John P. McDonough, Secretary of State
Photograph by Tom Darden, State of Maryland
The Maryland flag has
been described as the perfect state flag bold colors, interesting
patterns, and correct heraldry—a flag that fairly shouts "Maryland." The
design of the flag
comes from the shield in the coat of arms of the Calvert family, the colonial proprietors of
Maryland. George Calvert, first Lord Baltimore, adopted a coat of arms that included a shield
with alternating quadrants featuring the yellow-and-black colors of his paternal family and the
red-and-white colors of his maternal family, the Crosslands1
. When the
in 1904 adopted a banner
of this design as the state flag, a link was forged between modern-day Maryland and the very
earliest chapter of the proprietorship of the Calvert family.
Despite the antiquity of its design, the Maryland flag is of post-Civil War origin. Throughout the
colonial period, only the yellow-and-black Calvert family colors are mentioned in descriptions of
the Maryland flag. After independence, the use of the Calvert family colors was discontinued.
Various banners were used to represent the state, although none was adopted officially as a state
flag. By the Civil War, the most common Maryland flag design probably consisted of the great
seal of the state on a blue background. These blue banners were flown at least until the late
The Calvert family coat of arms was reintroduced in Maryland in an 1854 law that called for a
new great seal based on the Calvert design. The seal created pursuant to this act contained several
inaccuracies, and in 1876 the General Assembly provided for a new great seal that conformed
closely to the Calvert original.
Reintroduction of the Calvert coat of arms on the great seal of the state was followed by a
reappearance at public events of banners in the yellow-and-black Calvert family colors. Called
the "Maryland colors" or "Baltimore colors," these yellow-and-black banners lacked official
sanction of the General Assembly, but appear to have quickly become popular with the public as
a unique and readily identifiable symbol of Maryland and its long history.
The red-and-white Crossland arms gained popularity in quite a different way. Probably because
the yellow-and-black "Maryland colors" were popularly identified with a state which, reluctantly
or not, remained in the Union, Marylanders who sympathized with the South adopted the
red-and-white of the Crossland arms as their colors. Following Lincoln's election in 1861, red
and white "secession colors" appeared on everything from yarn stockings and cravats to
children's clothing. People displaying these red-and-white symbols of resistance to the Union and
to Lincoln's policies were vigorously prosecuted by Federal authorities.
During the war, Maryland-born Confederate soldiers used both the red-and-white colors and the
cross bottony design from the Crossland quadrants of the Calvert coat of arms as a unique way of
identifying their place of birth. Pins in the cross bottony shape were worn on uniforms, and the
headquarters flag of the Maryland-born Confederate general Bradley T. Johnson was a red cross
bottony on a white field.
By the end of the Civil War, therefore, both the yellow-and-black Calvert arms and the
red-and-white colors and bottony cross design of the Crossland arms were clearly identified with
Maryland, although they represented opposing sides in the conflict. As officers and soldiers
returned home after the war to resume their peacetime occupations, the greatest challenge facing
the country was reconciliation. Nowhere was the problem more serious than in deeply divided
Maryland, where veterans who had fought under the red-and-white secession colors" had to be
reintegrated into a state that had remained true to the Union.
As the slow process of reconciliation took place in post-Civil War Maryland, a new symbol
emerged. A flag incorporating alternating quadrants of the Calvert and Crossland colors began
appearing at public events. While the design derived directly from the seventeenth-century
Calvert family coat of arms, for Marylanders of the 1880s the new banner must have conveyed a
powerful message. The passage of time had gradually diminished the passions of former Rebels
and Yankees, permitting them to work together once again. Now the colors they had fought under
had come together as well, symbolically representing through this new flag the reunion of all the
Neither the designer nor the date of origin of this new Maryland flag is
certain, but a banner in this form was known at least by October 1880.
Flags incorporating four quadrants alternating between the yellow-and-black
Calvert arms and the red-and-white Crossland arms appear in published sketches
by Frank B. Mayer depicting the huge 150th birthday parade held in
Baltimore that month. Eight years later, in October 1888, a large flag
with the alternating Calvert and Crossland colors was carried by Maryland
National Guard troops escorting Governor Elihu E. Jackson at the dedication
ceremonies for the Maryland monument at the Gettysburg Battlefield. A year
later, in October 1889, the Fifth Regiment, Maryland National Guard, adopted a
flag in this form as its regimental color. The Fifth Regiment thereby
became the first organization to adopt officially what is today the Maryland
The adoption of this new flag by the Fifth Regiment helped popularize the
design. The Fifth was the largest component of Maryland's military after
1870, and it played a conspicuous part in major public events both in and out of
the state. Organized in May 1867, the Fifth Regiment was the successor
organization to the Old Maryland Guard, a military unit formed in Baltimore in
1859 that dissolved when most of its officers and men went south in 1861 to join
the Confederate Army.
True to its heritage, the original Fifth Regiment consisted primarily of
Maryland-born former Confederate officers and soldiers. The new regimental
color adopted in 1889, combining the traditional yellow-and-black "Maryland
colors" with the red-and-white "secession colors" in the form of a bottony
cross, must have seemed especially appropriate to members of the Fifth.
The colors symbolically represented what had happened to the Fifth Regiment
itself in the quarter century since the Civil War. Originally denounced as
a "Rebel Brigade," the Fifth had by the 1870s become Maryland's premier
military organization, attracting Union veterans as well as former Confederates.
From its inception, the Fifth Regiment had demonstrated through its prominent
participation in public events and with its summer encampments in the north that
former Confederates could be good soldiers and loyal citizens of the state and
The Fifth Regiment's new regimental color was not the only example of former
Confederates perpetuating and thereby popularizing the use of the red-and-white
Crossland colors and the cross bottony design. The monument on Culp's Hill
at the Gettysburg Battlefield commemorating the Second Maryland Infantry, CSA,
carries a cross bottony on each face, and the Maryland Line Confederate
Soldiers' Home, established in Pikesville in 1888, featured a large cross
bottony on service badges and on invitations to events sponsored.
Beginning a custom that would later be officially recognized by law, the Fifth
Regiment by 1905 had replaced the silver eagle on the flagstaff bearing its
regimental color with a cross bottony.
In 1904 the General Assembly affirmed the popular support shown for a banner
composed of alternating Calvert and Crossland quadrants by declaring it the
State flag. In 1945, a gold cross bottony was made the official ornament
for a flagstaff carrying the Maryland flag.
The Maryland flag, flown on a staff properly ornamented with a gold cross
bottony, is therefore much more than a symbol of state sovereignty. The
flag excels as a state banner because it commemorates the vision of the founders
while it reminds us of the struggle to preserve the Union. It is a unique
symbol of challenges met and loyalties restored, a flag of unity and
reconciliation for all the state's citizens.
1: Design - The Calvert colors are described as gold and
black, and the Crossland colors as red and silver, but in heraldry gold is depicted with yellow and
silver with white. The cross in the Crossland arms ends in demi-fleurs-de-lis and is properly a
cross flory; the cross in the Maryland flag terminates in buttons, and in heraldry is termed a cross
bottony. The word "bottony" is spelled several ways; the version used here conforms to the 1945
law that made the cross bottony the official ornament for a flagstaff carrying the Maryland flag.