Flags of Valor

16th ALA INF Flag

This American Civil War era battle flag is another excellent example of what being addicted to History is all about. Most people think of "Confederate flags" as being the very familiar Southern Cross (like this example, the 3rd Tennessee Infantry (Clack's):

or the less familiar Stars & Bars, otherwise known as the 1st Confederate National Flag (this example is from the 7th Alabama Infantry, Company K):

Each regiment on both sides had a flag more or less like this one, used for unit identification and signaling. Most battles during this period tended to easily break down into mass chaos and confusion unless the commander kept a firm control of his men, but at the same time the battlefield was far too noisy to hear a spoken order or even a bugle call. Soldiers were trained to recognize their regimental flag and to always follow it wherever it went. The flag bearer was given both a high honor and a great responsibility; he had to stay right by his commander at all times, he was usually not armed and could not break and run no matter how bad the situation was, as his whole regiment would then follow him to the rear. The casualty rate among flag bearers was appalling.

To both aide in the quick battlefield identification of a given unit, and as a reflection of that unit's esprit de corps, a wild variety of sizes, shapes and patterns of these regimental flags were common during the first two years of the war. The majority of these flags were produced by ladies of the community in which that unit was raised, and usually given over in an elaborate ceremony featuring bands, tearful (and usually dreadfully bad) poetry written for the event, and grand (a.k.a very lengthy) speeches by any and all prominent persons on hand.

With the demands of that grinding war wearing away at both materials available and the usually hand-made flags themselves, later-war flags, often issued by the Confederate government itself, standardized into one of a handful of patterns, the square-ish Army of Northern Virginia pattern (the 8th Alabama Infantry here):

or it's more rectangular Western armies/Naval Jack variation (the 26th Alabama "O'Neal's" Infantry):

The flag shown at the top (the large illustration), is that of the 16th Alabama Infantry. It's initial mustering-in was held in Courtland, Alabama, on August 6, 1861, and it's baptism of fire was at the Battle of Fishing Creek, Kentucky, where it reported losses of 64 men. The 16th fought at Shiloh, losing 162 men, and Perryville before being reassigned to the Army of Tennessee, in late 1862. The unit saw heavy action at Murfreesboro (Stones River - losing 168 men), Tullahoma, Chickamauga (losing 244 out of 414 engaged on the line), Chattanooga, Ringold, Dalton, Resaca, Alatoona Heights, New Hope Church, Kennesaw Mountain, Peachtree Creek, Atlanta, and Jonesboro (where 150 were killed in action), suffering fearful losses all along the way. In the Fall of 1864 it moved out with LG John Bell Hood on his ill-fated Tennessee Campaign, being all but destroyed in the twin disasters at Franklin and Nashville. The few remnants of this once-proud regiment surrended at Durham Station, North Carolina, on April 26, 1865.

This battle-scarred flag was issued to the regiment late in 1864 and was captured at the Battle of Franklin on November 30, 1864, by Private Abraham Greenwalt of Co. G, 104th Ohio Infantry, who later received the Medal of Honor for this action. The flag and its staff were returned to the State of Alabama by the United States government on March 25, 1905.

Not all of the damage on this flag was caused by the affects of battle, but there are several distinctive bullet and shrapnel holes present. One can only imagine what the bearer of this flag went through that awful day at Franklin.

The vanguard of the Southern force arrived atop a low range of hills just south of Franklin just before 3 PM on November 30, 1864, and Hood immediately gave orders to attack the Union lines they could clearly see being constructed. The three corps commanders were incredulous. Dusk was only a bit over two hours away, the army was still in column road march formation with parts of it still hours away, and USA Major General John M. Schofield's troops clearly had a superior and fortified position well protected by artillery batteries.

This is when Hood threw another one of his fits. He had habitually considered anyone who disagreed with him as an enemy, and was loath to change any plan he had created, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that it was a poor one. In addition, he had often remarked since taking command that the men and officers loyal to former Army of Tennessee commander LG Joseph Eggleston Johnston were "soft" and too prone to retreating in the face of the enemy. He insisted that they were to march right down there and take those works, even at the cost of their own lives, almost as a punishment for daring to disagree with him.

After 3 PM, the two Confederate corps present started forming in line of battle, CSA Major General Benjamin Franklin "Frank" Cheatham's Corps on the left, CSA Major General Alexander Peter Stewart's Corps on the right. At the same time, the bridge and ford work had been completed, and Schofield was getting ready to pull his forces back north across the river. At 3:30 PM the signal trumpets blew, and a mass of butternut clad infantry charged across the open ground toward the Union emplacements. CSA Major General John Calvin Brown's and CSA Major General Patrick Ronayne Cleburne's Divisions briefly overran USA Brigadier General George B. Wagner's Division, which was left out on the pike road south of the main defense belt in an ill-thought out move.

Mounting a strong counter-attack, USA Colonel Emerson Opdyke's 1st Brigade (Wagner's Division), who had been the rear guard all day and was taking a well-deserved rest at the river, leapt back over the defense wall and charged Cleburne's men. A furious fight erupted with point-blank shots and hand to hand combat all along the line. One of his officers, USA Major Arthur MacArthur, father of the WWII hero Douglas MacArthur, managed to slash one Confederate regiment's color bearer with his sword and take the prize, even though shot three times in the process.

All along the rest of the line individual regiments and brigades reached the second Union line of defense, but none were able to pierce it. The field behind them now raked by constant cannister and shot from the Union batteries, there was no place left to retreat, either. Both sides stood just yards apart for hours, pouring musket and artillery fire into each other's ranks, without either side giving way.

The slaughter finally stopped about 9 PM, well after dark, when gun by gun, the firing slowly petered out. Surviving Confederate regiments literally crawled back across the dead-strewn field to the safety of their original positions. Schofield promptly abandoned the field, leaving his dead and wounded behind, and immediately marched back to Nashville, arriving about noon on December 1.

Hood's casualties were almost unreal. Of the 26,000 he had sent in battle, 5,550 were dead or wounded, with another 702 missing. 32 regimental and brigade battle flags had been taken. No less than 54 regimental commanders were killed, wounded, or missing. The worst loss was that of six generals; Cleburne, CSA Brigadier General John Adams, CSA Brigadier General Otho French Strahl, CSA Brigadier General States Rights Gist, CSA Brigadier General John Carpenter Carter and CSA Brigadier General Hiram Bronson Granbury. Of the other six generals on the battlefield, one had been captured and only two were left unwounded and fit for service. Schofield's casualties, although heavy, were still lighter than Hood's. Of the 28,000 men he had on the line that afternoon, 1,222 were killed or wounded, while 1,104 were captured or missing.

For more on the 16th Alabama's history, see The 16th Alabama Infantry Regiment, Company A (a reenactment unit)

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