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Cool Things - Civil War Guidons

It's hard to image the cavalry riding to the rescue without the Stars and Stripes at the front of the column.

At the beginning of the Civil War in 1861, though, the United States Cavalry was not authorized to carry the American flag in any form. Instead, it used a small standard of blue silk with a painted eagle at its center. This was a smaller version of the infantry's regimental flag.

Things changed in 1862, when the War Department directed that cavalry guidons resemble the United States flag. As a result, Kansas cavalry units left behind swallowtail guidons as a record of their Civil War service. Two in the collections of the Kansas Historical Society have recently undergone conservation treatment. This work was done through the Society's Save the Flags! project, made possible by private donations as well as a federal grant from the Institute of Library and Museum Services.

Guidon for the Ninth Kansas Cavalry

Ninth Kansas Cavalry guidon

Kansans joining military units during the Civil War were concerned about the defense of their home state. The border war between Kansas and Missouri (also known as Bleeding Kansas) had raged for the better part of seven years. Kansans did not want to leave their homes unprotected, therefore, it is not surprising that the state's regiments were rarely ordered east of the Mississippi River.

The Ninth Kansas Cavalry is one such example. The unit stayed west of the Mississippi for the duration of the war but was rarely kept together. Its companies were split up and sent into Missouri, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. After the war the assessment of the regiment's service was that its fractured existence had kept it from receiving greater recognition:

"Owing to the fact that the companies composing the regiment were, soon after the regimental organization, so widely scattered, and on account of the nature and the character of the duty they were called upon to perform, it is impossible to give in detail an account of each battle and skirmish in which each part was engaged. . . . Had the regiment been, from its organization, kept together and assigned a place where distinction was awarded for valiant and faithful service, it would undoubtedly have carved out for itself a record which would have given still additional luster to the already enviable fame which justly belongs to it as well as to the other heroic regiments sent forth by the state of Kansas."
--Official Military History of Kansas Regiments

Guidon for the 11th Kansas Cavalry, Company A

Eleventh Kansas Cavalry guidon

Like the Ninth, the 11th Kansas Cavalry also stayed fairly close to home during the Civil War. Originally mustered in as an infantry regiment, it was changed to cavalry after just one year. Part of the Eleventh engaged in the pursuit of William Quantrill following his devastating raid on Lawrence, Kansas, in 1863.

The 11th later participated in the Price Raid battles around Kansas City, and skirmishes around Mound City, in October of 1864. The latter actions made it the closest unit among all Kansas regiments to the Battle of Mine Creek, the only full-fledged Civil War battle in the state.

Before the 11th was released from its duties, several companies—including Company A—were sent into what is now Wyoming to fight American Indians. This was not a popular decision among soldiers ready to go home after the defeat of the Confederacy. Until they were mustered out, though, they were still in the federal army and could be deployed as needed.

See the online exhibit, Keep the Flag to the Front.

Help us preserve other Civil War flags in the collections of the Kansas Museum of History by donating to our Save the Flags! project.

Listen to the Civil War Guidons podcast  Play Audio Tour

Entry: Cool Things - Civil War Guidons

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: December 2012

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.