Battle Flags of Kansas
And is that old flag flying still
That o'er your fathers flew,
With bands of white and rosy light,
And field of starry blue?
-Ay! look aloft! Its folds full oft
Have braved the roaring blast,
And still shall fly when from the sky
This black typhoon has past!
--"Voyage of the Good Ship Union,"
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., 1862
The Eighth Kansas Infantry was present when Union and Confederate forces clashed September 19, 1863 at Chickamauga, Georgia. They were in the thick of the battle, and nowhere was it more noticeable than in the color guard of the regiment. At the front of the unit, they presented a target for the enemy. When the battle was over, of the nine members of the color guard, four were dead, three wounded, and two escaped unharmed.
"The color-bearer and his guard of honor formed a striking group—he tall, powerful, manly, grave and silent;" said the regiment colonel John A. Martin, "they boyish, beardless, laughing, chattering, careless—but one and all of them daring and gallant beyond what was common even in those heroic years."
"Within an hour after the battle began, Rovohl . . . was mortally wounded," Martin said. "When he fell, his comrades indulged in fierce dispute as to which of them was entitled to carry the flag. Several claimed it, but Wendell, affirming his seniority in rank as a corporal, secured it. Two of them proposed carrying Rovohl to the surgeons in the rear, but he refused all help, saying, 'My life is nothing—keep the flag to the front.'"
The weapons of the Civil War produced a great deal of smoke, so the flags of the regiment took on a great deal of importance. They were large enough to be seen at a distance. The color guard was at the front of the regiment, giving guidance to the troops behind them. From a distance, officers could conduct troop movements in the battle by observing the flags, and issue appropriate orders. Because they were so prominent in the field, the Civil War soldier appreciated the flags, even as they became tattered, because it reflected their service in the field. The flag was an object of morale, to be protected from capture, and to be captured from your enemy.
The flag could also be a symbol of the people left at home. In early 1861 the women of Emporia presented Company H of the Second Kansas Infantry with a flag they had made. On August 10, 1861, the Second Kansas was engaged at the Battle of Wilson's Creek, just outside Springfield, Missouri. The flag the Emporia women made was the flag of the regiment, and the color bearer, Corporal Thomas Miller, was mortally wounded in the battle.
Two months later, the Second Kansas Infantry, having completed its service as a 90-day regiment, returned home. In Emporia, Company H returned the flag, where a flag bearer related its story.
"We saw it full of bullet holes, ragged and battle-stained," said Anna Watson Randolph, one of the flag makers. "He pointed to the dark stains on the staff where the blood of our young soldier had trickled down, and told us how even in the struggle of death he had borne it up until a comrade could take his place. It was the target for the whole Rebel army. . . We sobbed and cried aloud. It was our first experience of the horrors of war."
The flag inspired then as it continues to inspire, whether flying over Iwo Jima during World War II, or at the World Trade Center site in New York. People continue to thrill at its sight, much like the scene described by Stephen Crane's Civil War novel, The Red Badge of Courage.
"From a sloping hill came the sound of cheerings and clashes. Smoke welled slowly through the leaves.
Batteries were speaking with thunderous oratorical effort. Here and there were flags, the red in the stripes dominating. They splashed bits of warm color upon the dark line of troops.
The youth felt the old thrill at the sight of the emblems. They were like beautiful birds strangely undaunted in a storm."
Entry: Battle Flags of Kansas
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: April 2009
Date Modified: January 2013
The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.