The Original

Georgia State Flag

1799- 1879




The original Georgia state flag consisted of the state Coat of Arms centered on a plain field, hence, it is also referred to as the Georgia Coat of Arms state flag. The field of the flag was usually blue in accordance with the common practice of state militia colors of the early 19th century but examples on white cloth are also known.  The Georgia Constitutional Convention of 1798 called for the design of a new state seal and on February 8, 1799 a legislative act provided a conceptual description of the device and called on artists to submit drawings for the proposed new “Great Seal of the State”.  Drawings were due at the Governor’s office on or before April 20, 1799 as were proposals to manufacture and engrave the new seal so that it would be completed by July 3, 1799 (Goetchius, 1917).  Daniel Sturges, the Surveyor General of Georgia, submitted the winning drawing that was approved by Governor James Jackson. [Note 1]  The Coat of Arms is the central decorative device in the Great Seal.  The Coat of Arms consists of the stylized image of a classical Greco-Roman temple with an arch representing the Constitution, supported by three columns that allegorically represent the legislative, judicial, and executive branches of the government.  Scrolls worded “Wisdom”, “Justice”, and “Moderation” (Georgia's official motto) hang flowingly around the columns. These principles are symbolically protected by the figure of a soldier standing ready with a drawn sword. [Note 2] The flag illustrated above is a recent artist’s conceptual reconstruction (Jackson, 2003).  Pictures and descriptions of several Georgia Coat of Arms state flags are provided below.


The Georgia Coat of Arms state flag is depicted on the current state flag as one of the small historic flags.  Current state law describes it as


…a field of blue, centered upon which shall be placed a representation of the coat of arms of the state as the same appeared on the great seal of the state adopted in 1799, and which flag is commonly known as the “Pre-1879 Georgia State Flag” (Georgia Office of the Secretary of State).


Unofficial Status

Although the Coat of Arms had been codified in 1799, a formal flag design based upon it was not added to the Georgia Code, hence, some researchers have referred to this flag as “unofficial”.   Nevertheless, usage of the Coat of Arms on colors of the Georgia Militia became customary and was mandated by order of the Adjutant General of the Militia.   It was a complex design and the only way to produce one of these flags in the 19th century was by painting or embroidering it so that no two could be exactly alike anyway.  However, the flag makers did have a formal description for the Coat of Arms in the Georgia Code and as long as they executed a recognizable representation of it then that would have been acceptable.  There is ample documentation in the form of flag presentations, etc. in newspapers to show that the usage of the Coat of Arms on flags was indeed official.  The Georgia Coat of Arms in various forms was also used extensively on Georgia Militia uniforms and equipment, including buttons, waist-belt plates, cross-belt plates, cartridge box plates, hat badges, etc. (Kerksis, 1974).  Some of these are illustrated on a supplemental Coat of Arms page on this web site.


Two-Sided Flag Design

Generally the Georgia Coat of Arms flags were rectangular, two-sided flags, featuring the Coat of Arms on the obverse side and some other local or national theme on the reverse side.  The obverse side of a flag is that side in view when the staff or leading edge is to the left.  The Coat of Arms was either embroidered or painted on the flag.  When embroidered the Coat of Arms was usually centered directly on the field of the flag.  When the Coat of Arms was painted onto the flag it was usually placed on a lighter colored round or oval shaped area that had been painted onto the field first to serve as a base.  This background area usually depicted some simple complementary landscape theme featuring the state’s natural resources such as fields, forests, shorelines, mountains, etc.  Farms, buildings, and settlements were also depicted in some of these painted background scenes.  Such use of background scenery was common with Coat of Arms imprimaturs on state currency and this may have served as the most readily available model for many flag-making artists.  The use of two-sided flags was common in the 19th century but today Oregon is the only state to use a two-sided layout.


Oldest Georgia Coat of Arms Flag

The oldest known account of a Georgia Coat of Arms state flag is one of a remarkable series of three state flags that were presented to the Savannah Volunteer Guards in 1822, 1840 and 1860 (Smith, 2000). [Note 3]  The oldest example of a Georgia Coat of Arms flag still in existence is the Mexican War-era flag of the Jefferson Riflemen, a Georgia Militia company from Jefferson County Georgia (Olson, 2003).  This flag presents a pleasing coincidence since it was at the old State Capitol at Louisville in Jefferson County that the Great Seal, featuring the Coat of Arms, was first adopted in 1799.  It is the oldest State flag design in the South and one of the oldest in the United States.



Georgia Coat of Arms flag of the Jefferson Riflemen, dated January 8, 1846, obverse side shown.



Georgia Coat of Arms flag of the Jefferson Riflemen, dated January 8, 1846, reverse side shown.




Georgia Coat of Arms Flag: A Place of Honor at the Birth of the Confederacy

Georgia’s flag also held a position of honor on the occasion of Jefferson Davis’ inauguration as President of the Confederate States of America.  On February 18, 1861 the Confederate States did not yet have a flag so the President-elect’s inaugural parade was led by the Columbus Guards, a company of red-coated Georgia Militia, carrying “a Banner with the Georgia Coat of Arms” (Cobb, 1861).   Numerous accounts of flag presentation ceremonies in period newspapers from across the state reveal that the Coat of Arms pattern flags were widely used by companies and regiments of Georgia soldiers during the early years of the war. [Note 4 and Note 6]  Unfortunately few of these actual flags (probably less than a half-dozen) have survived the ravages of war and time  (Biggs, 2003).


Georgia Coat of Arms Flag during the Civil War

The Georgia Coat of Arms state flag was used extensively during the first years of the American Civil War (Biggs, 2003; Cannon, 1997).  Although the use of state flags by the Georgia military is well documented there is no evidence that state flags were used on public buildings in Georgia until the events of the Secession Convention (Jackson, 2003).  When Georgia seceded from the Union in January 1861 the flag of the Union was lowered from the Capitol at Milledgeville and the “flag of Georgia was raised amidst wild excitement.  This was the banner with Wisdom, Justice, Moderation, inscribed on it  (Anderson, 1933 and Beeson, 1943).  Shortly after the Civil War, Commodore George H. Preble began writing his landmark book History of the Flag of the United States of America, which also included chapters on Confederate and state flags. In 1871, Preble contacted the famous Georgia author and Savannah Morning News editor William Tappan Thompson, seeking information about the Confederate Second National flag, which Thompson had designed. Preble also asked him about the Georgia state flag and Thompson responded by saying,


The flag, thrown to the breeze from the flag-staff of the State Capitol of Georgia, when an artillery salute announced that the Ordinance of Secession was adopted, bore the coat of arms of the State, viz., the arch of the Constitution, supported by the three pillars of “Wisdom”, “Justice” and “Moderation”, in a white field.  The flags used by the State troops during the war bore the same device, with the name of the regiment on the reverse.  Such was the Georgia flag before, as well as during “the late unpleasantness”.


Prior to the 1861 secession, militia troops operating out of the state had been under federal command under national colors.  But after secession there was a clear legislative intent by Georgia lawmakers to maintain our distinctive State flag apart from any national flag.  The Georgia Code of 1861, Section 1092, specified that,


Whenever a sufficient number of the militia, to constitute a regiment or battalion, shall be detailed for service to operate beyond the limits of the State, such regiment shall be furnished, by the Governor, with two flags- one the regimental color bearing the arms of the State; the other the national color bearing the arms of the Confederate States…


And despite later concerted efforts by Confederate national military commanders to repress the use of state colors, some continued in use until late in the war.  For example, the Coat of Arms flag of the Third Georgia Regiment was in service until 1863, while the Coat of Arms flag of the Ochlocknee Light Infantry from Thomas County (Company B/E, 29th Georgia Infantry Regiment) was captured by federal forces at Savannah in the Fall of 1864 (Biggs, 2003).




An engraving showing Georgia troops carrying Coat of Arms flags (Thulstrup, 1887). [Note 5]


An examination of this engraving under magnification reveals there is an arc of seven stars above the Coat of Arms on these flags.  These stars probably indicate either the number of states in secession or the number that had joined the Confederacy at the time that these flags were made and presented to their respective regiments. Seven states had left the Union between February 3, 1861, when Texas seceded, and May 6, 1861, when Arkansas seceded.  The flags in this engraving are very similar to one of three Georgia Coat of Arms flags (pictured below) now in the collection of Fort Pulaski National Monument.




 Georgia Coat of Arms flag of an unidentified unit (Madaus, 1991). [Note 6]






Museum conservator’s reconstructive drawing of the

regimental flag of  the First Georgia Regulars. [Note 7]



Georgia Coat of Arms Flag during Reconstruction

The third Coat of Arms pattern flag at Fort Pulaski National Monument is that of the Savannah Cadets and it clearly dates to the post-Civil War Reconstruction period. [Note 8]   In 1879 after both military and Congressional Reconstruction had been effectively ended in the South by the Hayes Compromise of 1877, ex-Confederate Georgians abandoned the Georgia Coat of Arms state flag and signaled their new ‘home rule’ by adopting a state flag based on the Confederate First National flag.  The new flag had no Coat of Arms, which was not added back to the state flag until 1902 (Jackson, 1995).



Notes and References


This information was originally prepared for presentation to the Governor’s Commission on Georgia History and Historical Tourism.


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Last Updated 4/8/2003