Wednesday, July 29, 2009

ensign v. color guard

Ok- I learned something new today. That’s not to say that I don’t learn something new every day, I just thought I would share it with you today. I’ve been involved in a great email discussion with a fellow Tar Heel regarding the flags used at Chickamauga, particularly the flags of Kelly’s brigade and the 58th North Carolina. No, we have not really reached a consensus. To me, it would almost seem that the 58th NCT was not issued a flag until they received a Second National sometime in between the battles of Chickamauga and Missionary Ridge. The color sergeant was appointed at this time, and the color guard of the 58th NCT was awarded four captured Colt’s Revolving Rifles for their (the regiment’s) performance at Chickamauga.

Anyway, I was reading in Howard Madaus’s book on flags of the Army of Tennessee, when I came across this:

“From 1812 through the Civil War, the responsibility for carrying the colors rested with the sergeants selected from the line companies. On 5 March 1864, however, the Confederate War Department published the act of Confederate Congress which reinstituted the rank of ensign, ‘whose duty it shall be to bear the colors of the regiment, but without the right to command in the field.” Three months later this privilege was extended to battalions as well as regiments. The problems posed by this position caused Congress to reconsider its earlier enactment, and on 25 March 1865, the rank of ensign was abolished…”

Ok – I knew all of that except the part about Congress rescinding its act in March 1865 (and how long have I owned this book?). Of course, the war was about over, and, maybe the Confederate Congress should have been worrying about more important matters. So I wonder, what problems arose?

So, I went hunting for the problem. I found several instances of the bearers of the flag being called ensigns prior to the fifth of March 1864, i.e., the 2nd Arkansas Mounted Rifles had an ensign in January 1863, as did the 19th Louisiana Infantry at Chickamauga. And interestingly enough, the term “ensign” appears more in the Official Records of Confederates within the Army of Tennessee than within the Army of Northern Virginia. Ensigns were to receive the pay and allowances of first lieutenants, which amounted to $90 per month. When the office of ensign was abolished two interesting things transpired: one, ensigns were approved, based upon recommendation, by the president, but when the office was abolished, the commanding officer of the regiment got to pick the color bearer from men under his command; and, two, though no longer an officer, the color-bearer still received the pay of a first lieutenant. (ORs, Ser. 4, Vol. 3, p.1167)

Interesting stuff, but I still cannot find the “problems” that Madaus alluded to in his book. Thoughts of where to look next? Maybe Jefferson Davis’s papers, or???


Travis said...


My GG Grandfather fought with the Arkansas 2nd Mounted Rifles, which you referenced in this article. In fact, my family has an ensign that was, according to family tradition, the ensign of the 2nd that was carried in battle by my grandfather. Do you have more information about the ensign you mentioned? Where did you find the reference to that specific guide-on flag? Perhaps we could compare notes and help eliminate some of the guess work on our behalf.


Michael Hardy said...

Travis – thanks for the note. I never followed up on this and I should. It would make a swell article. No, I still don’t know what the problem was that caused the ensign post to be abolished.


Travis said...

Thanks for your response.

You specifically mentioned the 2nd Arkansas Mounted Rifles. Do you remember where you got that information? I'd love to follow up on that myself...

Anonymous said...

I'm doing research on Confederate Colorbearers with a view to naming ALL of them.
Can you tell me who your GGGranfather wasPlease respond directly to LAREBEL@BELLSOUTH.NET
or call 504-237-3786

Ken Legendre