No Place to Stand Out - the Color White on a Battlefield

Tom Elmore

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-Some soldier gave me a white straw hat, but as we charged through the Wheatfield against Little Round Top, it was too conspicuous, and I sailed it far up in the air. (Two Boys in the Civil War and After, W. R. Houghton, 2nd Georgia and M. B. Houghton, 15th Alabama, Montgomery, AL: The Paragon Press, 1912)

-I fired that day [July 3] many times at an officer in a white shirt serving the cannon [on Little Round Top]. (Two Boys in the Civil War and After, W. R. Houghton, 2nd Georgia and M. B. Houghton, 15th Alabama, Montgomery, AL: The Paragon Press, 1912)

-My dear friend, L. B. Bonnard, went into the fight [July 1] wearing a three-story white silk hat, and he was shot to death on the picket line; he did not get into the general engagement. (A Private in Gray, by Thomas Benton Reed, Company A, 9th Louisiana)

-A white horse was deemed too conspicuous to take into battle. (The University Memorial, Biographical Sketches, alumni of University of Virginia, p. 567)

-Col. William Burns mounted on his conspicuous old white horse … escaped the bullets miraculously on July 2. (Frank Moran, 73rd New York)
 
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captaindrew

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Wasn't there a story about white straw hats and a NY regiment? I believe it was during the Seven Days Battles. They had received from home a shipment of straw hats thinking they would be comfortable for summer wear. They took so many casualties during one of the battles they blamed the hats for making them prime targets and quickly discarded them. Have to see if I can find it.
 

lelliott19

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Reverend Adam Torrance, Chaplain 11th Pennsylvania Reserves reportedly rode a white horse when he accompanied his regiment into the battle at Gettysburg. Torrance was 62 years old at the time.
[History of Minneapolis: Gateway to the Northwest, Volume 3, Edited by Marion Daniel Shutter, S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, Minneapolis, MN, 1923, page 5.]
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Gettysburg Guide #154

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As I recall, the 53rd NC was the first unit to receive the new Confederate battle flag during its stop in Carlisle on June 29, just before proceeding to Gettysburg. It consisted of the customary cross St. Andrew on a red field with the 13 stars on the cross only covering the a little more than the upper left quadrant of the flag. The other nearly 3/4 of the flag is all white. (see image) Now to be sure a flag is going to draw a lot of fire in any event, but it always surprised me a bit that this one was mostly white. It has occurred to me that it could be mistaken for a flag of surrender. Is anyone aware of the reasoning behind this use of so much white color?

1920px-Flag_of_the_Confederate_States_of_America_(1863–1865).png
 

Tom Elmore

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Reverend Adam Torrance, Chaplain 11th Pennsylvania Reserves reportedly rode a white horse when he accompanied his regiment into the battle at Gettysburg. Torrance was 62 years old at the time.
[History of Minneapolis: Gateway to the Northwest, Volume 3, Edited by Marion Daniel Shutter, S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, Minneapolis, MN, 1923, page 5.]
View attachment 363710

I think the last phrase, "accompanied the men into battle," is rhetorical with regard to any chaplain, whose duties typically kept them in the rear areas while a battle was in progress. Chaplain Torrance was noted as having remained at the hospital on July 3 and 4.
 

Tom Elmore

2nd Lieutenant
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Jan 16, 2015
As I recall, the 53rd NC was the first unit to receive the new Confederate battle flag during its stop in Carlisle on June 29, just before proceeding to Gettysburg. It consisted of the customary cross St. Andrew on a red field with the 13 stars on the cross only covering the a little more than the upper left quadrant of the flag. The other nearly 3/4 of the flag is all white. (see image) Now to be sure a flag is going to draw a lot of fire in any event, but it always surprised me a bit that this one was mostly white. It has occurred to me that it could be mistaken for a flag of surrender. Is anyone aware of the reasoning behind this use of so much white color?

View attachment 364193

Good question. I am not certain of the answer, but it was described as the "only regular Confederate flag" in the Second Corps, while "all the other flags were battle flags," which suggests it was not designed to be used as a battle flag. It was presented to the 32nd North Carolina (not the 53rd, but in the same brigade!) by General Ewell to recognize that regiment's record on the march and in battle. (Capt. William L. London, Company I, 32nd North Carolina, North Carolina Troops, History of the Several Regiments and Battalions from North Carolina, ed. by W. Clark, vol. 4, p. 514)
 

Gettysburg Guide #154

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Tom,

Thanks for making the correction as to the first regiment to have the "only regular Confederate flag". Perhaps, and this is just a completely uninformed guess, the idea of a "regular" flag is one that is rectangular, rather than square. The battle flag commonly used by the Army of Northern Virginia was square.
 
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