Jump to Navigation

Online Exhibits - Keep the Flag to the Front, Part 2

Missouri Home Guards flag.

Rally 'Round the Flag

Yes, we'll rally 'round the flag, boys, we'll rally once again,
Shouting the battle cry of Freedom.
We will rally from the hillside, we'll gather from the plain,
Shouting the battle cry of Freedom.

-"The Battle Cry of Freedom" by George F. Root, 1862

Why were flags so important to Civil War soldiers?
Because lives depended on them.

Soldiers fought under conditions that are difficult to imagine today. Because of the weaponry used, a battlefield quickly became a smoke-filled place. The color guard with the flags was out in front of the regiment, guiding the soldiers forward. By watching the flags, officers could see the locations of regiments from a distance. This allowed them to give the appropriate orders to direct the battle.

If you planted your flag within enemy lines, you were signaling victory. The absence of your flag was a sign of defeat.

Some soldiers took extreme measures to save their regiments from the indignity of losing the flag. To save their flag from capture at Petersburg, members of the 145th Pennsylvania Infantry ripped it apart and divided the pieces among themselves. Captain George Smart even carried part of the flag in the lining of his coat while a prisoner.

The flag at top, right was presented to Captain William F. Gordon's Company of Missouri Home Guards, organized on June 1, 1861. It was handmade by Mrs. Abbie Miller whose son, Joseph, was in the unit.

Learn why there were different types of flags.

A Deadly Honor

It was a deadly honor to be a color bearer. You were out in front of the troops. While carrying the flag you were unarmed, although surrounded by an armed color guard to defend the flag. If you were wounded or killed, one of them would take your place.

How deadly was it?  At the Battle of Gettysburg, nine color bearers of the Twenty-fourth Michigan Regiment were killed carrying the regimental flag. During the same battle, fourteen men were shot carrying the flag of the Twenty-sixth North Carolina Regiment.

Civil War Medal  of Honor awarded to Private John Callahan.

The Medal of Honor

First presented during the Civil War, the Medal of Honor is given to members of the armed forces for feats of heroism. During the war it was often presented to men who either protected their flag from the enemy or captured one.

Private John H. Callahan of the 122nd Illinois Infantry received the Medal of Honor (bottom, left) for capturing the flag of the Second Alabama Infantry while under heavy fire at Fort Blakely, Alabama, on April 9, 1865. Callahan settled in Manhattan, Kansas, after the war.

 

Keep the Flag to the Front: Battle Flags of Kansas is an online exhibit developed by the Kansas Museum of History.

  1. The Civil War, 1861-1865
  2. Rally 'Round the Flag
  3. Stories From the Front Lines
  4. The "Colored" Soldiers
  5. On the Border
  6. Chickamauga
  7. The Confederacy
  8. Save the Flags!
  9. Glossary and Explanation of Flag Types

Contact us at KansasMuseum@kshs.org