Union Regimental Flags

After the firing on Fort Sumter in April 12, 1861, many young man rushed to volunteer to join the ranks of the Union army. At this time many of these regiments were presented with flags that were made by wives, mothers, and sisters belonging to local sewing circles. These flags were presented in formal ceremonies with much fanfare before the units left for the war. These "home made" flags very often did not conform to army standards of the day. Some times the community would purchase flags from such notable companies as Tiffany & Company of New York, Evans & Hassall of Philadelphia on the east coast, or in the west from John Shilleto of Cincinnati. Shortly after the attack, Edward Everett stated that the flag "always honored" was now "worshipped."

This is a "home made" flag from New York.

An 1861 revision of army regulations said that infantry units were to carry two flags made of silk about six feet square. One - the flag of the United States - the other a regimental flag. The regulation called for the U.S. flag to have "13 horizontal stripes of equal breadth alternately red and white, beginning with red. In the upper quarter next to the staff, if the Union composed of a number of white stars, equal to the number of States, on a blue field, (notice it did not say a dark blue field so some flags were made with a sky blue Union) one-third the length of the flag, extending to the lower edge of the fourth red stripe from the top." Some followed this regulation as far as the Union, or canton as it is often referred to, while others ignored it completely.

An Artillery units flag.

There was no pattern set for the stars and most makers used a star layout that worked for them. Regulations also called for embroidered white stars as well as embroidered regimental designations on the center stripe of the U.S. flag. This was to be silver for flags of infantry regiments and gold on those for artillery. Due to the inability to find people with skill to do this embroidering, quartermasters usually substituted silver and gold paint for both stars and unit designations. After time it was found that the silver paint tarnished so in 1861 its use was discontinued. It should be noted that sewing circles and some commercial flag makers did produce flags with embroidered or appliquéd white stars. For their second flags, infantry units carried a dark blue flag with the coat of arms of the United States in the center. Artillery units were yellow with gold crossed cannons. Both flags had a red scroll below the central item for unit designation and were fringed with yellow silk.

Until early 1862 the states - not the Federal government - were responsible for the recruiting and outfitting of units they sent to fight the war. This included their flags, and because of this many early flags did not conform to army regulations. Pennsylvania and New Jersey both added the state coat of arms to the United States flag, and Connecticut gave its' units National flags both stars and an eagle in the canton. They, Connecticut, also issued regimental flags with an eagle over the coat of arms of both the state and the Nation.

The regulation change in January of 1862 also required the Federal government to take over the complete responsibility for outfitting units raised by the states. In years preceding the War all of the U.S. Army flags were made at their clothing depot in Philadelphia, the Schuylkill Arsenal. At this facility the flags were cut and sent to subcontractors to be finished. For 20 years that subcontractor was Samuel Brewer, who would assemble then decorate the flags as needed. With the build up of forces he could not keep up with demand and additional depots were set up at New York and Cincinnati.

This is an example of a Pennsylvania state flag.

Example of a New York pattern.

Each of these depots adopted its own pattern and they varied greatly from one another. The New York flags were made with square cantons with the stars lined up in five horizontal rows.

The Philadelphia flags kept the narrow rectangular canton with gold stars in two circles. They placed a star in each corner of the canton and most of them would also have a star in the center as well.

Example of a Philadelphia flag pattern.

Example of a Cincinnati disign canton.
Lastly the flags made in Cincinnati used the rectangular canton but placed their stars in rows like the New York depot. Something else that made flags from Cincinnati unique is that on the 34 star flags the top six rows of stars each had five stars in them. The seventh row however lined the remaining 4 stars up with those above it, but left a spot in the lower right hand corner so that a 35th star could be placed there when another state was added to the union.

A regimental flag from Cincinnait.

These depots also supplied regimental flags making them in conformance with established patterns. There was however some differences in the scroll that would hold the regiments name. Through contractors used by these three facilities 2,400 National flags and 2,350 regimental flags were distributed. It should be pointed out that the states of Pennsylvania and Massachusetts continued to issue flags to their units throughout the entire War.

By the first winter of the War, union soldiers started marking their flags with the names of battles they had fought in. This tradition dated back to the 1830's and on February 22, 1862 the practice was sanctioned by the war department.

This flag reflects both the New York and Pennsylvania regimental flags.

Once the battle was joined, the flags were about the only things that could be seen. Because of this Confederate troops would direct most of their fire in that direction. Expecting higher losses in the area of the flags, a Federal color guard would be between 6 to 9 men depending on the commander of the regiment.

A cavalry regimental banner.

A "new" design cavalry guidon.

A cavalry color guard would usually be one trooper followed by a corporal. Cavalry units carried only the regimental flag which was very similar, but smaller than those carried by infantry units. Per regulations, the flag size was set at 2 ¼ x 2 ½ feet. Mounted troops, including cavalry, mounted infantry, light artillery or dragoons, aligned themselves by use of a guidon. These were swallow tailed and divided into two horizontal colors. The top being red and the bottom white. This design changed in January of 1862. At that time two different companies were given all the unused quidons and told to make them meet the new regulations. To comply to the new regulations they added stripes and a canton to them. The star pattern they used were two circles looking very much like the infantry flags that were made in Philadelphia. About 10,200 of these flags were issued during the remainder of the War.

A cavalry guidon.

Also changed by the January order was the camp flags. These 18 inch square flags were placed for marking a camps' borders. They might also be carried into battle to assist in alignment. Before January those being used were white for infantry and red for artillery, and had the regiments name on one side. The new directive called for them to resemble the national flag with the stars placed in a row.

At the end of the War Union soldiers proudly carried their tattered and torn banners in a two day grand review through the streets of Washington. After the review, when discharged, the soldiers of the Union army with their flags returned to the states they came from. Here in large ceremonies the flags were turned in at the State Capitals where they were cared for, for many years to come, by the veterans who had throughout the years of the war defended them with their lives.

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