The First Battles: April 1861 to February 1862

Flag Fever

Which state was the first to secede after Fort Sumter’s fall?

Virginia, the Old Dominion, had been teetering on the edge of secession for some time. The most populous of all the Southern states, Virginia had a longstanding commitment to slavery: its slaves were, perhaps, those who had lived in America the longest. Virginians rightly feared, however, that their lands would be the ones most torn up in a civil conflict; the Old Dominion, therefore, stayed its hand till after Fort Sumter.

A special state convention was held in Richmond, and the delegates voted to secede. The action would not become law until it was ratified by the people: the vote was scheduled for the third week in May. But as it became clear that Virginia would indeed depart the Union, something like panic seized the upper echelons of the U.S. Army. Where would the Northern armies find their leaders, their general officers? And, perhaps because Virginia was so clearly part of the problem, all eyes turned to the special case of Robert E. Lee.

Most people today think that the flag shown at top was the official flag of the Confederacy. Actually, that is the flag of the Army of Northern Virginia. The flag on the bottom, called the “Stars and Bars,” was one of several official flags proposed for the Confederacy.


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