The Southern Cross of Honor

Private Silas Doby, Circa 1912
Wearing his Southern Cross of Honor

The American Civil War while originally thought would be a very short engagment, turned into one of the more prolonged wars the United States has even been involved in. In the end, most experts believe the outcome was partially due to attrition of manpower and supplies for the Confederate forces. There's no doubt, just as it was depicted in the movie "Gone With The Wind", that every scrap of metal was direly needed for the War effort. Due in large part to that, there were not many medals given to men in the Confederate Armies during the war. As we approached the Twentieth Century, the fine ladies of the United Daughters of the Confederacy began to bestow an award medal, they called the Southern Cross of Honor. That award become one of the most coveted medal for any Confederate Veteran to recieve. It was largely given out during Confederate Civil War Veteran reunions and nearly 80,000 surviving Confederate Veterans were bestowed this high honor.

The idea of the Southern Cross of Honor came about when Mrs. Mary Ann Erwin (Alexander S. Lamar Erwin's wife) from Athens, Georgia attended a reunion of Confederate veterans in Atlanta in July 1898. She conceived the idea of bestowing a medal to Confederate Veterans for their valiant service to the Confederate Cause.

Mrs. Erwin and Mrs. Sarah E. Gabbett of Atlanta are credited with the design of the medal: The prominant shape was established by using a Maltese Cross. The Maltese cross, also known as the Amalfi cross has been identified as an early symbol Christian warriors, particularly the Knights Templar during the Crusades. The varient used for the Southern Cross of Honor is called a Cross Pattée. It is a type of cross that has arms which are narrow at the centre, and broader at the perimeter. The name comes from the resemblance of each limb, particularly in earlier forms, to a paw (French patte, German Tatze).

In the center of the cross the ladies placed a circle with a laurel wreath surrounding the words "Deo Vindice" (God our Vindicator) 1861-1865. The inscription, "Southern Cross of Honor" were placed around the medal  with one word on each of the ends of the Maltese Cross. On the reverse side is the Confederate Battle Flag surrounded by a second laurel wreath. The words "United Daughters Confederacy to the UCV", with United, Daughters, Confederary on the top three sides of the cross and "To The U.C.V." on the lower cross end.

Mr. Charles W. Crankshaw of Atlanta was chosen to manufacture the Crosses. The first medals were not bestowed until the UDC had secured a copyright (February 20, 1900) for the medal design to prevent it form being copied. During the first 18 months of the Cross's availability, 12,500 were ordered and delivered.

Only a Confederate veteran could wear the Southern Cross of Honor, and it could only be bestowed through the UDC. The first Cross ever bestowed was upon Mrs. Erwin’s husband, Captain Alexander S. Erwin, by the Athens (Ga.) Chapter on April 26, 1900.

Over the years, because of the popularity of collecting Civil War relics, several companies have made reproductions of the UDC Southern Cross of Honor despite the UDC's copyright of the design. One the of big tells that a cross is authentic is that there should be a Marker's Mark on the lower front face below the word "Honor". It should be from either Crankshaw or Whitehead and Hoag. While some reproductions may have copied the Maker's Mark, most do not. Another tell is that due to the shortage of precious metals, the authentic medals were not made of stuff like Gold or Silver. None the less, Confederate Veterans that recieved the Southern Cross of Honor regarded them as if they were made of pure gold.

Researching Who Received a Southern Cross of Honor

Sadly, The United Daughters of the Confederacy no longer have the original applications for the Southern Cross of Honor. It does, however, have the ledgers compiled by Mrs. Anna Davenport Raines during her seven-year term as Custodian of Southern Crosses of Honor. Mrs. Raines recorded the recipients of every Cross bestowed, beginning with Number 1, until she resigned in 1913, for a total of 78,761 Crosses, The ledgers provide the name and unit of each recipient and may in some cases give the date and place of the award. A cumulative index was developed by the Caroline Meriwether Goodlett Library Committee in the 1980s to cross reference the information contained in the ledgers.

Those who are researching their Confederate Ancestors are invited to request a confirmation of the bestowal of a Southern Cross of Honor between 1900 and 1913 as well as any information available for subsequent years. To do so, download the Souther Cross of Honor Research Request Form [in the Acrobate PDF file format], complete the form in writing, and mail it, along with a check in the amount of $25.00 made payable to the Treasurer General, UDC. 

The address to mail the form and check is:

UDC Memorial Building
Southern Cross of Honor Research
328 North Boulevard
Richmond, VA 23220-4009