Flags—often called "colors"—played a very important role during the Civil War for many reasons. They were the symbols of Union sympathizers versus Confederate sympathizers and they demarcated different regiments and groups. They flew above forts, letting people know what group the fort belonged to, and they were carried during battle in order to keep an army together and to serve as a direction marker—where the colors went, the soldiers went, too.
Regimental flags, which were flags representing different groups of soldiers, were vital to keeping the group together on the battlefield, and they also helped to identify the regiment. Confederate regiments usually carried a flag with a specific design that corresponded to the army they were in: if a regiment was in the Army of Northern Virginia, for example, its flag was usually a red square with a Confederate cross (also known as a St. Andrew's Cross) of blue stripes and white stars. Individual regiments would put their regiment number and the initials of their home state on their flag. Some regiments also
Washington, D. C. Signal Corps officers lowering flag at their camp near Georgetown. General Albert J. Myer, in civilian dress, is at right of pole.
the color guard
One of the most important and prestigious jobs a soldier could have was to be part of a regiment's Color Guard—the group ofmen who carried the colors into battle. Men chosen for the Color Guard were appointed because of bravery or service to their unit. To be chosen for this honor was the equivalent of receiving a medal.
Members of the Color Guard were excused from regular camp duty, but they were expected to lead their regiment into every battle. Their only job was to protect the flag bearer, known as the color sergeant, who was constantly in grave danger; it is said that this was the most dangerous job during the Civil War. If the color sergeant fell and the enemy captured the flag, this was a great triumph for the flag capturers and a terrible loss for the regiment.
blue field put the names of the battles they had fought in on the flag. Union regimental flags and Confederate regimental flags from the deep south and western armies were often very elaborate, ranging from pictures of palmettos, the small palm trees of South Carolina, to the bear of the California 100. It is said that the more regimental colors an army was flying, the greater its strength.
In addition to regimental flags, there were artillery, cavalry, engineer, and hospital flags. Flags were also used as post offices: if a commander needed to get a message to another officer on the battlefield, he knew he could send a rider to the regiment's flag and find the officer nearby.
The following pages will give you the history of and instructions for how to make different Civil War flags, which ranged from very ornate to quite simple. Flags also often went through many changes, as regiments revised their flags in order to unify their group and differentiate their flag from those of other regiments.
the union's fort sumter flag
One of the most famous battles (if not the most famous) of the Civil War occurred
"Stars and Bars," the first Confederate flag, adopted March 1861.
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