Flag of the Palmetto Guards: The First Southern Flag to Fly Over Fort Sumter!


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April 14, 1861, victorious Confederates occupy Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor after driving off Union troops. Private John S. Byrd, Jr. of South Carolina's Palmetto Guard places this flag on the fort's wall facing Charleston.

The flag proudly shows in its design the Palmetto tree which would soon become part of South Carolina's new national flag and is seen in her state flag even today. The tree is a reference to a fort which was largely constructed of Palmetto logs and situated on Sullivan's Island in Charleston Harbor in 1776. The resilient Palmetto logs are said to have withstood the pounding of British cannon balls during the Revolutionary War and so contributed to the repulse of a British invasion force on June 28, 1776. Soon thereafter, the Palmetto became a central part of South Carolina's Great Seal.

Thus the Palmetto became a symbol of American independence and defiance. In 1861, South Carolinians naturally made it a symbol of Southern independence and defiance.

The flag stayed in Private Byrd's family until it was donated to the National Park Service in 1979. It is on display for all to see at Fort Sumter. While there, visit the site of the original Palmetto log fort, now renamed Fort Moultrie.

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