The first official national flag of the Confederacy, often called the "Stars and Bars", was flown from March 4, 1861 to May 1, 1863. Inspired by Austria's national flag, it was designed by Prussian artist Nicola Marschall in Marion, Alabama. The Stars and Bars flag was adopted March 4, 1861, in Montgomery, Alabama, and raised over the dome of that first Confederate capitol. Marschall also designed the Confederate Army uniform.
One of the first acts of the Provisional Confederate Congress was to create the Committee on the Flag and Seal, chaired by William Porcher Miles of South Carolina. The committee asked the public to submit thoughts and ideas on the topic and was, as historian John M. Coski puts it, "overwhelmed by requests not to abandon the 'old flag' of the United States." Miles had already designed a flag that would later become the Confederate battle flag, and he favored his flag over the "Stars and Bars" proposal. But given the popular support for a flag similar to the U.S. flag ("the Stars and Stripes"), the Stars and Bars design was approved by the committee. When war broke out, the Stars and Bars caused confusion on the battlefield because of its similarity to the U.S. flag, which was used by the U.S. Army, exacerbated by the fact that some Confederate units still wore dark blue coats early in the war prior to the adoption of gray uniforms.
However, the flag received criticism on ideological grounds for its aesthetic resemblance to the U.S. flag. As early as April 1861, a month after the flag's adoption, some were already criticizing the flag, calling it a "servile imitation" and a "detested parody" of the U.S. flag. In January 1862, George William Bagby, writing for the Southern Literary Messenger, wrote that many Confederates disliked the flag. "Every body wants a new Confederate flag," Bagby wrote, also stating that "The present one is universally hated. It resembles the Yankee flag and that is enough to make it unutterably detestable." The editor of the Charleston Mercury expressed similar a view, stating that "It seems to be generally agreed that the 'Stars and Bars' will never do for us. They resemble too closely the dishonored Flag of Yankee Doodle … we imagine that the Battle Flag will become the Southern Flag by popular acclaim." In addition, the editor of the Savannah Morning News also objected to the flag, "on account of its resemblance to that of the abolition despotism against which we are fighting."
Over the course of the flag's use by the Confederacy, additional stars were added to the flag's canton, eventually bringing the total number of stars on the flag to thirteen. This reflected the Confederacy's claims of having admitted Kentucky and Missouri into their union, although neither state was ever fully controlled or administered by the Confederacy. The first showing of the 13-star flag was outside the Ben Johnson House in Bardstown, Kentucky; the 13-star design was also in use as the Confederate Navy's battle ensign.