Sep 13, 2009
Despite 35 years of study on the subject of America's Civil War, I only recently came across the term "ENSIGN" with respect to rank/responsibility in the Infantry. The reference I saw mentioned the soldier as being the newly appointed "color bearer". Was every flag carrier an "ENSIGN"?

John Marler
Franklin, TN

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Mar 18, 2006
South of the Mason-Dixon Line
Here's an article from Wikipedia, but with no sources cited:
Ensign (pronounced /ˈɛnsən/) is a junior rank of commissioned officer in the armed forces of some countries, normally in the infantry or navy. As the junior officer in an infantry regiment was traditionally the carrier of the ensign flag, the rank itself acquired the name.
"Ensign" is enseigne in French, Fähnrich in German, and chorąży in Polish, each of which derives from a term for a flag. The Spanish alférez and Portuguese alferes is a junior officer rank below lieutenant associated with carrying the flag, and so is often translated as "ensign", although unlike the rank in other languages, its etymology has nothing to do with flags.

M E Wolf

Retired Moderator
Feb 9, 2008
JULY 16-22, 1861.--The Bull Run, or Manassas, Campaign, Virginia.
No. 32. -- Report of Col. Andrew Porter, Sixteenth U. S. Infantry, commanding Second Division and First Brigade, Second Division.
Arlington, Va., July 25, 1861.
SIR: I have the honor to submit the following account of the operations of the First Brigade, Second Division, of the Army, in the battle before Manassas, on the 21st instant.(*) The brigade was silently paraded in light marching order at 2 o'clock in the morning of that day, composed as follows, viz: Griffin's battery; marines, Major Reynolds; Twenty-seventh New York Volunteers, Colonel Slocum; Fourteenth New York State Militia, Colonel Wood; Eighth New York State Militia, Colonel Lyons; battalion regulars, Major Sykes; one company Second Dragoons, two companies First Cavalry, four companies Second Cavalry, Major Palmer. Total strength, 3,700. The marines were recruits, but through the constant exertions of their officers had been brought to present a fine military appearance, without being able to render much active service. They were therefore attached to the battery as its permanent support through the day.
Among those who deserve especial mention I beg leave to place the following names, viz:
Captain Griffin, for his coolness and promptitude in action, and for the handsome manner in which he handled his battery. Lieutenant Ames, of the same battery, who, after being wounded, gallantly served with it in action, and being unable to ride on horseback, was helped on and off a caisson in changes of position.

Captain Tillinghast, A. Q. M., who was ever present where his services were needed, carrying orders, rallying troops, and serving with the batteries, and finally, I have to state with the deepest sorrow, was mortally wounded.

Major Sykes and the officers of his command, three of whom (Lieutenants Latimer, Dickinson, and Kent) were wounded, who by their discipline, steadiness, and heroic fortitude, gave eclat to our attacks upon the enemy, and averted the dangers of a final overthrow.
Major Palmer and the cavalry officers under him, who by their daring intrepidity made the effectiveness of that corps all that it could be upon such a field in supporting batteries, feeling the enemy's position, and covering our retreat.

Major Reynolds, marines, whose zealous efforts were well sustained by his subordinates, two of whom, Brevet Major Zeilin and Lieutenant Hale, were wounded, and one, Lieutenant Hitchcock, lost his life.

Col. H. W. Slocum, who was wounded while leading his gallant Twenty-seventh New York to the charge, and Maj. J. J. Bartlett, who subsequently commanded it, and by his enthusiasm and valor kept it in action and out of the panic. His conduct was imitated by his subordinates, of whom two, Capt. H. C. Rodgers and Lieut. H. C. Jackson, were wounded, and one, Ensign Asa Park, was killed.

In the last attack Col. A.M. Wood, of the Fourteenth New York State Militia, was wounded, together with Capts. R. B. Jordan and C. F. Baldwin, and Lieuts. J. A. Jones, T. R. Salter, R. A. Goodenough, and C. Scholes, and Adjutant Laidlaw.

The officers of the Fourteenth, especially Maj. James Jourdan, were distinguished by their display of spirit and efficiency throughout the action.

Surg. Charles C. Keeney, of the medical department, who by his professional skill, promptitude, and cheerfulness made the condition of the wounded of the Second Division comparatively comfortable. (He was assisted to a great extent by Dr. Rouch, of Chicago, a citizen.)

During the entire engagement I received extremely valuable aid and assistance from my aides-de-camp, Lieuts. C. F. Trowbridge and F. M. Bache, both of the Sixteenth Infantry.

Lieut. J. B. Howard, Fourteenth New York State Militia, A. A. Q. M. for the brigade, who by zealous attention to his duties succeeded in safely bringing the wagons of my brigade to Arlington.

The staff officers of the Second Division commander, via, Capt. W. D. Whipple, Lieutenants Cross and Flagler, served with me after the fall of Colonel Hunter, and I am indebted to them for gallant, faithful services during the day. Captain Whipple had his horse killed under him by a cannon ball.

Acting Asst. Adjt. General Lieut. W. W. Averell sustained the high reputation he had before won for himself as a brave and skillful officer, and to him I am very greatly indebted for aid and assistance, not only in performing with the greatest promptitude the duties of his position, but by exposing himself most fearlessly in rallying and leading forward the troops, he contributed largely to their general effectiveness against the enemy. I desire to call the attention of the commanding general particularly to him.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Colonel Sixteenth Infantry, U. S. Army, Comdg
Brig. and Div. Capt. J. B. FRY,
Assistant Adjutant-General.

There are other reports where Infantry officers reporting on an Ensign [insert name] did this or that in both the Union and Confederate armies...with no associated function with Navy/Marine cooperation.

M. E. Wolf
Oct 22, 2012
Despite 35 years of study on the subject of America's Civil War, I only recently came across the term "ENSIGN" with respect to rank/responsibility in the Infantry. The reference I saw mentioned the soldier as being the newly appointed "color bearer". Was every flag carrier an "ENSIGN"?

John Marler
Franklin, TN
I discovered the personal papers of Gen. John Bell Hood in 2012 and like you, for the first time saw a reference to an infantry "Ensign." The below is published in "The Lost Papers of Confederate General John Bell Hood" (Savas Beatie 2015)

Hd Qrtrs 37th Regiment Canty’s Brigade

Walthall’s Division July 22nd 1864

Captain: In obedience of orders from Brigade Head Quarters I have the honor to respectfully report that my command commenced advancing “by right of companies to the front” we advanced to about three hundred yards of the enemy works when I was ordered to form line of battle “by companies into line.” I was then ordered by Maj Gen Walthall to “charge” and “sweep everything in front of me.” I endeavored to faithfully execute the order, and [illegible] succeeded as to drive the enemy from his works, and a distance of three fourths of a mile from his south [illegible] Line.

Finding that Genl Scott’s Brigade of General Loring’s Division [illegible] had not crossed the first line, and that there was heavy firing in my rear and left, and discovering a force of enemy advancing from my right and to my rear, I ordered my command to retire to the enemy’s first line works. Officers and men behaved well except Capt. F.S. Dickel[?] “Co. [I or L?]” who failed to go through the fight and straggled to the rear. Ensign S. W. Jones distinguished himself conspicuously gallantly planted his colors upon the enemy’s works considerably in advance of the regiment, but I am pained to report that after storming the enemy’s works and engaging his second line of battle this gallant Christian soldier was killed by a minie ball. I respectfully request that his name be forwarded to the War Department to be inscribed upon “The Roll of Honor.”

[The balance of the report, which is very faint and difficult to decipher, includes a list of his casualties.]

I am sir, your obt. Servant,

O. S. Holland, Col. 37th Mississippi.

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