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Regimental Colors

Traditionally and by regulation, a United States regiment of infantry had two colors: a national color which was after 1841 the stars and stripes, and a regimental color which bore the arms of the United States or some other device. Each Civil War Infantry regiment had two flags, by military definition these were called the regimental colors -- a national color and a regimental color. By "colors" is meant the national and the regimental flags that are carried by foot troops; by "standards" is meant the national and the regimental flags that were carried by mounted troops, and which are smaller than "colors." Colors and standards may be of either silk or bunting.

According to Civil War Army Regulations: ""Each regiment of Infantry shall have two silken colors. The first, or the national color, of stars and stripes, as described for the garrison flag; the number and name of the regiment to be embroidered with silver on the center stripe. The second, or regimental color, to be blue, with the arms of the United States embroidered in silk on the center. The name of the regiment in a scroll, underneath the eagle. The size of each color to be six feet six inches fly, and six feet deep on the pike. The length of the pike, including the spear and ferrule, to be nine feet ten inches. The fringe yellow; cords and tassels, blue and white silk intermixed." After February 1862 also inscribed upon the colors of the regiment were the names of the battles in which the regiment "have borne a meritorious part."

During the civil war a "stand of colors" for a regiment consisted of two flags, the stars and stripes and a state flag or banner. These two were borne side by side on the march and in the battle. They were each carried by a sergeant, called a "color sergeant,'' and were guarded by six or eight corporals, constituting what was known as the "color guard." It was a great honor to be chosen for either of these positions, yet dangerous; for the enemy took particular pains in battle to shoot down the colors. Each regiment had a color company or a color guard, whose assignment was to bear the colors into battle and protect them. Each member of a color guard or company was selected for this position based on his courage and steadiness under fire, by the Regimental Commanders. The flags were carried by unarmed color sergeants, and accompanied by armed color corporals, who were instructed not to engage in combat unless the flags were in immediate danger of capture, The flags became the physical symbol of a units pride and courage, a rallying point in combat and the source of many heroic deeds in their defense.

The variety of colors among state regiments was very pronounced. Although the stars and stripes was often carried, the militia corps used state or local, rather than United States devices, as did most of the volunteers. These local colors are the more important, with a regimental pattern of a blue field that bore the state seal in the center along, with a scroll identifying the regiment and a ribbon or scroll that carried the state motto. If employed at all, these flags were generally carried early in the respective conflicts.

Kentucky, like other Union states during the Civil War, had a blue flag with its seal in the center. In 1880 this was made the official flag of the National Guard. On March 26, 1918 the Kentucky Legislature passed an act authorizing and creating an official state flag, 126 years after statehood and the adoption of the state seal which appears on the flag. The State flag Act was drawn up by Mrs. Sam Shackleford, of Frankfort, and introduced in the House of Representatives on February 19, 1918 by Dr. J. E. Lilly, of Union County. The flag was designated to be of navy blue silk or bunting, with the seal of the Commonwealth of Kentucky encircled by a wreath of goldenrod, embroidered, printed or stamped on the center thereof. Dimensions could vary. The first official state flag was made in early 1920, and used on March 30 at Camp Zachary Taylor in Louisville, when the colors of the 84th Division were turned over to Governor Edwin P. Morrow by Major General Charles P. Summerall through Robert Worth Bingham. The flag had been hastily constructed, and not very artistic in design. Mrs. W. B. Hoke of Louisville was chairman of the committee to have the flag made, and Mrs. James B. Camp furnished the design. The Bryan Pleating Company of Louisville manufactured it.

Minnesota's Civil War regimental colors appear quite likely to be the source of the design of the first state flag. The militia in nineteenth-century Minnesota, as in any fledgling body politic, was an acclaimed representative of the state ethos. The Minnesotans who had fought and died for the Union under regimental flags had hallowed the designs with their blood. Indeed, such colors constituted the state's sole heritage of flags. Where else could the flag committee or would-be designers seek local models to guidetheir work?

The marked similarity of the state flag to this type of regimental colors is striking. Both bore the state seal inthe very center (although the state flag might add a floral wreath around it), and both employed a ribbon or scroll to identify either the regimental name and number or the state motto. Thus, it seems likely that the state flag imitated this seal pattern. Scholars' opinions on the subject, however, are mixed. Whitney Smith, executive director ofthe Flag Research Center in Winchester, Massachusetts, claims that the influence of the regimental pattern'was direct: "[The state] flag followed almost exactly the design of a military color that had been carried by State troops. The principal difference wasthat in the original standard the designation of the unit was inscribed in gold letters on the reverse... while the State flag omitted this inscription...."

One of New York's original sources of the coat of arms of the State was the flag borne by the Third New York Kegiment, Col. Peter GanseToort, jr., commanding and was used by that regiment during the Revolutionary War. This flag is said to have been of " dark blue silk and about seven feet square." It is stated by the late H. A. Homes, the then State librarian, that " in 1871 the arms were painted on blue silk on regimental flags of 12 feet by 10, * but in 1873 upon the new flag of white bunting." It is indicated that some time between the time of the Civil War and 1878 the State flag, at least so far as it was made a State Sag by military usage, had been changed from white to blue and then back again. The General Regulations for Military Forces of the State of New York for 1865, General Orders, No. 23, article 34, section 717, it is prescribed that "The State flag la made of white bunting. 12 feet fly by 10 feet hoist, bearing in the center the arms of the State of New York." The regimental colors and standards were to be of blue silk for infantry and rifle regiments and for mounted regiments and of yellow silk for the artillery. The same language is used in the General Regulations for the Military Forces of the State of New York for 1876.

TheTennessee state flag history is not as well known as that of the flag of the United States of America. Prior to 1861 no effort was made to adopt a state flag. It was common among the militias of the nineteenth century to carry blue flags decorated with the state seal. Such a militia flag may have been used by military troops in Tennessee. While the state legislature did not adopt a state flag after the war, the Military Department did. On June 13, 1886 General R. W. Cantrell described the state flag in use by the Tennessee Militia at that time. It was similar to the Militia flags used prior to 1861. On June 1st 1896, Tennesseeans celebrated the 100th anniversary as a member state of the American Union. The state did not begin its great Centennial Exposition until almost a year later. On April 30, 1897 the legislature finally adopted a state flag. The new flag represented the Grand Divisions of the state. The number "16" toward the end of the flag, represented Tennessee's numerical order among the states.

The flag carried by Vermont regiments in the Civil War, the Spanish American War and at the outbreak of World War I was a flag that displayed the Vermont State Coat of Arms on a blue field. This design had customarily been carried as the Governor's flag. And so, in 1919, the third Vermont State Flag was authorized. This third design displayed the Vermont State Coat of Arms on a blue field.

In 1863 Wisconsin had not yet adopted an official State flag and the Civil War regiments in the field were requesting an official banner to fly. The legislature formed a five-member joint select committee to respond to these requests to report "a description for a proper state flag." As a result 1863 Joint Resolution No. 4 was adopted. This resolution essentially adopted a design that was already in use by the Wisconsin regimental troops. On the 25th of March, 1863, the legislature, by joint resolution, adopted a state flag, described in the resolution as follows: "To be of dark blue silk, with the arms of the state of Wigcousin painted or embroidered in silk on the obverse side, and the arms of the United States painted or embroidered in silk on the reverse side; the name of the regiment, when used as a regimental flag, to be in a scroll beneath the state arms."

Since the close of the Civil War Wisconsin state militia regiments came to use a state flag somewhat different in both size and design, - smaller, and with the Wisconsin coat of arms on both sides; but there was no law making this the state flag, excepting that of common use as such by the militia regiments. In 1913, this resolution finally made it into the official state statutes of the state of Wisconsin. In 1913, the flag was changed, specifying a dark blue background with the state coat of arms centered at each side. That design remained unchanged until 1979, when legislature was asked to change the flag design so it would appear more distinctive and recognizable. They added the word "Wisconsin" and the statehood date in "1848" in white letters, centered respectively above and below the coat of arms.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 01:36:48 ZULU