Looking for more from Sean McLachlan? He also hangs out on the Midlist Writer blog, where he talks about writing, adventure travel, caving, and everything else he gets up to. He also reproduces all the posts from Civil War Horror, so drop on by!

Monday, March 11, 2013

The black flag in the Civil War

During the Civil War, flying "under the black flag" meant that you would take no prisoners. Historians debate whether such flags existed. As I talked about in my post about the bushwhacker leader Quantrill's black flag, it's doubtful whether he ever had one. A few later accounts said he did, but two of his famous followers, Frank James and Cole Younger, both said he didn't.

There must be some truth to the legend of the black flag, however. In a report filed on March 16, 1863, by Colonel John McNeil of the Second Missouri State Militia Cavalry, he talks about how for the previous week he took 500 of his men and two cannons on a sweep through southeastern Missouri to clear it of rebels. He also administered the loyalty oath to more than a hundred civilians.

He notes that he, "could have done so to many times that number had they not been scared off by extravagant reports of our killing unarmed and innocent persons. The covers being on our guidons, for it rained most of the time, they were taken for black flags, and the story that we were marching under that peculiarly Southern emblem widely circulated.

"Rape and murder were charged on us, causing the men to flee to the swamps. The women alone stood their ground, either not believing the charge or not fearing the consequences. I have promised protection to the loyal and law-abiding, and forgiveness for the past to those sincerely tired of rebellion, and disposed to be at peace with their neighbors, and announced that the rule for the future is, that where a Union man cannot live in peace a secessionist shall not live at all. A better state of feeling is fast obtaining among this simple minded people, and the timely display of force is begetting confidence in the power of the Government."

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.


  1. So the blog flag may or may not have been true?

  2. It must have been difficult to know who to believe during a war or even after. Women like to protect the home, and the children, so I'm not surprised by their staying. I'm sure some of them knew how to use their weapons in unsettled times.

  3. This is the first I've read about the use of black flags during the Civil War. Interesting.

  4. I don't think I ever knew the meaning of a black flag. That's terrifying!

  5. I agree with Johanna about the terrifying bit. It seems to remain an intriguing mystery. Real or no.

  6. It may be part of a story that we will never know the truth to.


Got something to say? Feel free! No anonymous comments allowed, though. Too many spammers and haters on the Internet.