South Carolina’s “palmetto flag” was officially made the state banner in 1861. The crescent and tree symbolize the defense of Charleston in 1776, shortly after independence had been declared from England. Troops wearing the crescent symbol on their caps built a fort of palmetto logs overlooking the city’s harbor entrance on Sullivan’s Island, and their famous victory over the British on June 28, 1776 was largely attributed to the soft palmetto core that absorbed and smothered English cannonballs.
Although the crescent is recognized to be a symbol of the troops and not the moon, some disagreement persists as to its origin.
From what I have found, there seems to be little doubt that it is the “gorget.” The motif was derived from the throat plate of the medieval knight in armor, and during the 18th century became popular with King George II as a military symbol worn around the necks of English officers. One of South Carolina’s staunch loyalists was William Bull, who was named Lt. Governor by King George in 1755, and who personally designed the uniforms of a newly-reorganized South Carolina militia in 1760, adding the gorget symbol to their caps.
Bull’s own family crescent includes the gorget symbol and it was he who commissioned William Moultrie as an officer of the 2nd South Carolina regiment. Moultrie is credited with designing a crescent flag as a symbol of his troops in 1775, and he later wrote that it conformed to the crescent symbol worn on their caps.
This chain of evidence far outweighs anything that can be offered in opposition to this theory, and why I firmly stand by the research that proves the crescent comes from the gorget. Some confusion has been caused by the fact that the crescent on the state flag was tilted in the 1890’s to resemble the moon. Fortunately, one of the original flgas (and perhaps THE original state flag) still exists from the 1860’s. This large banner features a crescent straight up and down in the manner of the gorget. Ironically, this flag was stolen from the state capitol in Columbia in 1865 by Iowa troops under Sherman, who burned and ransacked that city. It is still kept at the Historical Society of Iowa, which should be willing to give back the property of a sister state (after all Iowa, wasn’t the Union “preserved” by those troops?) Thus far, no offering from Iowa, so the old flag remains in limbo.