A symbol of rebels is on most Md. tags Cross indicated Confederate leanings during Civil War

An article in Saturday's editions incorrectly referred to the battle flag reproduced on Maryland license plates for members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans as the Stars and Bars. The Stars and Bars, with horizontal stripes, was the Confederate national flag.

The Sun regrets the errors.


You don't have to be a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans to own a Maryland license tag with a Confederate symbol. In fact, you probably have one on your car right now.

The stylized red and white cross that appears in the state seal and flag -- and on most Maryland license tags -- was a powerful symbol of Confederate sympathy in Maryland during and after the Civil War.


Maryland men fighting in Confederate regiments often wore the cross on their lapels and incorporated it into their unit flags. Confederate Gen. Bradley T. Johnson, a Marylander, designated his headquarters tent on battlefields with a banner made of the the distinctive cross.

The cross was the centerpiece of an ornate iron gateway that stood for many years in front of the Maryland Line Confederate Soldier's home in Pikesville, which opened in 1888 and was closed, and its gate removed, long ago.

The crosses can still be seen on the tombstones of Confederate soldiers in the state and are prominently displayed on monuments to Marylanders at the Gettysburg battlefield.

"It was a very significant symbol of the Confederacy for Marylanders," said Edward C. Papenfuse, the state archivist.

The red and white colors became so closely associated with the rebellion that federal authorities garrisoned at Baltimore outlawed displaying them in the city, a hotbed of Southern sympathizers. Offenders were jailed.

The derivation of the cross is disputed although, unlike the Stars and Bars Confederate battle flag, it predates the Confederacy by several centuries.

George Calvert, the first Lord Baltimore and the founder of the Maryland colony, adopted a quartered seal in the 1600s that incorporated his paternal ancestor's cross-hatched family crest and the Greek cross, properly called a cross bottony.

The families of his mother, Alicia Crossland, and his wife, Ann Mynne, used ornate crosses in their coats of arms. Most texts attribute Calvert's cross bottony to the Crossland arms, but Papenfuse believes the version that appears in the state seal and flag more closely resembles the Mynnes' arms.


Design resurrected

Although it remained in informal use, Lord Baltimore's design was discarded in 1794 as the state's official seal. It was resurrected in 1854, when the popularity of romanticism and heraldic symbolism surged in the South, said Gregory Stiverson, a former assistant state archivist who has extensively researched the history of Maryland's seal and flag.

When the Civil War broke out, the yellow and black Calvert symbols were most often associated with Maryland, which had no official flag. The Calvert cross-hatched arms were incorporated into flags and worn as hat and lapel pins by Marylanders fighting for the Union army.

In response, Southern sympathizers from the state took to wearing the cross bottony. The colors, by coincidence, were secessionist colors" identified with the rebels.

Some Confederate units from the state used flags that incorporated the Calvert arms and the cross bottony. But it is the cross that historians most closely associate with the secessionist cause.

"Maryland was inclined very strongly to secede, and federal authorities had to hold the state on a very tight leash," Stiverson said.


Union troops stationed at Federal Hill trained their cannons on the city, and various city and state officials, including the mayor of Baltimore and its police chief, were arrested on suspicion of Southern leanings. Some Confederate sympathizers were held without charge, and President Abraham Lincoln ignored court orders to release them.

Marylanders -- among the most bitterly divided Americans during the war -- continued to express their Northern and Southern allegiances after the war through the use of the Calvert or Crossland/Mynne arms after the war.

The official flag

In the 1880s, a flag combining the two symbols began showing up at public events, an obvious attempt to reconcile the two camps. It was immediately popular and became an unofficial state symbol. In 1904, the General Assembly made it the official flag.

"The modern Maryland flag represents unity in the community," said R. J. Rockefeller, director of education for the State Archives.

In 1945, the state required that the cross bottony be the only ornament mounted above the flag.


A version of the flag was first put onto Maryland license plates in 1985.

"There have been just a handful of complaints in 11 years," said Anna Lucente, public affairs officer for the state Motor Vehicle Administration.

The MVA announced this week that it would recall a

limited-edition tag issued to members of the Sons of the Confederate Soldiers fraternal organization because it included the Confederate Stars and Bars.

'Healing process'

Stiverson said the current tags, and the state flag, should not be viewed in the same manner.


"It was a sign that the healing process had taken hold. It did what a flag should do -- it was a symbol of hope and reconciliation," Stiverson said.

Del. Nathaniel T. Oaks, a Baltimore Democrat who spoke out against the Stars and Bars on license tags, said he is not offended by the cross bottony. Even if it was used by Confederates during the war, it was not adopted in modern times by avowedly racist organizations, as was the Confederate battle flag, he said.

"I don't remember that one being flown when someone was being burned to death [in lynchings] in Queen Anne's County," Oaks said. "It isn't the Confederate flag per se."

Pub Date: 1/04/97

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