The Correct, Complete, Perfect, Revised, and Improved School of the Color Guard.

By Elmer Woodard

    The Color Guard is made up of eight corporals (1-8) and a Color Bearer (B).{1}  When using one flag, the Bearer is a sergeant, and commands the Guard.  When using two colors, other members of the Guard carry the flags, with the commanding sergeant between them.{2}  Scott’s manual says that the subordinate color should be on the right.{3}  Union colors are to be carried on a “pike” ten feet, two inches in length.{4}  Gilham maintains that colors are to be carried on a “lance.”{5}  There are only three positions of the manual of arms of the flag mentioned in the manuals.  First, the proper position of the standard, at halt or in march, is with the butt of the staff resting on the Bearer’s right hip, and the right hand at shoulder height, steadying the staff.{6}  This is the equivalent of the shoulder arms position.  The second position is equivalent to the present arms position.  While resting the butt of the staff on the right hip, the Bearer raises the right hand along the staff to eye level, and thrusts that hand forward, the butt still resting on the hip.{7}  This will place the staff at an angle of 45 degrees to the ground.  When the “salutee” is six paces past the Bearer, he should return the flag to the first position.{8}  Finally, when the battalion is dressing on the colors, the Bearer should hold the staff at full height, butt at the belt buckle, straight up, with the staff between the eyes.{9}
    Despite the manuals, in practice, the Bearer should do whatever is necessary to protect the flag from trees, branches, and other obstructive threats.  Additionally, it is wise to dispense with fixed bayonets in the Color Guard, as they tend to rend the flag.  For safety reasons, there should be no pike-head, lance-point, or other sharp object at the tip of the staff.  Members of the Guard without flags carry their pieces at the position commonly used as shoulder arms by union reenactors.{10}  When stacking arms, the Guard makes its own two stacks, and plants the flag between them.{11}
     As shown in Diagram A, the Color Guard in its three rank formation acts as a part of the Color Company; it counts off, changes arms, and in most respects is an integral part thereof.  When the Color Company Commander (O) orders the company to double, the Color Guard doubles with it.  Thus, the flag will always be in one of the two right files if marching by the left flank.  If the Color Company is part of a column of companies, the flag will be near the end of the company.{12}  When doubling, the third rank merely turns in place in the proper direction.
    Great care must be taken to assign more experienced reenactors to the more difficult positions in the Color Guard.  Since reenacting rank is not necessarily an indicator of competence, especially in Color Guard evolutions, experience is more important than stripes.
    Guards 1 and 3 should be the most experienced, as they are the men on the end of the company.  As explained below, they must resist the pressure of the left wing as it dresses to the center.  Guards 2 and 4 should be the next most experienced, as they are effectively the ones upon which the whole Color Company, and right wing dresses.  While the Second Sergeant of the Color Company is technically the Left Guide thereof, half the time there is none, and the other half, he either does not know his job, or does not alter it to accommodate the Color Guard.  This leaves Guard 2 as the effective Left Guide of the Color Company.  The outside Guard positions (3,4,6,7) are more important than the inside (5,8) positions because they must resist the pressure from the wings.  Note that the Left Guide/Second Sergeant of the Color Company is to the LEFT of the third rank.  This places him behind the 1st Sergeant of the company just to the left of the Color Guard.
    The maneuvers of the Color Guard may seem confusing when the battalion is formed in line of battle.  At the parade, the Color Guard positions itself where indicated by the Adjutant.{13}  Since it establishes the line for the other companies, the Color Guard must report early.  Once set, the Color Company will march up and be dressed on the Guard, with other companies dressing thereon in turn.  If the order is given to open ranks, the third rank of the Guard executes the same movements as the file closers in a line company.{14}  Each member of the Guard should note the presence of the Right and Left General Guides, and if there are none, insist that someone be so detailed, for reasons explained below.
    Advancing in line of battle is the most difficult maneuver for a battalion, and commensurately so for the Color Guard.  If done properly, almost all of the accordion (expansion and compression of files) and wave (snaking of ranks) problems can be avoided.  Unfortunately, it is rarely done properly.
    At the command “Battalion, forward…,” all three ranks of the Color Guard take one step forward.  The Bearer and the two Guards next to him (the Color Rank) take an additional five steps forward without breaking stride.  The two rear ranks have now just filled the gap in the two battalion ranks.{15}  At the command “March!,” the Color Rank and battalion step off smartly, as shown in Diagram B.{16}  The Bearer keeps his position in front of the rest of the Color Guard by choosing a point somewhere ahead and marching toward it.  The members of the Color Guard remaining in the battalion line should NOT attempt to regulate the six pace gap, except on instruction from the Battalion Commander.{17}  At the command “Battalion, Halt!,” everyone halts.  At the command “Guides and Colors…Post!,” the Color Rank returns to its position in the front rank of the battalion, the other two Guard ranks having stepped back one pace to receive them.{18}
    While the manuals are quite specific as to the above procedures, execution thereof is quite different in the field.  In this maneuver, the Color Guard has only three responsibilities.  First, it must stay six paces in front of the battalion line.  Second, it must march to the point indicated by the Battalion Commander, and must do so at a certain velocity.  Finally, the second and third ranks must stay aligned with the Color Rank.  In a reenacting scenario enough problems arise so that doing so is nearly impossible.  Those problems are organization, pace, and displacement.
    Organization problems first arise when a Battalion Commander does not fully man the Color Guard.  It is almost impossible for reenactors to advance properly with a Color Guard of less then nine men, because the ends of the companies on either side of the Guard will always drift into the gap in the rear rank.  The rear rank of the Color Guard specifically exists to stop that problem.  The Bearer should also be wary of an officer who appoints men to the Guard.  Often, these are the unsafe, undrilled, and/or idiotic.  Correct or not, the men in the Color Guard will mostly be privates, and volunteers are better than draftees.
    The second order of organization problems arise when the Battalion Commander fails to appoint a Right and Left General Guide.  These guides’ job is to march straight ahead and mimic the movements they see happening in the center of the battalion so that the wing companies can also do it.{19}  Since they are the only men that the Bearer can see without turning around, their position also tells the Bearer if the Color Rank is running away from the battalion.  While technically Guides are supposed to stay even with the Color Rank, the reenacting reality is that the Bearer can rather key on them to regulate the gap.  Without Right and Left General Guides, the battalion line will be in fact a battalion worm, (the body of which weaves forward and backward as the wing companies speed up and slow down.)
    The final kind of organizational problem is that the important officers will probably not be in the right spot.  The reenacting reality is that the Battalion Commander lines up in front of the Bearer, indicates the line of march, and stays out there when the battalion moves forward.  Where he is supposed to be is outside the scope of this article, but invariably he will be right out in front.{20}
    Pace problems arise when the Color Guard marches too quickly or slowly.  Often, the flank companies will not hear the “March!” command, and be a second or two behind the Guard in their pace.  The companies between the Guard and the flanks will hear the command, but, caught up in the excitement, will march way too fast.  The result is a V shaped line with the Guard at the point.  While all of these problems are caused by the poorly drilled companies, the Guard does not need to exacerbate the problem.  Instead, it should take half, or even quarter steps to begin with, to allow the wings to gather themselves together.  If the Battalion Commander wants the line to move more quickly, he can always do so incrementally.
    The final problem is displacement.  Since, in line of battle, the companies are dressing to the center, the men push inward.  Multiply the amount of pressure by the number of men and you will find that the pressure on the Guard is more than enough to displace them relative to the advanced Color Rank.  Usually, the pressure is greater from one wing than the other, so the Guard drifts to the right or the left.  The direction can change as the battalion moves forward.  The two ranks of the Color Guard in the battalion line must be aware of the pressure, and aggressive about countering it.  Their primary responsibility is NOT the dress of the companies, but alignment on the Color Rank, so they should be prepared to push back, hard, in the direction of the pressure.  The commanders of the companies should be prepared for this, and warn their men that the Guard will push back.{A}
    As soon as the wing companies lose their dress, they will start telling the Color Guard to speed up/slow down/give right/ give left.  These comments should be rigidly ignored and alignment maintained on the Color Rank.  THE ONLY PERSON AUTHORIZED TO REGULATE THE COLOR GUARD IS THE BATTALION COMMANDER.
    Returning the Color Rank to the battalion line presents special problems.  Having the Color Rank break and flee back to the line is unsightly.  At the command “Post!,” the Color Rank should face about, march smartly back to its position, and face about again.  Also at that command, the second and third ranks should take their steps backwards, opening the front rank of the battalion for the Color Rank. When the Battalion Commander issues a command beginning with the words “Fire by…,” the whole Color Guard takes one step backwards, bringing the Color Rank into the rear bank of the battalion.{21}  The Bearer should probably order this when he hears the preparatory command with the local command “Color Guard, one step backward, March!”  When the battalion’s status changes, the Guard can be returned with a similar command.
    Assuming the battalion has fired for a while and now wishes to close with the enemy, or fire from a closer position, one must wonder exactly what the Guard is to do.  If the battalion is to rush the enemy to occupy his ground, it makes little sense to advance the Color Rank so that it reaches the enemy’s line several seconds before everyone else.  It makes much more sense to keep the Color Rank in the front rank of the battalion so that an overwhelming wall of men hits the enemy position.  This is precisely implied by at least two drill gurus, Dom dal Bello and Geoff Walden, in this very magazine.{22}  Assuming they are correct, one must wonder what command the Battalion Commander can give that will let the Color Guard know that it is not to march six paces forward, but rather to advance within the battalion line.  I suggest that “Battalion, charge bayonet, forward…March” is this command.  Battalion Commanders will please note that using this command will alert the Color Guard not to advance six paces, but only one, into the front rank.  The net effect is that once the battalion fires, it always moves forward at “charge bayonet.”  Otherwise, the Color Guard should go six paces out and get swiftly killed, throwing your battalion into confusion, and possibly losing the colors.  Additionally, since the Battalion Commander is behind the line when the battalion fires anyway, doing this eliminates any questions as to where they are supposed to be.
    Though no one likes to admit it, battalion lines also move backwards, usually in order, but sometimes not.  In the latter case, the colors are easily liable to capture, so the Bearer and Guard should skedaddle faster than the others.  When marching to the rear, the Bearer should change positions with the center man in the third rank.{23}
    Color Guard should be prepared to die individually and together.  The mark of a good Color Guard is willingness and ability to die in a safe, glorious, and military manner.  It sets the example for the rest of the troops, tests the skills of the commanders, enthuses the enemy, and is a lot of fun for the Guard itself.  Dying presents its own unique problems.  As the men fall, others must take their places.  When the Bearer dies, someone must pick up the flag, becoming the new Bearer.  More experienced men should take up the colors before neophytes.  Rather than clobber someone by slinging his piece, the new bearer should give his weapon to the now dead old Bearer.  This process should be repeated as often as necessary.  At a suitable time, the Guard can reassemble and exchange pieces.  Canister and volleys have the potential to instantly wipe out the entire Color Guard, especially at close range.  If a mass death is imminent, the members of the Guard should be forewarned with the command “Number Nine.”{24}  Though their further participation in the fight will be limited by their death, care of the colors is still the Guard’s responsibility.  It can handle this responsibility in two ways.  First, it can, before the fight, have the Colonel caution the battalion not to pick up the flag when it falls.  Of course, there is a possibility that someone will do so anyway, in which case all eyes in the Guard should follow that flag and get to it as soon as they can.  Second, the Guard can warn the Color Companies of its imminent demise, and warn them to take care of the flag.  Still, care of the colors is the Guard’s responsibility, and giving the flag to unknowns is fraught with dangerous possibilities.  The best way to ensure the safety of the flag is for the last Bearer to die on it.
    If the fight is relatively scripted, one way to ensure a good performance is to assign “Numbers of Doom” to the members of the Guard.  Assuming that there are nine men, the Guard should get together while waiting for the fight to start, and decide who wants to survive.  Those who do not should be assigned a number so that they can be rotated through the Bearer position.  Number 1 will be the first Bearer.  When he dies, number 2 will take up the flag, number 3 after him, and so forth.  The Bearer should control the death rate, and have it increase when the volume of fire and distance from the enemy warrant it.  This ensures that the colors will fall, and goes far to stop and claims that the battalion did not take any hits.  Additionally, everyone likes to see the other guy’s colors drop.
    Often, the colors will be in danger of capture.  The problem that arises is that the victors will want possession of the flag, and the defeated will worry about losing an expensive piece of equipment.  Capturing a flag should be done with words, not bodies.  When it happens, the captors should find an officer to tell the “capturees” that they are, well, captured, and to quickly discuss what to do.  A good way to do this is to approach the Bearer and say, “You, sir, are captured; what do you want to do about the flag?”  Since the Guard has the responsibility of returning the flag to its rightful owners, it pretty much gets to make the decision.  It has two good choices.  First, the Bearer may allow himself to be captured, but keep physical possession of the flag.  The more preferable option, and much more fun for the conqueror, is to deliver up possession of the flag, but to accompany it wherever it goes.  The other members of the Guard should do the same.  If the victor wants to go back to his camp and take pictures, the Guard, as prisoners, should go with them.  They took it fairly in a fight, and should enjoy the fruits of their victory.  If fortunes were reversed, such courtesy would be appreciated.
    The main disincentive to service in the Color Guard is that members are not allowed to fire, except in defense of the colors.{25}  While prudent in actual battle, that is boring for the reenactor.  There are two solutions to this problem.  First, the Bearer can select more experienced men, to whom firing the gun is no longer a novelty.  Second, the Bearer can ask the battalion and Color Company Commanders to allow the Guard to fire.  When firing, the flag itself should be tugged tightly to the staff to prevent blast damage.  The third rank should never fire, as it is unsafe, but can load for others, or trade places.  Since the Guard’s primary responsibility is protection of the colors, the commanders should allow the Guards to be directed by the Bearer.
    Whenever a man assumes the position of bearer, he assumes the duties associated with it.  If the Guard fails, it is a reflection on him.  Accordingly, he should make sure the Battalion Commander provides the support needed for a good Guard performance.  The Bearer TACTFULLY should bring up manpower needs, proper positions, General Guides, correct evolutions, and any special concerns that the commander may have.  If the points in this article are not discussed and something goes wrong, the BEARER will be blamed, because the Battalion Commander is never wrong.  For example, some commanders want the Color Rank to incorrectly advance six paces at the command “Prepare to Advance,” and others properly at the command “Battalion, forward…”  To adjust to the particular battalion, the Bearer must learn its rules, and the surest way of doing so is by going to the source, the Battalion Commander.  Once he knows the battalion rules, the Bearer should collect his Guard and explain everything.  Since the members of the Guard are rarely the same, the Bearer must assume that all are utterly unfamiliar with Color Guard operations, and drill them accordingly.  He should especially drill the six pace advance of the Color Rank and its return.

O= Officer; 1s= 1st Sergeant; 2s= Left Guide; P= Private; C= Corporal; FC= File Closers; 1-8= Guards; B= Bearer; |\ = Front

Diagram A
Color Company with Color Guard in Line of Battle
             1 B 2 C P P P C C P P P P C O
             3 5 4  P P P P  P P P P P P P 1S
        2S 6 8 7    FC    FC   FC    FC

Diagram B
Battalion in position of Forward March
     LG                     1 B 2                    RG

     ______ ______ 3 5 4 ______ ______
     ______ ______ 6 8 7 ______ ______

Diagram C
Battalion at Halt, firing
     ______ ______            ______ ______
     ______ ______  1 B 2  ______ ______
     LG                      3 5 4                      RG
                                6 8 7

Diagram D
Battalion at Charge Bayonet, Forward March
     LG                                                 RG

     ______ ______ 1 B 2 ______ ______
     ______ ______ 3 5 4 ______ ______
                               6 8 7

Diagram E
Battalion retreating
     ______ ______ 1 5 2 ______ ______
     ______ ______ 3 8 4 ______ ______
     LG                    6 B 7                    RG

Diagram F
Battalion “Skedaddling”
     LG      RG

     _-      _   _ --       -------   __      _---___   _-  --_--
     __- _- --- _--_ _-_ _ -_  __   ___-  -- ----- ___-- -
     ---- - -  _ _ --_ __-   -_  - _- __ -_- _- -_ -_-- _ --_
     _ --_  _-__ __-__-_------ -_-_- _-_- -_-- __--_  _--
                    2                     8
                        5                                3
    7                                   B1                      6

Diagram 666a
Mediocre battalion in column of companies with negligent Color Guard and/ or Battalion Commander


Diagram 666b
Battalion with Color Guard that is listening to unauthorized persons, not pushing back, or not concentrating.
|\                                                  1 B 2
         LG                                                                  RG
        ______ ________ 354 ________ ________
            ________ ________ 687 ________ ________

Diagram 666c
Battalion with too few Color Guard members
         LG                        1 B 2                         RG

         ________ ________ 5 ________ _______
          ________ ________________ ________

{A}  I think that the pressure that causes displacement is caused by the failure of corporals to maintain the dress of their companies.  All too often, there are no corporals in the middle of the company line, and one on the end away from the 1st Sergeant, who has no idea of his duties.  They are watching the fight rather than keeping their line dressed, and allowing their men to push into the center.  All too often they get away with it, because the Guard does not push back.  When it does, of course, they get offended because the Guard screwed up the company’s alignment that the corporal was not worried about in the first place.  Mean ol’ Color Guard!

{1} William Gilham, Manual for Instruction of Volunteers and Militia, p. 36; W. O. Hardee, Hardee’s Rifle and Light Infantry Tactics, p. 8

{2} Dal Bello, Camp Chase Gazette, October 1994

{3} Dal Bello, Camp Chase Gazette, October 1994

{4} Civil War Times Illustrated, Revised Regulations for the Army of the United States, 1861, p. 475

{5} Gilham, p.130

{6} Ibid., p. 130

{7} Ibid., p.130

{8} Scott, p. 139

{9} Gilham, p.299; Ibid., p. 133

{10} Scott, p. 19

{11} Scott, p. 98

{12} Washburn, Camp Chase Gazette, October 1994

{13} Ibid., p. 6

{14} Hardee, p. 21

{15} Gilham, p. 294; Scott Washburn, School of the Battalion for Reenactors, (citing Casey’s Infantry Tactics) p. 32

{16} Gilham, p. 295

{17} Gilham, p. 296

{18} Gilham, p. 298

{19} Dal Bello, Camp Chase Gazette, October 1994

{20} Washburn, Camp Chase Gazette, October 1994

{21} Dal Bello, Camp Chase Gazette, October 1994

{22} Ibid.

{23} Ibid.

{24} In the reenacting community in Virginia, this is the universal call for a company-sized death.

{25} Gilham, p. 242