The Black Flag

Cavalry Charger

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#1
Today I heard for the first time of troops in the CW being given the order of 'the black flag', an order designed to permit them to take no prisoners and show no mercy. Apparently, this order was given at the time of the battle of Fredericksburg, in December 1862, after the crossing of the Rappahanock. Does anyone know how many times this order was given, by either side, and during which battles?
 

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#2
What you're speaking of is the "No quarter!" command, I assume. General Hood gave that command after losing Atlanta, and driving the Army of Tennessee north to Dalton, Georgia, where he came upon a US Colored regiment holding the city. He took the regiment, led by white Federals, and gave the command "No quarter". Hood's men refused to obey. The field officers went back to Hood, and his ordered changed. The Colored regiment was set to work on building fortifications, and the white officers were paroled. This information comes from corroborating more than one diary of soldiers of the 27th, 35th, and 49th Alabama Regiments who were there.
 

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What you're speaking of is the "No quarter!" command, I assume. General Hood gave that command after losing Atlanta, and driving the Army of Tennessee north to Dalton, Georgia, where he came upon a US Colored regiment holding the city. He took the regiment, led by white Federals, and gave the command "No quarter". Hood's men refused to obey. The field officers went back to Hood, and his ordered changed. The Colored regiment was set to work on building fortifications, and the white officers were paroled. This information comes from corroborating more than one diary of soldiers of the 27th, 35th, and 49th Alabama Regiments who were there.
I had never heard this account before, so thanks for sharing. "No quarter" may be the same as what I heard referred to as "the black flag", giving soldiers permission to decimate the enemy. The occassion where this order was supposedly given was at the Battle of Fredericksburg, on the Union side, after the crossing of the Rappahannock...at what level of command I'm not sure. I will need to keep looking into it for now and see what I can come up with.
 

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Black flag=no quarter=we will be shooting to death all that attempt surrender or are captured. Pretty draconian:devil::devil:
Have you ever heard of this order being given @JohnW? I agree, it is draconian, but apparently the attempt to cross the Rappahannock at the time was so hampered, and came at such great risk, that when it was finally achieved the order was apparently given. I'd never heard of it, and that's why I wondered how often it had happened, if at all. I'm sure it happened at times without the order being given... :devilish: :frown:
 

Patrick H

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#6
I have always assumed the term "black flag" was more a figure of speech than anything else. Yes, it means the same as "No Quarter". I can think of at least one instance where defenders of a home guard fort thought they were literally seeing furled black flags among the State Guard cavalry. That happened during a short but spirited engagement in my home town of Boonville, Missouri on September 13, 1861. The cavalry had their flags wrapped in dark oil cloths to protect them from constant rain. The fort defenders misunderstood what they were seeing in the haze. In another case, a young woman named Annie Fickle was said to have sewn a black flag for Quantrill with a red letter "Q" in the corner and a misspelling of his name "Quantrell" below. I've seen representations of this flag but I have no idea whether it ever actually existed.
There might be cases where black flags were literally carried, but I'm unaware of them.
 

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I have always assumed the term "black flag" was more a figure of speech than anything else. Yes, it means the same as "No Quarter". I can think of at least one instance where defenders of a home guard fort thought they were literally seeing furled black flags among the State Guard cavalry. That happened during a short but spirited engagement in my home town of Boonville, Missouri on September 13, 1861. The cavalry had their flags wrapped in dark oil cloths to protect them from constant rain. The fort defenders misunderstood what they were seeing in the haze. In another case, a young woman named Annie Fickle was said to have sewn a black flag for Quantrill with a red letter "Q" in the corner and a misspelling of his name "Quantrell" below. I've seen representations of this flag but I have no idea whether it ever actually existed.
There might be cases where black flags were literally carried, but I'm unaware of them.
Hi Patrick H :smile: You've posted some more interesting stories which I appreciate... As far as the 'black flag' goes, my sense is that it is more than a figure of speech, but a specific order, the equivalent of 'no quarter'. Not sure why there would be different terms for the same thing, but the meaning of it seems to be unequivocal. That State Guard Cavalry must have been a frightening sight if the defenders took the sight of the flags to mean 'no quarter'!
 

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#9
Gen. Hallack issued his general order no.2 from his headquarters in St. Louis, MO. (the no quarter order) on March 13, 1862 meaning any guerrilla caught would not be treated as a prisoner of war, but would be hung. After this order was issued, only very rarely were prisoners taken by either side for the rest of the war.
 

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Gen. Hallack issued his general order no.2 from his headquarters in St. Louis, MO. (the no quarter order) on March 13, 1862 meaning any guerrilla caught would not be treated as a prisoner of war, but would be hung. After this order was issued, only very rarely were prisoners taken by either side for the rest of the war.
Just WOW! But it would seem a lot of prisoners were taken during the entire period of the CW...so does that mean it was at the Commander's discretion what happened to who and when? Assuming the same went for the other side as well. I'm particularly interested because my 'adopted' CW Captain was wounded in a battle, but not found to be taken prisoner or hospitalized after the event. Accounts indicate he died where he fell after Confederate soldiers overran the Union army. It would seem he didn't die of his wound, but was possibly killed after being found incapacitated, later being buried beneath a tree by slaves as ordered by the Confederates. This much information is contained in letters I have accessed.
 

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#11
Gen. Hallack issued his general order no.2 from his headquarters in St. Louis, MO. (the no quarter order) on March 13, 1862 meaning any guerrilla caught would not be treated as a prisoner of war, but would be hung. After this order was issued, only very rarely were prisoners taken by either side for the rest of the war.
Alot of times guerrillas and "irregular" forces were not recognized as "legal" belligerents and not subject to the "rules" of civilized warfare. I would imagine A WHOLE BUNCH of them met their end being shot trying to surrender or hanged without legal proceedings after surrendering.
 

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Alot of times guerrillas and "irregular" forces were not recognized as "legal" belligerents and not subject to the "rules" of civilized warfare. I would imagine A WHOLE BUNCH of them met their end being shot trying to surrender or hanged without legal proceedings after surrendering.
I see we are talking about 'irregular' here, and I can imagine they weren't given 'quarter' in the circumstances, but the GO does permit regular soldiers to be treated in this manner, too. I assume the comment re: not taking prisoners after March '62 relates more to irregulars though.
 

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#13
I see we are talking about 'irregular' here, and I can imagine they weren't given 'quarter' in the circumstances, but the GO does permit regular soldiers to be treated in this manner, too. I assume the comment re: not taking prisoners after March '62 relates more to irregulars though.
I would say that is a fair assumption. I have never heard of any black flagging done to surrendering "regulars". In fact the last well known black flagging happened in 1944 during the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes where surrendering American troops at Malmedy were machine gunned by advancing German forces.
 

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#15
I don't know how enlightening this link will be @Cavalry Charger ....The article is short but interesting. :smile:

http://civilwarhorror.blogspot.com/2013/03/the-black-flag-in-civil-war.html
Interesting read @JohnW. It seems the idea of an actual black flag existed, as well as an Order which could be used at either Army's discretion. Most folks don't seem to think the order was ever given, although I have seen commentary about Jackson, and his famous words in answer to a staff officer's question (at the battle of Fredericksburg): “How shall we ever cope with the overwhelming numbers of the enemy ?” Jackson’s reply: “Kill them, sir, kill every man!” So here is a Fredericksburg connection, but it relates to Jackson, and not to Burnside or his men.
 

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#16
This is likely to be controversial, but appears to be a presentation of the facts as they are known. The last paragraph is an expression of the writer's opinion, but it is also food for thought. The link where this discussion took place was www.americancivilwarforum.com and the discussion related to Stonewall Jackson.

"On 24 April 1863, under Lincoln's signature, the army promulgated to its officers General Order no. 100, which came to be known as the Lieber Code and eventually received acclaim throughout the military in the Western world. Halleck was a close friend of its author, Professor Francis Lieber of Columbia University. A month after this order was given to the officers in the Union army, Professor Lieber wrote to the top commander, General Halleck:


I know by letters...that the wanton destruction of property by our men is alarming. It does incalculable injury. It demoralizes our troops, it annihilates wealth irrevocably and makes a return to a state of peace and peaceful minds more and more difficult. Your order [to the officers]...with reference to the Code, and point out the disastrous consequences of reckless devastation, in a manner that it might not furnish our reckless enemy with new arguments for his savagery.

Halleck remained general in chief until Lincoln fired hm in 1864 and appointed Grant as top commander. It was under Grant that the Lieber Code, now in the hands of all leading officers, was disregarded, and pillage and plunder became the general order of the final year of the war. Sherman and Sheridan could not possibly have undertaken their devastation of the South if they had followed this new military code on the laws of war. They also turned away from their education at West Point and the laws of war they had learned there under Halleck.

Years after the war Sherman wrote a letter to a friend in which he acknowledged that he knew better--that at West Point he had been taught that the pillage he brought to the South was a crime, punishable by death:"I know that in the beginning I, too, had the old West Point notion that pillage was a capital crime, and punished it by shooting."7 (Letter to J.B. Fry, 3 SEP 1884 in Hard Hand of War, 193.)

American generals were fully aware that Napoleon was punished and banished from Europe for engaging in aggressive wars over a twenty-year period. The law of warfare was being enforced for the first time against a loser. But winners need not worry, then or now, as war crimes, by and large, are only committed by defeated leaders. In the Civil War, Lincoln and his generals were immune from the laws of war--because they won".
 
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Carronade

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#17
Interesting read @JohnW. It seems the idea of an actual black flag existed, as well as an Order which could be used at either Army's discretion. Most folks don't seem to think the order was ever given, although I have seen commentary about Jackson, and his famous words in answer to a staff officer's question (at the battle of Fredericksburg): “How shall we ever cope with the overwhelming numbers of the enemy ?” Jackson’s reply: “Kill them, sir, kill every man!” So here is a Fredericksburg connection, but it relates to Jackson, and not to Burnside or his men.
Jackson in this case does not appear to be referring to captured or surrendered enemies, more like "as long as they keep coming, we'll keep killing them."

Early in the war, Jackson supposedly advocated a "black flag" strategy, raiding into the North primarily to destroy property and break Northern morale, although there would presumably have been considerable fighting and killing.
 

JohnW.

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#18
In the Civil War, Lincoln and his generals were immune from the laws of war--because they won".
Exactly. That is the same reason the Nazis were punished at Nuremberg...they lost the war. The victors in every war ever fought have written the history as they see it...right or wrong.
 

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