alabama and well beyond, Coski provides a meticulous account of the flag's rapid installation as an institutionalized emblem of recalcitrant racism and defiance of federal authority. (James C. Cobb Journal of American History)

John M. Coski has written the first full published assessment of the changing role played by the Confederate battle flag in American history. It is a thoughtful, methodical account of how the starred blue diagonal Cross of St. Andrew on a red field eventually came to be regarded as the preeminent symbol of the would-be southern nation...Coski argues convincingly that use of the emblem was relatively infrequent and uncontroversial until it was adopted in semiofficial fashion by the 1948 Dixiecrat convention in Birmingham, Alabama. Thereafter the battle flag was associated closely in the public mind with the fight against integration--a linkage responsible for the so-called flag wars of recent years, the diversity and complexity of which Coski details with admirable clarity and fair-mindedness. (Robert Cook, Journal of Southern History)

The St. Andrew's cross battle flag--a star-studded blue diagonal cross on a red field--continues to this day to stir fierce emotions. In this deeply researched, dispassionately argued, and ultimately wise book, John M. Coski provides a careful history of that flag, its uses, abuses, and meanings...As the nation continues to debate the meaning of the Civil War, The Confederate Battle Flag provides badly needed historical and ethical clarity about one of the most provocative symbols of that war. (James L. Roark Civil War History Journal)

Coski does not move from a survey of "the modern debate" (which he shows to be several debates) into a discussion of the aspects calling for contextualization and analysis. Instead, he provides a biography of the battle flag from 1861 to the present. He carefully examines the claims about its history that have been sharply contested over the last fifteen years, but his narrative is most valuable for the wider perspective it offers in tracing the path by which the Confederate battle flag became a symbol prominent enough to sustain such vigorous controversies...This story provides a fresh background to the recent "flag wars" that Coski ably recounts in his final section. As he recognizes, these contests have taken a variety of forms that might be grouped into two basic categories. The first set has concerned the rights of individuals to display the emblem in schools or on license plates or in other regulated forums. The second set has revolved around governmental rather than individual expression, particularly in state flags or on statehouse grounds or at public schools and colleges...By moving analysis of the flag debates beyond the terms chosen by its participants, Coski achieves a stimulating success in his aim to help readers understand the controversies. (Thomas J. Brown South Carolina Historical Magazine)

The battle flag is enigmatic, its history has been clouded by political debate, and it is often referred to, erroneously, as the "Stars and Bars." John M. Coski's analysis of the flag's history, its uses, and its various meanings, therefore, is both welcome and needed. (Karen L. Cox American Historical Review 2006-10-01)

Utilizing contemporary sources through newspapers and magazine articles, as well as primary sources such as diaries, Coski has produced a fascinating work delivered with a remarkable absence of passion involving a topic that generates seemingly little else...Coski has performed a valuable service in shining a dispassionate and informing light on the topic. (Robert Sampson H-Net Online 2007-10-09)


Few emblems in American history have provoked stronger passions than the battle flag of the vanquished Confederacy. To some it symbolizes honor and independence; to others, hatred and slavery. This highly charged icon has finally found the fair and fact-based treatment it so desperately needs. John Coski probes every aspect of the flag's complex history, from Civil War to Civil Rights, from rebel icon to NASCAR kitsch. As readable as it is incisive, The Confederate Battle Flag shows how reactions to the banner have revealed fault lines in our culture from Appomattox to the present day. (Tony Horwitz, author of Confederates in the Attic) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press; Reprint edition (April 30, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674019830
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674019836
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (73 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #69,980 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

92 of 102 people found the following review helpful By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on May 17, 2005
Format: Hardcover
When you think of the national flag of the Confederate States of America, you may well think of the "Stars and Bars" which is now a familiar sight on t-shirts, truck grills, and license plates, and at Klan rallies. You would be wrong twice. That flag never was the national flag of the Confederacy and never flew over the governmental buildings of Confederacy. It also never was the Stars and Bars, which was a very different looking flag that was indeed the initial (and only the initial) national flag of the Confederacy, but which came to be detested by many southerners who thought it too much like the Stars and Stripes. The familiar star-studded diagonal blue cross on a red background is properly named in the title of John M. Coski's book, _The Confederate Battle Flag: America's Most Embattled Emblem_ (Belknap Press), a full account of the flag's history and current status. The problem with symbols, as any English major will tell you, is that they can mean too many things, so that anyone deploying a symbol may intend a different meaning from everyone who sees it, while the viewers will differ among themselves. The ambiguity of this particular symbol has led to anguish and bitterness, but Coski, the Historian at the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia, has written a beautifully even-handed account that examines the foundations of the bitterness (many of them far more recent than the Civil War) and even extends hope that the symbol "... might generate genuine insights into the complex issues of race and states' rights in the American past, present, and future."

The actual Stars and Bars, the real national flag of the Confederacy, was approved by its Provisional Congress in 1861, but was too similar to the Stars and Stripes. General P. G. T.
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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Ted Kaye on February 3, 2006
Format: Hardcover
John Coski's significant achievement: he has managed to bring a historian's neutral perspective to an otherwise highly-charged controversy. He begins with the flag's initial design (it was an alternative design for the first Confederate national flag, actually proposed by the design committee's chair, William Porcher Miles) and with its use in battle (adopted in late 1861 at the urging of General Beauregard who observed that the national flag resembled the Union's flag too closely, causing confusion on the battlefield). Coski then lays the groundwork for the flag's initial post-war significance as a memorial marker and a historical honor among Confederate heritage groups. With superbly-documented detail, he traces the flag's use by the (second) Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s, by southerners in the US Armed forces during the Second World War, by "Dixiecrats" in the 1948 presidential campaign, by southern college students starting in the late 1940s, by those caught up in the "flag craze" of 1951, by pro-segregationist/anti-civil rights activists in the 1950s, and through the frictions of the past 50 years.

He shows how the flag "became an aggressively racist symbol only after World War II and the Civil Rights movement", and explores with great sensitivity how the flag has two conflicting but potentially overlapping meanings for its users: one, as a symbol of the Confederacy-a historical icon, and second, as a symbol for a major (alleged) principle underlying the Confederacy, the racism that justified slavery. Whether advanced simply as "a symbol of our heritage" by proud Southerners, or as an assertion of a "redneck" political/cultural position, the confusion over these meanings fans the flames of the "flag wars" that still rage in our American public discourse.
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109 of 125 people found the following review helpful By L. Bryce Vanstavern on March 18, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Let me begin by saying that the author is a colleague of mine and someone I admire as an historian and as a person. He has a tremendous ability to collect facts and reach objective conclusions based entirely on those facts. That being said I grew up in the south and I grew up seeing the Confederate Battle Flag pretty much everywhere. It meant, to me as a child, exactly . . . nothing. It was a "cool" symbol of the south that meant you were a mischievous hell raiser at worst. My brother and I had Confederate Flags on beach towels, baseball caps, glasses and all sorts of things. Now, this was in the 1960's and the battle flag was a pretty popular piece to put on such things. Over the years the Confederate Battle Flag has not meant much more until recently.

In the 1980's and 1990's the flag has become the subject of controversy. Should it be flown over the state houses of some southern states? Should it be the emblem of political organizations? Should any government sponsored display feature it in any way, even if the context is historical? Where did the flag come from, what was it's place in the Confederacy and what should it's place be in our modern society? These are some of the questions addressed in Dr. Coski's book.

It may surprise many readers that the flag we think of as the Confederate Flag was never a political flag of the Confederacy. But over time the battle flag has come to be accepted somehow as "the" flag of the Confederacy. How this happened is a significant part of the book. The flag's inevitable association with the opposition to desegration is also discussed. I even learned exactly why the flag was on that beach towel my brother and I had when we were kids and what do you know, the flag really was cool!
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