Friday, July 3, 2009

100th Post - Flags of Our Forefathers

Throughout history flags have served numerous purposes. They have symbolized individuals, religions, and represented national pride. Flags have the unique ability to convey a shared history. Since earliest times, flags and colors have been carried by military units for identity. They affirm group distinctness and help create solidarity. Unit flags build pride and morale, and serve to represent the unit's honor.

In Civil War battle situations, flags served as a guide to keep company and regimental lines straight, as well as a rallying point when formations became broken or disjointed. Soldiers gathered around the the colors to regroup, make an attack, or when necessary, retreat. Flags marked specific individuals, locations, and functions, such as headquarters, hospitals, and ambulances. Flags were even used to relay messages by a special signal system.

Civil War regiments, both North and South, often held flag presentation ceremonies upon leaving their communities and being accepted into Union or Confederate service. The regimental colors early in the war were usually created and stitched by the town or county women where the unit was raised. These occasions often included a patriotic speech by the mayor or other local dignitary and then paraded up and down the line of assembled citizens to a regimental band; all in effort to reinforce the importance of the colors to the men who would fight beneath them.

A color guard usually made up of non-commissioned officers protected the flag. To carry the flag was a post of honor, but often a deadly one. Enemy soldiers targeted flag bearers in effort to disrupt the continuity of the battleline and demoralize the foe. The unit's flag was always held in great reverence; as a regiment's honor was displayed in, and often on, its flag. Battle names were sometimes painted on the regimental or national colors to show that the unit had been in the thick of the fight and had displayed them bravely. Of course, the entire regiment was disgraced if its colors were lost in battle.

Union soldiers who captured enemy colors or saved their own unit's flag from the enemy was often awarded the Medal of Honor. Soldiers of both sides were mentioned in battle reports, listed on rolls of honor, and sometimes given furloughs for these feats of heroism.

Original Civil War flags are a historic treasure. Many of these banners had a rough existence in the war, and many others were not given proper care after the war. All that remains of some colors are just tiny bits of fabric. But, thanks to special care at places like the Museum of the Confederacy, the Smithsonian, and other respected museums, these symbols of bravery continue to exist to inspire future generations to appreciate the freedom we enjoy here in America.

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