What did the Confederate / Union flag mean to the men who followed them?

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oldreb

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We have discussed the appropriateness of the Confederate Battle Flag, now let's take a look at both it and the Union flag from another point of view.
We know from our reading of histories, that the arm that held the flag was an honored arm, and if that arm faltered then there were men who would drop their weapon, and grab the flag, knowing they would be the next target of the rifle, the musket or the cannon round.
Why did they feel this way? Was it love of Regiment? Love of Country?
If I may, I would like to provide a quote from one of the memoirs that I have recently transcribed, written by a man of the 17th Mississippi Infantry who was wounded and left for dead on the field of battle. Here is what he wrote:

"I was shot while lying there. The route of the Federals was complete and when our command moved forward I was left for dead on the field as it was thought that I had been mortally wounded.

I[t] will be remembered that at the close of my last I was lying on the bloody field of the Wilderness desperately wounded.
While thinking of the uncertainty of life and the certainty of death but realizing the fact that our flag was floating victoriously on that bloody field,"

and he also wrote this:

"Our brigade was ordered to take a battery on a hill to the left of the little town of Strausburg. It was well supported by infantry troops and commanded by officers of the finest kind. In this charge our color bearer had his right arm cut off. A man in company E picked up the colors and was killed before he got straight.
We soon gathered round a man who grasped the colors, waved them over his head and shouted, “Follow me Mississippians,” he was killed in less than a minute. A six foot soldier, now living in Bosque County, Texas, grasped the colors and started for the Federal battery on a full run. He ran stooping, but waiving [sic] them as high as he could. (The six foot soldier was the author of this story.)"

This was written by William Wallace Mallett, Sgt. Com. D, 17th Mississippi Infantry. Mr. Mallett moved to Texas following the war. But he never forgot who he had been.

Is there anyone who will provide equally interesting excerpts from the Union point of view or more from the Confederate?

And tell me why the flag meant so much that men would risk all to pick it up and move it forward.

Thanks, friends. I look forward to reading this thread.

best regards
Old reb
 
O

oldreb

Guest
Please allow me to add one more quote. Again, from one of the memoirs that I have, this one is attributed to William Meshack Abernathy, g-g-grandfather to Dr. John Hoopes, a friend.

Under cover of arms by Union soldiers, following the battle of Saylor's Creek, the remaining 67 men of the 17th Mississippi Infantry (over 1650 men had fought with the 17th Mississippi starting in May, 1861 and ending in April, 1865) were informed of the surrender at Appomattox Court House. W. M. Abernathy was a member of Company B. He wrote:

"No man can ever describe what followed. Some sat at the roots of trees and cried as if their hearts would break. Some grasped the Winfield rifle that they had carried for years and smashed them. Some cursed bitterly; some prayed; and some cried out, "The cavalry is going to break their way out, let's join them." I was there. I can't tell you what I really did. I only know that I can not describe it. By order of the surrender, the Regiments were moved back, stacked arms, folded their colors and lay them across the bayonets.
"When the gloom of the evening gathered around, all of us gathered around the old Flag and each of us took off a piece, and when the dawn of another morning came, there was no part of the old Flag left. It was dear to the hearts of the old soldier who had followed it so long. It had been their pride and had been so often exhibited, showing to the other commands where we had been and how we had fought. No matter how shattered the Flag staff was, or how tattered and torn the old Flag was, it was dear to us all. And so, we divided up the old Flag. We gave way to womanish tears as we did so, and shall I say it, cried bitterly...And now, when the Heavens were black, they parted the old Flag and wending their way homeward, took up life again."

Peace, my friends.
OldReb
 

tamaroa

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It is not the most scholarly piece of material, but for a great overview of how the men felt about their flags, I suggest that you rent or purchase the Tape Banners of Glory in the Danny Glover Civil War Journal Video Series. It is a 48 minute tape that rivets you to the screen.
You as a soldier watched the flag and went forward when it did, retreated when it did. It was considered a great dishonor to lose your flag in battle which is why they were so heavily protected. The Color Guard were soldiers who were armed but were instructed not to use their weapons unless the flag was in danger of being captured. The color sergeant also called Ensign in many regiments was unarmed. His primary duty was to hold the flag aloft for all to see and of course protect it at all costs.

The tape recounts many episodes of either army and heroic stands made to save their respective flags. In my favorite southern regiment, the 11th Virginia Infantry, the color sergeant was Martin Van Buren Hickok. He was wounded 5 times in the war. At Gettysburg he was shot once in each Knee and as he planted the colors of the 11th in the stone wall a piece of shell hit him in the side.
I don't know how he did it but he actually survived the war being captured at Five Forks.

What sickens me today is the fact that many museums across the country are doing very little to preserve these flags that meant so much to the soldiers, especially here in New York. Our flag collection in Albany has about 3,000 flags in it, most are rolled around their staffs and stuck in closets in the capital building.
 
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oldreb

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Bill, thanks for the tape guidance. I am looking for the Danny Glover Civil War Journal series anyway, now I have an even more compelling reason to purchase it.

I know exactly what you mean about preservation of our heritage, the flags (both sides!) of the War for Southern Independence.

I was so fortunate 3 years ago to visit the Old Capital Museum in Jackson MS and to be taken up to the storage area to see (and very lightly touch) the battle flag of the 17th Mississippi Infantry. This flag was lost to the unit at Fort Sanders, Knoxville TN (the site of FOrt Sanders is now terribly lost to historians as it is in the heart of the University of Tennessee and most of it is covered by a building). At least in Jackson the flags that are maintained there (quite a few actually) are maintained stored flat, in a climate controlled room, but none of the flags are under glass, mounted or protected. But, there is a high point I guess, they (the state) just put the 17th's flag out on display in the museum. Now, a great reason to go home for a visit.
Thanks for the posting.

best regards
Old Reb
 
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