SECONDARY FLAGS OF THE CONFEDERATE ARMIES
Flags had both a symbolic role and a functional role during the American Civil War. Garrison and post flags symbolized the country’s ideals and goals but functionally they also served to identify the place over which they flew as government property. Military unit flags served as the “soul” of a combat unit but functionally they also provided a guide for maintaining alignment in battle, for leading a unit forward or rallying it if it broke. Some flags, however, were used by the military on land whose roles were far more functional than symbolic. Such flags included the flags which identified a hospitals as safe havens or directed wounded to them; flags that transmitted signals or messages over long distances; flags that distinguished the upper levels of the command structure within an army; flags that marked the boundaries of an infantry unit’s camp or its flanks in combat; and flags that served as marks to guide upon for cavalry companies or light artillery batteries. Although not as impressive as the unit flags and not considered with the same elan by their users, these functional flags also were part of the pantheon of Confederate flags.
CONTENTS OF THIS PAGE:
- Hospital and Ambulance Flags
- Confederate Signal Corps Flags
- Army Headquarters Flags
- Camp Colors, Flank Markers, & General Guide Flags
- Artillery and Cavalry Guidons
HOSPITAL AND AMBULANCE FLAGS
The Regulations for the Army of the United States, 1861 and its revised edition of the same year, had specified that small red flags be used to mark the way to field hospitals once a battle had been conjoined. The paragraph (No. 717) establishing this system simply read: “The ambulance depot, to which the wounded are carried or directed for immediate treatment, is generally established at the most convenient building nearest the field of battle. A red flag marks its place, or the way to it, to the conductors of the ambulances and to the wounded who can walk.” The Regulations for the Army of the Confederate States in its 1861 New Orleans edition published by Bloomfield & Steel, and in both the 1862 Richmond editions by J.W. Randolph and West & Johnston copied that exact same wording, respectively as paragraphs No. 714, 717, and 714.
These regulations governed the entire Confederate Army. Despite this General G.T. Beauregard found it necessary on two occasions to remind the forces under his immediate command of the provision. While in command of the Confederate Army of the Mississippi in March of 1862, Beauregard had specified in General Orders No. 3 of 14 March 1862 that: “The ambulance depot, to which the wounded are to be carried or directed for immediate treatment, should be established at the most convenient building nearest the field of battle. A red flag marks the place and way to it.” Over a year later on 5 April 1863, after his transfer to command the Confederate Department of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, Beauregard repeated this admonition for the benefit of his new command through General Orders No. 53 of the department. This new order, however, additionally noted that “Surgeons will supply themselves with hospital flags and will have them attached to the ambulances and placed conspicuously on the field infirmaries and hospitals.” Lastly, he directed that, “The material for the badges and for the ambulance flags prescribed in paragraph VI of this order will be provided by the quartermaster’s department.”
Regrettably, neither Beauregard, the Army Regulations, nor any other medium of authority in the matter provided dimensions for any of these “red flags”. Happily, at least a half dozen flags survive that seem to yield the respective dimensions of the ambulance flags and of the field hospital flags used in (at least) the eastern theater of the Confederacy.
When Custer’s 3rd Cavalry Division of the Army of the Shenandoah swept down on the remains of General Jubal Early’s command at Waynesboro, Virginia on 2 March 1865, a large number of flags were taken with the baggage train that was captured. Three of these were made of red bunting and measured approximately 3 feet on the hoist by 4 1/2 feet on the fly. It has been suggested that these smaller flags were for the Confederate ambulance train or for marking the way to the ambulance depot. A fourth was similarly made but measured 4′ by 5′. It has been speculated that the larger red flag represented a field hospital flag. Indeed, on 5 April 1865, as Lee’s baggage train retreated through Farmville, Virginia two more red bunting flags were captured with a section of the train. These measured 4′ hoist by 5.25 feet fly. Although nearly identical to the purported field hospital flag taken at Waynesboro, the two flags captured at Farmville may have additionally had a white stripe running lengthwise through their centers. Unfortunately these stripes are now missing, preventing a complete comparison of the flags.
CONFEDERATE SIGNAL CORPS FLAGS
US Signal Corps mid-sized
black and white signal flag,
by Wayne J. Lovett from a detailed sketch and notes by
Howard M. Madaus
|In 1861 the Union Army adopted the wig-wag signaling system of Major Albert Myers. Union signal officers and their flag men were usually furnished with a set of eight square flags, grouped into three sizes. Two of the flags were 6′ square; one of these was red with a white square center and one was white with a red square center, the colors being chosen for contrast against varying backgrounds. Three flags comprised the middle size, which were 4′ square, and three flags comprised the small (horseback) signal flags, which were 2′ square. In addition to flags of the same color pattern as the 6′ square set, the middle and small size set added a black flag with a white square.|
US Signal Corps mid-sized white signal flag
with red star and battle honours,
by Wayne J. Lovett from a detailed sketch and notes by
Howard M. Madaus
|In March of 1862 a general order was issued by the U.S. signal corps that permitted a signal officer who had been mentioned favorably in battle reports to replace the square on one of his flags with a five pointed star of the same size. Upon the points of this star the signal officer was to inscribe the names of the battles in which he had participated. Ironically, one of these special signal corps flags with stars substituting for the square was captured during the Maryland campaign of 1862 and put into service with the Confederate signal corps. When recaptured in 1864 by a Union scout, it was mistaken as a “black flag” of no quarter, when in fact it was nothing more than a recaptured Union flag!||
US Signal Corps mid-sized black signal flag
with white star and “WINCHESTER” battle honour,
by Wayne J. Lovett from a detailed sketch and notes by
Howard M. Madaus
CS Signal Corps white and red signal flag,
by Wayne J. Lovett from a detailed sketch and notes by
Howard M. Madaus
|The two competing Confederate signal corps never achieved the ability to equip themselves as well as their Union counterparts. Rather than the elaborate multi-colored and multi-sized sets carried by the Union signal corps, the Confederate signal corps were forced to improvise flags for signaling. Coloration was similar to the Union flags, with examples surviving of white fields with red squares, white field with dark blue squares, dark blue fields with white squares, and red fields with white squares. The materials used in the Confederate signal flags varied widely, as did the sizes. Indeed, while some of the Confederate signal flags were square, others were clearly made rectangular.|
In addition to the “wig-wag” signal flags employed by the Confederate signal corps, numerous examples of simply colored flags for displaying in conjunction with one another were made for the forts of the Confederacy to convey “numerical” coded signals in the same manner as the Confederate Navy’s signal system. These “numerical” signal flags either followed the navy regulations or were in accord with Roger’s 1855 U.S. patented system.
Worthy of note are two of the “Roger’s system” flags that were used by Confederate land forces. One (a Roger’s system No. 2 flag–blue and white, divided diagonally) was carried as a headquarters flag by a Florida brigade. A second (a Roger’s system No. 4–white field with a red St. Andrew’s cross) was captured in the trenches of Petersburg on 2 April 1865.
As armies grew in size during the American Civil War, locating commanders both in the field and in the massive campsites that armies occupied became an increasing problem. Solutions to this problem came through the adoption of one of two basic flag types—personal headquarters flags or army designating flags. The former type of flag, the personal headquarters flag, marked the presence of a specific individual, regardless of what position that officer held in the command structure of an army.
In the Union Army the concept of a “personal headquarters flag” was slow in developing, partly due to the lackluster quality of so many of the upper grade Union officers early in the War. On the other hand, in the Confederate armies, the personal headquarters flag would predominate in the eastern theater from the first year of the War and continue in use until the conclusion of eastern hostilities at Appomattox Court House.
Designating flags, i.e. flags that simply indicated the level of an officer’s command, regardless of the person holding that level of command, originated in the Union armies in March of 1862 when General George B. McClellan adopted a system based on examples he had witnessed in the French Army in the Crimea. McClellan’s system proved to be very flawed; nevertheless, the concept was transferred laterally to other Union Armies, and as the war progressed, the systems were improved significantly. In the Confederacy, designating flags were virtually unheard of until 1864, and then, the concept only was promulgated in the main western Army—the Confederate Army of Tennessee. Like McClellan’s 1862 system, however, the Army of Tennessee system of 1864 was flawed. Still, it continued in service through 1864 and was expanded when the Army of Mississippi joined it in May of 1864.
THE EASTERN THEATER
|In November and December of 1861, sisters Jennie and Hettie Cary of Richmond and their refugee cousin from Baltimore, Constance Cary, learned of the adoption of the new battle flag being made for the units of the Confederate Army of the Potomac. On their own, they decided to honor three commanders of that army with personal battle flags that they hand crafted. The Richmond sisters each made a flag for Generals Joseph Johnston and G.T. Beauregard while Constance prepared one for General Earl Van Dorn, commanding the Army of the Potomac’s 1st Division. All were made of double layered scarlet silk that required underlining due to the thinness of the silk. These red fields were traversed by a dark blue St. Andrew’s cross that was flanked with a white silk edge and which bore twelve gold, five-pointed stars that the ladies had pursuaded a student from the University of Virginia to apply to the crosses. A gold fringe finished the three exterior edges and a red silk heading pierced with eyelets completed the staff edge. In size the flags were about the size of the so-called artillery battle flags (about 36″ square if you included the fringe). Van Dorn’s flag was presented to him in early November; Beauregard received his in early December, but the date of the receipt of Johnston’s flag is not known.||
Prototype Battle Flag madeby Hetty Cary
for General Joseph E. Johnston
By Devereaux D. Cannon, Jr., 27 January 2000
While the Cary made flags are the best known of the eastern headquarters flags, they were not the only ones prepared in 1861. At least three others were made, and while their makers are unknown, the flags bore many of the characteristics of the Cary made flags. These flags were about 42″ square, and like the Cary flags bore twelve gold, five-pointed stars and gold fringe on their exteriors. In common with the battle flags that were distributed to the military units of the Army of the Potomac, the fields varied in shades of red from pink to light red. Major-General Gustavus Smith received one of these flags; Brigadier-General Arnold Elzey received another. Another is known, but whose headquarters it marked is not known.
The presentation of these headquarters battle flags did not stop in 1861. The wife of General J.E.B. Stuart prepared a similar flag for him from bunting in 1862 (which Stuart was embarrassed to return to her after a sudden breeze in his camp blew it into the fire and damaged one corner.) A few other Confederate officers drew battle flags from Quartermaster stores; however, that was the exception rather than the rule.
The Confederate 1st national flag (the “Stars & Bars”) was also infrequently used in 1862 as a headquarters flag. General Lee’s is the best known, with its arch of stars in lieu of a circle of stars. Brigadier-General Lawrence O’B. Branch also used a large Confederate 1st national flag, wrought with his name within the stars. While these headquarters flags marked the tents of the headquarters of various general officers in camp, there is virtually no evidence of their use in battle. Indeed, the current condition of most of the headquarters flags that were carried in the eastern theater would suggest that the flags were hardly used in camp as well.
Headquarters flag of Major General J.E.B. Stuart
issued by the Richmond Clothing Depot,
by Wayne J. Lovett from a detailed sketch and notes by
Howard M. Madaus
|In May of 1863, the Confederate Congress adopted its second national flag, the “Stainless Banner”. In September of 1863 the Richmond Clothing Depot began making flags of the new national pattern in four different sizes. The smallest of these sizes was 4′ on the hoist by 6′ on the fly and was intended for field use. Several were requisitioned for use as headquarters flags by brigadiers and in a few instances by higher commanders. Among these was Major-General J.E.B. Stuart (who finally had a replacement for his wife’s home made flag) and Major-General Simon B. Buckner, who had followed Longstreet’s Corps east from Knoxville.|
|The Richmond Depot 2nd national field flags were duplicated at the Staunton Clothing Depot for the Valley Army of General Jubal Early, but substituted white flannel for the white bunting that the Richmond Depot had utilized for their fields. Staunton Depot field flags found their way to the headquarters of Major-General Robert Hoke’s North Carolina division and Major-General Butler’s cavalry division. General Jubal Early’s own 2nd national headquarters flag was captured at Waynesboro in March of 1865.||
Headquarters flag of Major General Robert Hoke
Photo courtesy of the North Carolina Museum of History,
Raleigh, North Carolina
© North Carolina Museum of History
At the same time and place a number of other rectangular flags, at least one blue, another red and white divided vertically, and another all white, were also captured that may have been part of a system of designating flags adopted late in the War in the Valley. Indeed, the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia may have been toying with a system of designating flags as the War came to its abrupt conclusion in the week between Petersburg’s fall and Appomattox Court House. During the attack on the Confederate lines at Petersburg on 2 April 1865, a 4 1/2′ by 5′ blue rectangular flag bearing a white “Greek cross” was captured in the building that had been General Heth’s headquarters by a member of the Union 3rd Division, 6th Army Corps. However, as the sister division of that same corps (the 2nd Division, 6th Army Corps) was attacking immediately to the right, the captor may have mistook a headquarters flag left behind by that Union division for a Confederate flag. While that flag is in question, there can be no doubt that the Chief Engineer of the Army of Northern Virginia had his own distinctive flag as the War ended. A 45″ by 69″ red bunting flag bearing “Chief Engineer” over “A.N.V.” appliqued in white lettering was captured from the retreating Army of Northern Virginia on 4 April 1865. However, no headquarters flags were turned in to Union authorities when the great eastern army stacked arms and surrendered their flags on 12 April 1865.
WESTERN HEADQUARTERS FLAGS
The use of headquarters flags in the main western armies (the Confederate Army of the Mississippi, the Army of the West, and the Army of Tennessee) did not take hold in the same manner as in the eastern theater. General Beauregard brought west the personal battle flag that the Jenny Cary had made for him, as did Van Dorn with the flag made by Constance Cary when they were transferred to respectively the Army of the Mississippi and the Army of the West. Neither, however, seem to have made much use of these personal flags after the Spring of 1862. This is surprising since Beauregard was a champion of spreading the Army of Northern Virginia battle flag design. If other personal flags were carried by other commanders in the west, the record is virtually silent. General Patton Anderson had a Confederate 1st national flag that he used in camp, but it was too large to have been carried in the field. Similarly a Confederate 2nd national flag was made by J.B. Platt of Augusta in September of 1864 for General Marcellus Wright, but its cost ($200.00) probably indicated a size that relegated it to camp use.
Only after the accession of General Joseph E. Johnston to the command of the Army of Tennessee in late December of 1863 was there an attempt to institute a system of headquarters flags in the western command structure. Johnston chose a relatively simple system of designating flags for the two corps that then formed the Army of Tennessee, which he instituted by General Orders No. 25 of 19 February 1864. Hindman’s corps used a system based on the color red. Corps headquarters consisted of three horizontal bars– red, white,and red; the three divisions of the corps bore flags that consisted of two horizontal bars, white over red, and the all the brigades were distinguished by red flags. Hardee’s corps followed the same system but substituted blue where Hindman’s flags were red. Flags of this pattern were definitely ordered and delivery has been confirmed to two of Hardee’s four divisions. Five of the flags, one each for the headquarters of Cheatham’s Division and his four brigades, were issued on 18 February 1864 a day prior to the issue of the adopting orders. General Cleburne’s adjutant-general received his headquarters flag on 3 March and one each for the four brigades on 8 March 1864. Presumably division and brigade flags were received by Walker’s and Bates’ Division about the same time. What is thought to be one of these brigade flags of Hardee’s Corps survives. It is 2′ on its hoist by 3 feet on its fly. Although a post-War reminiscence describes all of the flags made in accordance with the 1864 orders with a yellow fringe, the surviving flag is finished with a 1/2″ white border surrounding all four sides. It is likely that all of the flags were similarly bordered rather than fringed. Although no records have yet been discovered, it is presumed that Hindman’s (afterward Hood’s) corps, its three divisional headquarters and its twelve subordinate brigades received flags about the same time that Hardee’s Corps received theirs.
This limited system may have been adequate for the seven divisions in the Army of Tennessee in February of 1864; however, in May of 1864, a new “corps” (Leonidas Polk’s Army of Mississippi) joined the Army of Tennessee. After Polk’s death at Kennesaw Mountain, Alexander P. Stewart acceded to its command. A post-War series of sketches provides the sole evidence that a system of headquarters flags may have been used shortly after this corps joined the Army of Tennessee. This system used a three color corps headquarters flag, but divided vertically. Division flags were similar to the flags of Hardee’s and Hood’s Corps but they were divided vertically, with the white on the hoist. Brigade flags were divided diagonally, with the white in the upper staff portion and the color in the lower, fly portion (unfortunately it is not known if the colored sections of these flags were red or blue.) In November of 1864, that system was replaced with a new set of flags. In his diary entry of 12 November 1864, an enlisted man of the 48th Tennessee described the new flags of Stewart’s Corps: “Brigade, white ground & blue cross, Division, blue ground & white cross; Corps red ground & white cross. Army, red ground & blue cross”.
While the “Army” flag was a reference to the Army of Northern Virginia battle flag, the “cross” on the flags of the lower echelons of Stewart’s command was actually a “Maltese cross”. This cross was born in the center of a swallowtail flag. The blue division flag bearing a white Maltese cross and serving as the headquarters flag of French’s Division was captured at Fort Blakely, Alabama in April of 1865. It is 32″ on its hoist by 50″ on its fly, with the distance to the cut equal to the height on the hoist. The two surviving brigade flags are white with blue Maltese crosses and narrow blue borders on all sides. They are also smaller, only measuring 23″ on the hoist by 36″ on the fly. One of these was lost at Nashville during the final assault of he Union Army.
In addition to the use of these swallowtail flags during the Nashville Campaign of November and December of 1864 by the units of Stewart’s Corps, at least two of the brigades (Gibson’s and Stovall’s) of his old division carried a different type of flag. In each case the fields were made of silk, divided horizontally, red over blue, and were trimmed with 1″ deep red silk fringe. These flags are enigmatic; not only do they fail to conform with established patterns in the Army of Tennessee, but their size (about 16″ square) is more the dimensions of camp colors than of headquarters flags.
CAMP COLORS, FLANK MARKERS, & GENERAL GUIDE FLAGS
Just as the North and the South had diverged into two separate cultures in the years before the American Civil War, the U.S. Regular Army and the State Militias experienced a dichotomy of cultural influences. The Regular Army was still attached to many of the traditions that it had inherited from the English Army. The State Militias, while also tracing their ancestry to the English militia, was generally more receptive to change and the adoption of the French innovations that had been promoted during the reign of Napoleon and his successors. In the usage of small secondary flags by foot regiments—camp colors in the English and Regular U.S. Army and flank markers and general guide flags in the French Army and the progressive militia of the U.S., this dichotomy was distinctly apparent.
Camp colors had been part of the equipage of the Regular Army since the inception of the Republic. Like those in the English Army they were small (18″ square) flags made of bunting in the color of the facings of the regiment and bearing the number of the regiment in their center. While the color of the camp colors varied from regiment to regiment in the English Army, by U.S. Army Regulations, they were white for infantry and red for artillery—colors that had been selected as facing colors for the army prior to the War of 1812. In 1862, all camp colors in the U.S. Army were made uniform, consisting of a version of the “Stars & Stripes” printed on small bunting fields, 18″ hoist by 21″ fly. Intended for marking the boundaries of a camp of foot soldiers, some were pressed into service during the War as flank markers, a practice also extended to guidons.
Flank markers and general guide flags—both small flags carried at each end of a line of infantry to permit the commanding officer at the center of the line to judge if the alignment of his command was correct—differed from one another in the means they were carried. Flank markers had their own full length staffs, while general guide flags were flown from short staffs that were either inserted into the muzzle of the rifles that were carried by the two sergeants serving as the regiment’s general guides, or on similar staffs that affixed to the muzzle like a bayonet. Their origin lay in the French Napoleonic traditions, and they had gained (unofficial) popularity among the State Militias of the various states that considered themselves “avant guarde”. While camp colors were available to nearly every Union regiment of infantry or heavy artillery, perhaps only one out of five Union regiments adopted or were presented flank markers or general guides. In the Confederate Army and those regiments raised by her states, the usage of these flags was even more restricted.
Among the states of the Confederacy, two—Georgia and North Carolina—seem to have promoted the use of camp colors by their units. The 1861 uniform regulations of the state of Georgia called for camp colors to accompany the state flags of the two regiments of “Georgia Regulars” that were to be raised. However, it is not known if the state accommodated these regulations and provided camp colors to the 1st Georgia Regulars. North Carolina, on the other hand, while not incorporating descriptions of camp colors in the uniform regulations issued by that state, definitely began furnishing such flags with its state flags in 1862.
Abstracts of Clothing, Camp & Garrison Equipage provided by North Carolina in April of 1862 indicate that, in addition to a state flag, four other flags were issued to the 46th, the 48th, and the 49th North Carolina State Troops. Five other regiments (the 11th, the 43rd, the 45th, the 50th, and the 52nd) received state flags in the same period, but it is not documented that they received camp colors. Nevertheless, during the assault on the Petersburg lines on 2 April 1865, a pair of small (9″ hoist by 10 1/2″ fly) red woolen flags bearing the white numerals “11” were captured from a position held by the 11th North Carolina State Troops. The Union accounts of the battle of Hanover Court House in May of 1862 describe one of the Confederate units attacking with the “Stars & Bars” in the center of the unit and red guide flags on each flank. Since the Confederate forces engaged at Hanover Court House consisted primarily of North Carolina regiments, it is likely that the camp colors provided by that state were indeed red with the numbers of the regiments in white figures on each.
While the camp colors provided from the Raleigh Clothing Depot would logically seem to have been intended exclusively for North Carolina units, it is worthy to note that Lt. Col. Edward Hull of the 2nd Missouri Infantry (then enroute to Corinth, Mississippi from the Trans-Mississippi Confederacy) received “4 marker flags and staffs” from Raleigh on 25 April 1862! It is noteworthy that the flags are called “marker” flags, as that was the same designation affixed to small flags purchased from Hayden & Whilden of Charleston, South Carolina by the Confederate Quartermaster’s Department later in 1862 and early 1863.
On 20 June 1862, the commanding officer of the 22nd South Carolina Infantry (then stationed on James Island near Charleston) acknowledged the receipt of one regimental flag and “4 markers-flags” of the Confederate Quartermaster’s Department. This is the earliest recorded issue of “markers” in the Confederate Department of South Carolina and Georgia (afterwards the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida). The practice of providing four markers to units serving as part of the Charleston garrison continued through at least February of 1863. All accompanied Confederate 1st national flags manufactured under contract with Hayden & Whilden of Charleston. On 8 August 1862, the Eutaw (25th) South Carolina Regiment was the recipient of four markers, their regimental flag not being delivered until 12 September. Among a group of flags received by the Confederate Quartermaster’s Department on 10 February 1863 was a regimental flag and 4 markers for the 11th South Carolina Reserves. On the same day but under a different invoice, Lamar’s South Carolina Battalion also received a regimental flag and four markers. The regimental flags delivered with these orders cost between $45.00 and $60.00 each; the markers, on the other hand, were priced at $6.00 in 1862 and $8.50 in 1863. Their design remains an enigma. The same may be said of the “general guide flags” carried by Rodes’ Alabama Brigade in 1862 and 1863.
On 22 July 1862, General Robert E. Rodes (commanding an Alabama brigade consisting of the 3rd, 5th, 6th, 12th, and 26th regiments) directed that each regiment of his command “will also fill up their colors guards, appoint markers and furnish them with flags, and provide their color sergeants with a belt and socket for the color lance.” After the close of the Manassas and Sharpsburg campaigns, he found it necessary (on 9 October 1862) to reiterate his orders, directing that “the color guards, general guides and at least two markers in each regiment … are provided and will have their colors mounted on a straight staff and have the color bearers provided with belt & socket”. The regimental commanders of the brigade must have made efforts to comply with these orders, for on 25 July 1862, Colonel J.B. Gordon, commanding the 6th Alabama Infantry requisitioned “Two (2) color flags for markers for 6th Ala. Regt.” No record exists to confirm compliance with this requisition, but it is likely that the quartermaster’s department made an effort to furnish the items. If so, unfortunately, no record of the design of these flags has survived. Nevertheless, it is notable that during the Valley Campaign of 1864 (in which Rodes’/Battle’s Brigade participated), one of the flags captured by Union forces was a small (18″ hoist by 19 1/2″ fly) fringed 11 star Confederate 1st national flag made of woolen and cotton goods. It has been suggested that this flag may represent one of the markers ordered for Rodes’ Brigade in 1862; however, the evidence is insufficient at this time to confirm that suspicion.
Howard Michael Madaus
ARTILLERY AND CAVALRY GUIDONS
While many of the traditions and designs of the flags carried by both sides in the American Civil War had their origins in Europe, the swallowtail guidons of cavalry companies and batteries of light artillery had little connection to European antecedents. While the English light dragoons of the 18th century carried swallowtail guidons in lieu of standards, their design and usage was considerably different from those adopted in the United States service.
Due to the considerable expense of maintaining and equipping mounted units, in the period after the American Revolution, cavalry (then known as light dragoons) was a luxury that the American government deemed beyond its means. While light dragoons were reinstituted in the United States Army in 1808 (complete with small yellow rectangular company flags), at the end of the War of 1812, the force was again discontinued. Only with the need to control and impress the Plains Indian tribes in 1833 was the mounted service again recreated, first with one regiment of dragoons that year and then with a second regiment three years later.
In the process of recreating the regiment of dragoons, new company flags were devised, consisting of guidons, 27″ on their hoist by 41″ on their fly, cut to a swallowtail 27″ from the staff and divided horizontally into two bars, red over white. The upper red bar bore the letters “U.S.” in white and the lower white bar the word “DRAGOONS.” in red lettering. These flags were carried in the center of each company when it was in line of battle so that the often detached company could maintain alignment in much the same manner as infantry regiments.
When the 2nd regiment was added in 1836 it became necessary to also add the regimental number (“1st” or “2nd”) over the branch of service. The same style of guidon served the companies of the regiment of mounted riflemen when it was formed in 1846 (with “RIFLES.” in lieu of “DRAGOONS.”) and the two regiments of Cavalry added to the regular army in 1855 (with “CAVALRY.” on the lower bar). As the War came closer, the abbreviation “Comp.” was added below the “U.S.” on the upper bar, followed by the company letter, “A” through “K”. The eight batteries of light artillery of the Army (two companies in each of the four artillery regiments) also used the red and white swallowtail guidons as their battery guidons. This practice would continue once the War erupted. And indeed (according to one newspaper account), at least one of the cavalry company guidons taken when the U.S. forces in Texas capitulated was later transformed into Confederate service by modifying the “U.” in the upper bar to a “C.” and adding the name of a Texas cavalry regiment to the lower bar above “CAVALRY.” As a general rule, however, only a few Confederate cavalry companies and light artillery batteries carried guidons.
The absence of guidons from Confederate cavalry regiments probably lies in the manner in which the Confederate cavalry was raised. As with the infantry, cavalry companies tended to represent the local communities whence they were raised. At the time of muster, it was common for the community to present their departing friends and family with a company flag that represented the best efforts of the community. Such flags either tended to be the flag of the Confederacy, that of the state, or a specially designed flag that incorporated patriotic symbols and slogans. These flags tended to be rectangular and considerably larger than the pre-War guidons of the Regular Army. When the companies were finally consolidated into battalions or regiments, these large and differing flags were a hindrance to battalion and regimental unity. As a result, most were relegated to baggage, though one might be selected as a regimental standard if the battalion or regiment had not been provided. Although most of the major Confederate cavalry leaders had had experience in the U.S. Regular Army prior to the War, they did not press for company guidons for the Confederate cavalry units they commanded.
Two exceptions to this rule occurred during the War. In late 1863 (31 October 1863–probably at the same time that Jackson’s Cavalry Division was equipped with battle flags from Mobile), Jackson O. Belknap provided the Confederate Quartermaster Department with “10 guidons” for a total price of $10.00. At a price of only $1.00 each (as opposed to $15.00 each for battle flags), these “guidons” could not have been elaborate affairs, and it is not known if they were intended for the companies of one of the cavalry commands or for artillery batteries in Alabama and Mississippi. Five months later (16 February 1864) Belknap furnished the Quartermaster’s Department with another eight guidons for an even less expensive price ($5.00 total). Like the guidons furnished in October of 1863, the design and materials of these guidons remains unknown, as also whether they were for cavalry or artillery.
While the 1863 and 1864 Belknap guidons are the only ones recorded to have been purchased by the Confederate Quartermaster’s Department that have been discovered to date, based on surviving flags, guidons were also ordered for some of the cavalry and artillery batteries of the Charleston garrison. These guidons conform to the dimensions established for pre-War Regular Army guidons (27″ hoist, 41″ fly, 27″ from staff to cut of swallowtail) but were composed of a red over a black horizontal bar rather than red over white. The upper bars bore the company letter in white, while the lower bars bore unit abbreviations in red letters and figures, all separately cut and appliquéd.
Guidons of Major W.K. Easley’s 3rd (officially the 4th) Battalion South Carolina Cavalry
by Wayne J. Lovett from detailed sketches and notes by Howard M. Madaus
The companies of the Major W.K. Easley’s 3rd (officially the 4th) Battalion South Carolina Cavalry received such guidons with the company letters in white on the upper red bar and the abbreviation “3D BATTALION/ S.C.V.CY.” in red on the lower black bar about the same time that the battalion obtained a special “Charleston type” battle flag that agreed to a pattern flag that had been proposed in the Charleston Mercury. (Easley’s 3rd/4th Battalion was eventually consolidated into the 2nd South Carolina Cavalry.)
Guidons of the Palmetto Battalion of Light Artillery,
by Wayne J. Lovett from detailed sketches and notes by Howard M. Madaus
In addition to the companies of Easley’s South Carolina Battalion, the companies of the Palmetto Battalion of Artillery serving in the Charleston garrison also obtained similar guidons. Having the company letter in white on the upper red bar, these artillery guidons bore the abbreviation “P.B.L.A.” in red letters on the lower bar. To what extent other batteries or companies obtained similar guidons is not known, nor has any billing for these flags been discovered in the accounts of the documented Charleston flag makers.
The use of red over black guidons in the Charleston garrison seems to have had a limited time span. Charleston Depot artillery battle flags seem to have supplanted the guidons by mid-1863. Their appearance, moreover, was unlikely prior to 1862. The Washington Artillery of Hampton’s Legion received a presentation guidon on 10 June 1861 that was of the traditional red over white pattern. On the obverse it bore the Legion affiliation and the unit nickname, while the reverse bore a palmetto tree and crescent on the upper red bar and the motto “RIGHT SHALL / MAKE MIGHT”. The guidon was bound with a white tape border and the swallowtails angled toward the center on the outer edge of the flag.
The 1st Battalion North Carolina Artillery (either the Heavy Battalion or the Light Battalion–it is not clear which) may have also been presented with red over white swallowtail guidons in 1862. The surviving guidon of the 1st Company (“Clark Artillery if the Heavy Battalion; “Northhampton Artillery” if the Light Battalion) approximates the pre-War U.S. Regular Army guidons (although it is fringed) and bears the unit name, “1st Co. 1st Batl.” on the upper bar and “N.C. Artillery.” on the lower bar, both in gold. Whichever battalion, it is likely that the companies of the remainder of the battalion had similar guidons.
In the western theater, two surviving guidons suggest that another style of guidon may have been briefly popular in Tennessee in 1861. The guidon of “Hill’s Cavalry” (Co. C, 6th Tennessee Cavalry Battalion and afterward Co. B, 7th Tennessee Cavalry) captured at Island No. 10 follows the general design of the red over white pre-War guidon, but, like that of the 1st Company, 1st N.C. Artillery Battalion, it is fringed. Moreover, the upper bar is truncated by having a dark blue canton near the staff bearing a circle of 11 gold stars. The motto “Victory or Death” and the initials “H.C.” decorated the lower white bar, and “C.S.” was added to the center of the upper red bar.
|In some respects this guidon of “Hill’s Cavalry” is similar to an unidentified guidon that reversed the pattern of the bars to white over red but retained a blue canton with 13 white stars– 12 around a larger center star. The flag was captured by a member of the 127th Illinois Infantry but no identity for it has been established. One North Carolina flag, however, is similar but not cut in the form of a guidon.||
Unidentified Confederate cavalry guidon,
by Wayne J. Lovett from a detailed sketch and notes by Howard M. Madaus
While most of the Confederate cavalry leaders used national flags in camp and occasionally a battle flag in the field, a few devised or were presented their own distinctive guidons. General Joseph Wheeler, according to an article in the Selma Daily Reporter in December of 1862 was presented by ladies of Mobile with a flag “cut in the shape of a swallowtail, one half blue, the other yellow, with a bar of white cutting it diagonally and displaying eleven blue stars.” A red binding finished all of the outer edges of this flag.
In Virginia, two cavalry brigade commanders also adopted distinctive swallowtail guidons. Brigadier-General Bradley T. Johnson’s headquarters during the winter of 1863-1864 flew a 20″ hoist by 41″ fly white swallowtail flag with a narrow red binding that bore a red cross “botonee” from the Calvert arms in its center. By the middle of 1864, however, he is thought to have been using a 30″ hoist by 39″ fly 2nd national flag cut swallowtail for his headquarters flag.
Brigadier-General William Jackson also used a 24″ hoist by 36″ fly variant of the Confederate 2nd national flag to mark the headquarters of his cavalry brigade. This flag reversed the colors of the field and the canton, the field being red and the canton being white, bearing the traditional blue St. Andrew’s cross with 13 white stars.
As noted elsewhere, in November of 1864 swallowtail guidons bearing Maltese crosses were used to distinguish the headquarters of the brigades and divisions of Stewart’s Corps of the Army of Tennessee. These, however, were for infantry, not cavalry commands.
Howard Michael Madaus, based on the research of Greg Biggs, Kenneth Legendre, Mark Jaeger, H.M. Madaus and other vexillologists.