Charles J.C. Hutson And Confederate Flag Culture: A Special Guest Blog

06 December 2017

History | War and Conflict

Patrick Doyle is a historian of nineteenth-century America with a specific interest in the Civil War era. He joined Royal Holloway in September 2014 as Lecturer in Modern American History and is currently working on a monograph which explores the interconnected issues of family, community and loyalty in Confederate South Carolina. This blog has been written as part of a special series from members of the British Association for American Studies (BAAS).

The Florida Independent Blues, Company B, 3rd Florida Infantry, University of Virginia, accessed via the Civil War Talk forum.

The letters of Charles J.C. Hutson, a former student of South Carolina College and a soldier in the First South Carolina Volunteers, provide insight on various topics pertaining to the American Civil War era. Held at the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and accessible via Adam Matthew's American History collection, the bulk of the materials pertain to the war period (1861-1865). Readers will find particularly interesting commentary on Hutson’s military experience and his views on the wider Confederate cause; the young soldier professed a firm attachment to the cause, criticising detractors of the Richmond government or so-called “croakers” (letter dated September 3, 1863) and continuing to hope that “we will yet be a free people with our own laws & institutions,” despite the Confederacy’s increasingly desperate plight by the war’s final stages (letter dated March 20, 1865). But it is Hutson’s remarks on a company flag from early in the war that this piece will focus upon. Though perhaps trivial at first glance, these remarks offer us a personal perspective on the complex ways in which southerners developed a relationship with their fledgling nation and their wider ideas about the Civil War.


Charles Jones Colcock Hutson as a younger man, University of South Carolina Law Library. Photo credit, Mike Hutson.

On September 1, 1861, Charles Hutson responded with exuberance to the news that his sweetheart Emmeline Colcock and other local ladies were producing a flag for his company. “We are very much indebted to the patriotism and kindness of you ladies who are undertaking the preparation of this handsome flag of which you speak.” As Hutson continued, he emphasised the personal connection the flag would have:

“It will be doubly sustained & loved by me since my dear Emmeline has been instrumental in its preparation. Remember dear gentle Em. that your Charley will either die under its waving folds or return to you with it protected under its victorious & triumphant motto.” 

Hutson never expanded on what the motto actually was but it was probably a statement glorifying the martial defence of the South – other flags included mottos such as “Any Fate but Submission,” “Liberty or Death,” and “Pro Patria” (“For the Homeland”). More significant than the motto, however, was Hutson’s life or death interpretation of the flag’s significance. Hutson essentially viewed the flag as constituting a vow to give everything he had in defending it. But to whom did he owe this vow and what, exactly, was he defending? The power of the flag lay in the fact it melded the obligations Hutson owed to his family (as it was prepared, in part, due to his “dear gentle Em.”), his community (as other local women were involved in its production and the flag represented his company), and his nation (as the unknown motto and design of the flag most likely evoked southern nationalism). The flag was a potent symbol for Charles Hutson precisely because it blended the personal and the political, the intimate and the ideological.

Charles J. Hutson to Emmeline Colcock describing life in the camp, 1861. © The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. Click the image to access this letter freely for 30 days.

American History: 1493-1945 is available now. Watch a webinar here, or contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more information.

Charles J. Hutson's letter to Emmeline Colcock is available open access until 6th January 2018. 


Sources: 
Robert E. Bonner, Colors and Blood: Flag Passions of the Confederate South (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002)

Glenn Dedmondt, The Flags of Civil War South Carolina (Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing Co., 2000)

Wayne K. Durrill, ‘Ritual, Community and War: Local Flag Presentation Ceremonies and Disunity in the Early Confederacy’, Journal of Social History, Vol. 39 (Summer 2006), 1105-1122

Nina Silber, Gender and the Sectional Conflict (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008)

Bell Irvin Wiley, The Life of Johnny Reb: The Common Soldier of the Confederacy (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1943).

About the Author

Patrick Doyle

Patrick Doyle

Patrick Doyle is a historian of nineteenth-century America with a specific interest in the Civil War era. He joined Royal Holloway in September 2014 as Lecturer in Modern American History and is currently working on a monograph which explores the interconnected issues of family, community and loyalty in Confederate South Carolina.

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