When we watch old movies about the bloodiest conflict in American history, many of us wonder why unarmed many charged into battle holding nothing but a flag. We people simply more patriotic back then, or was it more about pomp and circumstance? The answer might surprise you.
The fact is that the color or standard bearer was one of the most important soldiers in any regiment during the American Civil War. Not only did he serve as any inspiration to the troops by holding the flag aloft at great personal risk – color bearers were little more than moving targets – but he also served a military purpose.
Because the weapons during that era released huge plumes of smoke when discharged, it was quite common for soldiers to become separated from their regiments in battle. Their only chance of survival in that dangerous scenario was to look for their flag flying above the smoke. Since the color guard always stood in the center of the regiment, soldiers used their ensigns to maintain their position.
According to historians, flags also had enormous symbolic value for the victors. Not only did they use them celebrate their triumph in battle, but conquering commanders also flew them above captured areas as a warning to the enemy.