Color Company

neyankee61

Corporal
Joined
Oct 30, 2018
Dusted off my copy of Hardee's but I can't find the answer to this question...which specific if any company was designated the Color Company? At Gettysburg Capt. William Hillyer 7th NJ was in command of the Color Company yet he doesn't say what Company it is. My great-great grandfather Aaron Hayward carried the National Colors for the 7th that day. The 5th NJ monument is at the location where Col William Sewell placed the Color Company as the other companies deployed as skirmishers in a field across the Emmittsburg road. Again no mention of which company. Anyone know the answer?
 

captaindrew

Major
Forum Host
Silver Patron
Joined
Mar 13, 2017
Location
Whereabouts Unknown
Don't confuse the color guard and the color company, two different things. The color company is the company to the right of the color guard in battle line. If your great great grandfather carried the colors he was in the color guard which would be chosen individuals amongst the whole regiment. Best thing to do would be try and find a roster of the regiment or his service info to find out which company he was in.
 

neyankee61

Corporal
Joined
Oct 30, 2018
You're right.Should have made that clear in my post.It is possible that in the 7th NJ the Color Company was either H or F as the regiment was split in two when Clark's Battery crashed into it near the Peach Orchard. Hillyer stated he commanded the Color Company and after the split he ended up with the right half of the regiment. One problem with this is during the 7th's retreat, Lt Col Price grabbed my great-great grandfather and ordered him to make a stand halfway between the 7th's old position and the Trostle house.Price was hoping to rally the men around it. Unfortunately Price went down with a severe wound at about the same moment and the rout was on. The Color Guard could have gotten separated from the Color Company.
Back to the question, the Color Company could vary from regiment to regiment? Also from day to day?
 

neyankee61

Corporal
Joined
Oct 30, 2018
I did some more checking. Color Sgt Aaron Hayward was in Co C and Capt William Hillyer was in Co K. After the 7th was split, part of it regrouped and charged under Col Francine, reaching where the 7th's monument stands today. Co K went forward with Francine. I know this as Private Heyward Emmell Co K wrote "Col Francine ordered us to fix bayonets and then were ordered to charge, the fire was too hot and we halted and fired. I was loading the second time when I saw our regiment falling back."
 

RedRover

Corporal
Joined
Dec 16, 2019
This is complex, but I believe I have an idea of what the deal was with the color-company and its assignment.

On the organization of a regiment for service, the companies were designated by letters, from A to K. The letter “J” was omitted, which was too similar to “I.” The letter assignment was initially made by the seniority of the captains, commencing with “A” for the most senior captain’s company. The “K” company would be that commanded by the junior captain. This letter designation was permanently fixed to the company, no matter who commanded it in the future.

For the purposes of drill and maneuver, the companies were formed into a single line of battle in a particular order, by the seniority of the captains, in the following order, which I will call the "Seniority order" (left to right):

2nd, 7th, 10th, 5th, 8th, 3rd, 9th, 4th, 6th, 1st.

Recall that that same seniority of captains designated the letters of the companies. Consequently, a newly formed regiment would be formed, as above, with the companies in the following order; by their letter designations, with I will call the "Primitive Order;"

B, G, K, E, H, C, I, D, F, A.

The military method was not finished yet. Once the battalion was formed in line for the purposes of the drill and maneuvers, the companies were designated 1st through 10th companies, from right to left. [1860, Hardee’s Rifle, Art. I, 1-3.] So that the right-most was the first company at drill, and the tenth the left-most. As so:

10th, 9th, 8th, 7th, 6th, 5th, 4th, 3rd, 2nd, 1st

Now, the color-guard of the regiment, with the colors of the unit, were posted on the left of the right-center company (the 5th company), which would, per above, initially be Company C; the 3rd company by captain’s seniority.

Next, the regulations of both armies required the companies to be reordered (seniority order) in battalion when any change occurred in the captains and their seniority. As company commanders, and their relative seniority, changed, the letter of the company did not change, but their place in the line of battle was supposed to, which theoretically could have made any company the color company so long as its captain was the third in seniority... [see US regulations; 1862, CSA Regulations. XII, 66, p. 7., etc.]

But were they so reordered? It seemed to depend on the unit.

Lets look at some references from the Battle of Chickamauga:

Comrade Hamilton of the 22nd Michigan informs us that the order of companies in that veteran outfit as it charged over the Horseshoe or Snodgrass ridge into action on Sept. 20, 1863 was the “usual formation” from left to right (omitting their missing Co. B which would have been on the left flank in primitive order):

G, K, E, H, C, I, D, F, A.

That is essentially the original or primitive order.

When the 21st Ohio formed with the 89th Ohio, and 22nd Michichan just before they were captured Sept. 20; its Companies B and G were on its left flank. Company A was on the “extreme right of the regiment,” showing it reformed in the primitive order of companies too.
At the same time, there is reference the nearby 9th Indiana, one of the last federal units on the Snodgrass heights, was formed with its F and A companies on its right flank, suggesting it was formed in its primitive order as well.
The 96th Illinois retained the primitive order by companies (rather than order by seniority) throughout the regiment’s service. Consequently, at Chickamauga its Co. C was its color company, as it was at organization, and throughout the war. [Partridge, History of the 96th Regiment; Illinois Volunteer Infantry…32, 733, 735.]

So long as a regiment retained its primitive order of companies, Company C would have remained the color company. And again, where the regulations were applied, and the order of companies in battalion reordered by changes in captain's seniority, it could have been any company... For example, at Gettysburg Col. Chamberlain’s 20th Maine Regiment was formed by seniority of captains evidently:
E,I,K,D,F,A,H,C,G.
[Turlock, Alice Rains, In the Hands of Providence: Joshua L. Chamberlain and the American Civil War, University of North Carolina Press, 1992, 439, n.52.]


It appears too easy for historians to assume the regiments they study are following the manuals minutely; sometimes even in spite of the actual historical evidences they are working with! For example, Mr. Eric Ward, editor of "Army Life in Virginia: the Civil War Letters of George G. Benedict, (Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, PA, 2002, 18-19). assumes the companies of Benedict’s regiment (12th Vermont) were formed by seniority of captains (per the regulations), and surmises Benedict’s Company C was thus the 7th company (as he discerned it had the 7th senior captain at that time). BUT, Benedict’s own letter in the text of the work shows his outfit’s Company C remained the color-company, which would be the 5th company, per the primitive formation. Thus historians outsmart themselves.

Just to make this more fun, there were some outfits that did not follow the regulation orders of companies at all.
For an example; the 121st Pennsylvania Regiment formed in August, 1862 with a different one: “the letters by which companies were designated, did not indicate the positions they held in line, as is usually the case.” In This outfit Company D was the color company, and the regiment customarily formed thus after its organization:

A, K, H, F, B, D,G, E, C, I.
[History of the 121st Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, 18-19.]

James Marshall,
Hernando, FL
 
Last edited:

grognard

Private
Joined
Oct 12, 2018
This business of company letters vs. places in the line is always an interesting topic.

On the organization of a regiment for service, the companies were designated by letters, from A to K. The letter “J” was omitted, which was too similar to “I.” The letter assignment was initially made by the seniority of the captains, commencing with “A” for the most senior captain’s company. The “K” company would be that commanded by the junior captain. This letter designation was permanently fixed to the company, no matter who commanded it in the future.

That's often assumed to be the case. Can you cite specific language in the Regulations (or maybe Customs of Service) which actually requires it? I know in some cases regiments were thrown together using the next ten companies available from a Camp of Instruction, and it seems hard to believe that this rule was invariably followed "to the letter" :smile:.

Next, the regulations of both armies required the companies to be reordered (seniority order) in battalion when any change occurred in the captains and their seniority. As company commanders, and their relative seniority, changed, the letter of the company did not change, but their place in the line of battle was supposed to, which theoretically could have made any company the color company so long as its captain was the third in seniority... [see US regulations; 1862, CSA Regulations. XII, 66, p. 7., etc.]

Again, do you have a specific citation? The only place I recall reading about this is the very beginning of the tactics manuals, where the formation of a regiment in line of battle is specified (e.g. Casey's):

“A regiment is composed of ten companies, which will be habitually posted from right to left in the following order: first, sixth, fourth, ninth, third, eighth, fifth, tenth, seventh, second, according to the rank of Captains.”

Finally, I think it's worth noting that "according to the rank of Captains" presumably means the "Captain of record", not who's commanding the Company that day. So Captain Able's Company A remains on the right of the line, even though Able is absent on a court martial detail and First Lt. Allen has been temporarily detached to command Company K. Not until a permanent change in the "rank of Captains" occurs (through promotion or reassignment) is the "seniority order" changed.
 

RedRover

Corporal
Joined
Dec 16, 2019
That's often assumed to be the case. Can you cite specific language in the Regulations (or maybe Customs of Service) which actually requires it? I know in some cases regiments were thrown together using the next ten companies available from a Camp of Instruction, and it seems hard to believe that this rule was invariably followed "to the letter" :smile:.

Let's see.

1821 Regulations;

“A the first organization of a regiment or independent battalion, the companies will be designated by letters of the alphabet, giving the first letters to the flank companies [A & B], according to the rank of the respective captains, or, if the rank be not settled, by lottery—and the next highest letters of the alphabet [C thru K] to the remaining companies, on the same principle. Designations so given will be as permanent as the regiment or independent battalion. A change in the relative rank of captains will of course change the positions of the companies in the habitual order of battle, whether the captains be present or not, but will not change the letters of the companies.” [Art. XXIV, para. 1-2.]

The 1825 regulations stated the same. [1825 Regulations, para. 152.]:

“At the first organization of a regiment or battalion, the companies will be designated by letters of the alphabet, giving the first letters to the flank companies, according to the rank of the respective captains; or, if the rank be not settled, by lottery. And the next highest letters of the alphabet, to the remaining companies, on the same principle.
Designations so given, will be as permanent as the regiment or battalion. A change in the relative rank of the captains, will, of course, change the positions of the companies in the habitual order of battle, whether the captains be present or not; but will not change the letters of the companies.” [1825; Art. XXIV, para. 152.]

General Alexander Macomb’s proposed regulations (printed 1834) are similar:

“On the organization of a regiment or battalion, the companies will be designated by the letters of the alphabet, which designation is to be permanent. The captains, in the first instance, are to be assigned to companies according to seniority, commencing with letter A; after which, those who succeed to the command of companies are to take them in succession as the vacancies may happen, and although the companies will not change their letters, they will take their places in the battalion according to the rank of their respective captains. The lieutenants are to be posted in like manner, and afterwards to succeed to companies as vacancies occur. [Macomb, Regulations, 1834: Art. 10, para. 13.]

Macomb omitted the specific statement that the companies would take post in the line by captain’s seniority; present or not. However, as written it does not necessarily contradict that practice. As they used to say, "omittance is no quittance..."

Macomb’s approved army regulations were printed in 1835 and were officially in force from January 1, 1837. They state:
“On the organization of a regiment or battalion, the companies will be designated by the letters of the alphabet, which designation is to be permanent. The Captains, in the first instance [the organization of the regiment], will be assigned to companies according to seniority, commencing with the letter A; after which, they will succeed to the command of them, as the vacancies may happen, but the companies will take their places in the battalion according to the rank of their respective captains. The Lieutenants are to be posted in like manner, and afterwards to succeed to companies as vacancies occur.” 1835 Regulations, IX, 8-9.]

The major change was omission of the statement that the companies would not change their letters, but that was an established custom, and evidently considered unnecessary to repeat.

The 1835/37 regulations remained in effect until 1841. The regulations adopted the latter year state the same, but in reference to the places of companies in the battalion notes:

“On the organization of a regiment or battalion, the companies will be designated by the letters of the alphabet, which designation is to be permanent. The Captains, in the first instance, will be assigned to companies according to seniority, commencing with the letter A; after which they will succeed to the command of them, as the vacancies may happen, but the companies will take their places in the battalion according to the rank of their respective Captains. (see system of Infantry Tactics.) the Lieutenants are to be posted in like manner, and afterwards to succeed to companies, as vacancies occur.” [Art. IX, para. 43.]

So in the "infantry tactics", Scott's vol. I, para. 7, he notes the battalion companies "will habitually be posted from right to left, in the following order: first, fifth, fourth, seventh, third, eighth, sixth, second, according to the rank of the captains." The senior captain at organization commanding Co. A, and the second, Co. B, these are flank companies rather than battalion companies, and in this period were intended for light infantry, among the regulars equipped with bugles in lieu of fife and drum, etc. From 1857 with the adoption of Hardee's (and also in Casey's) the distinction of light versus battalion companies was eliminated.

The 1847 Army regulations reference the companies formed by captain’s seniority, and restores the clause, “whether the captains be present or not:"

"On the organization of a regiment or battalion, the companies will be designated by the letters of the alphabet, which designation is to be permanent. The Captains, in the first instance, will be assigned to companies according to seniority, commencing with the letter A; after which they will succeed to the command of them, as the vacancies [of companies forming the regiment or battalion] may happen, but the companies will take their places in the battalion according to the rank of their respective Captains. (See system of Infantry Tactics.) A change in the relative rank of the Captains will, of course, change the positions of the companies in the habitual order of battle, whether the Captains be present or not. The Lieutenants are to be posted} in the first instance, in like manner as the Captains, and afterwards to succeed to companies as vacancies occur.” [Art. XIII, para. 105.]

The 1857 Regulations again truncated the paragraph on the subject, again removing specific reference to presence or absence of the captains:

“On the organization of a regiment, the companies receive a permanent designation by letters beginning with A, and the officers are assigned to companies; afterward, company officers succeed to companies, as promoted to fill vacancies. Companies take place in the battalion according to the rank of their captains.” [Art. XII, para. 69.]

The 1861 US Army regulations state the same. (Art. XII, para. 71), as did the revised regulations of 1863 (Art. XII, 71). The Confederate Army’s regulations of 1862 and 1864 are identical.
The federal regulations of 1863 remained in force long after the war. In 1873 a proposed revision sought to restore the specific reference that companies were to form within a battalion by seniority of captains, whether those captains “be present or not.” These regulations were not adopted, but the inclusion of the reference suggested the custom continued in the Regular US Army from pre-war custom. [“Revised Army Regulations,” March 1, 1873, proposed by Secretary of War Belknap, Art. XXXIII, printed as House Report #85, 42nd Congress, 3rd Session, Reports of Committees of the House of Representatives for the Third Session of the Forty Second Congress, 1872-73, I, Government Printing Office, Washington, DC, 1873, 36; Leiber, G. Norman, Remarks on the Army Regulations, Government Printing Office, Washington, DC, 1898, 57, n.1.]

Consequently the regulations throughout the period discussed intended that the order of companies in line of battle be altered when a permanent change occurred among any but the junior captain of a regiment.


So, from the above review the 1857-1860s regulations are not specific about assigning the letters of companies based on captain's seniority and that explains some units using other methods. Notice using a lottery to assign seniority at organization was omitted from the regulations after 1835, but it seems to have been employed some in the 60s:

When the 96th​ Illinois Regiment was formed its senior company was made Company A, and the other captains drew paper lots with letters marked to discern what letter their company would be. They retained the formation by companies (rather than seniority) throughout the regiment’s service. At Chickamauga its Co. C was its color company, as it was at organization. [Partridge, History of the 96th​ Regiment; Illinois Volunteer Infantry…32, 733, 735.]
When the 78th Illinois formed in 1861 the companies also cast lots for position in line of battle. Edward M. Robbin’s company came up as Company H, placed on the left of the color-guard, and Company C on the right of it. [Robbins, Edward M., Civil War Experiences, 1862-1865; Chickamauga, Mission Ridge, Buzzard Roost, Resaca, Rome, New Hope Church, Kenesaw Mountain, Peach Tree Creek, Atlanta, Jonesboro, Averysboro, Bentonville, Carthage, IL, 1919.]

The 35th Massachussetts:

1630726255830.png

By the above, Co. B was their color company, or third company by Hardees tactics.

Meanwhile, the 1st Maryland (CSA) evidently organized with senior captain (Bradley T. Johnson) as Company A.




J. Marshall,
Hernando, FL.
 
Last edited:

grognard

Private
Joined
Oct 12, 2018
Thank you for that thorough review! It is always good to compare Civil War era practices with pre- and post-bellum sources to see how things were changing during the era.

Specific to the Civil War years, however, the main takeaway I see is the following:

So, from the above review the 1857-1860s regulations are not specific about assigning the letters of companies based on captain's seniority and that explains some units using other methods.

So, while companies were supposed to be posted according to the rank of Captains this may or may not imply the pre-War "customary" order of company letters. More information is needed in any specific case.
 

RedRover

Corporal
Joined
Dec 16, 2019
Thank you for that thorough review! It is always good to compare Civil War era practices with pre- and post-bellum sources to see how things were changing during the era.

Specific to the Civil War years, however, the main takeaway I see is the following:



So, while companies were supposed to be posted according to the rank of Captains this may or may not imply the pre-War "customary" order of company letters. More information is needed in any specific case.
Yes, that is my conclusion as well. Case by case basis. Some regiments seem to have moved the companies in line by seniority, others to have retained their original order of companies by letter regardless. I did not mention in the above, but some States like New York (1858) and Ohio (1860) had their own militia regulations with references to the subject. from memory similar to the Army's, but any differences there may explain why some regiments did what they did...

Suffice to say, the fifth company (from the right) is the color company of a given regiment, and in all cases was to be the right of center company.

In reviewing through the pre-war regulations/tactics, I see that from 1825 before a battalion/regiment was paraded and prepared for maneuvering by the tactics, the adjutant informed the company commanders how many files to form, with the excess men being sent to weaker companies so they can all be equal. There is also notice that the color-company was to form with three less files, so that with the color guard it would be equal to all the others. This latter was not specified in Scott's 1835 and Hardee's, etc., but I suspect it was understood to be the case since they note "equalized" companies.

Hardee also mentions, "In battalions with less than five companies present, there will be no color-guard, and no display of colors, except it may be at reviews."

From The United States Service Magazine, 3, (May, 1865), New York, gives the following diagram for assigning the color company in any sized battalion, from the full 10 companies of a regiment, to two companies; with the numbers representing their seniority of captains, as Hardee and Casey's tactics note, no color-guard with less than five companies.
1630805783969.png
 
Top