Carrying the Colors

Members of the 6th North Carolina State Troops, Co. I will be traveling from throughout North Carolina and Virginia to Sharpsburg , Md. this weekend. We will be participating in the 150th anniversary reenactment of the battle of Sharpsburg. For many members this is a return trip, having visited 5 years ago for the 145th anniversary. Some have even attended as far back as the 130, 135th and 140th anniversaries.

We have been informed that we will be the color company for the Carolina Legion, which prompted me the wonder about the flag. What colors did the 6th North Carolina wave above them on that warm September day as they traveled back and forth across Millers bloody cornfield in Sharpsburg?

I have been researching the 6th North Carolina state troops for nearly 20 years and have focused on their flags during the last decade, documenting my findings whenever I stumble across something, which isn’t as often as one might like. The problem with Civil war era flags is that they don’t seem to be mentioned too much, unless they are captured or have some special place of honor. Otherwise they are ordinary “tools” which are needed to get the job done as much as rifles or swords.

Imagine a researcher from the next century trying to document the model cell phone or laptop we carried.  Sure, everyone knows we carried them, but in those few important documents that survive, who has bothered to identify what phone they have or where they got it or exactly when they carried which specific model? That is the dilemma I face trying to document the colors of the 6th NCST. Flags are too ordinary.

Regarding the flag they used at Sharpsburg… I’m not coming up with too much, but I have a theory.

Captain Neill W Ray

You may be familiar with Captain Neill W. Ray’s sketch of the Sixth Regiment contained in Clark’s North Carolina troops.

If you haven’t read it lately, take a minute to read Captain Ray’s description of the 6th NCST at Sharpsburg, it’s very interesting and informative reading. In addition to some very specific details about where the 6th NCST was and when and what they did in the fight, Ray says (directly to you and me!)

If the future historian will study the battle of Sharpsburg…he will be forced to conclude that it should be considered one of the most noted battles of the war…

In this regard he was correct, since this battle has come to be known as the bloodiest single day.

At the end of his overall sketch of the 6th NCST he talks about the regimental flag [What we call the “Fisher Flag”].

“…a beautiful silken bannerit was highly prized; It waved over the regiment at …First Manassas…and at Gettysburg. It was not always used in battle, especially after battle flags had been distributed to the army.”

 Since Ray wrote such detail and felt so strongly about the importance of the battle of

6th N. C. S.T Regimental Flag
(“Fisher” Flag )

Sharpsburg and then went on to describe the Fisher flag in detail, I believe that if this flag had flown in this battle he would have specifically mentioned it. Therefore I conclude that they most likely carried a battle flag rather than the Fisher Flag.

But which battle flag? That’s the million dollar question.

If we assume the 6th NCST was issued a first issue flag in 1861, when it was available, it may have been lost when some of their stored baggage fell behind enemy lines and was captured in the spring of ’62. To my knowledge this flag was never claimed as being captured and I have never really found evidence that they actually either had it or lost it. It’s possible it was never issued since the 6th was already mustered and in the field before the design was even approved!

So did they have a first issue flag or not?

If it was issued and they carried  it during the marches and battles of the peninsula Campaign in the spring of ’62, It may  have become so worn (they were made of fragile silk) after being in the field that It had to be replaced with a second issue (bunting) flag which became available early in 1862.

An important clue is the July 25, 1862 general order 88 issued by the General Whiting which directs:

“The regiments of the five brigades of this division now present will have inscribed on their battle flag the names, “Seven Pines, Gaines farm & Malvern Hill.” In addition to the above the regts of the Texas Brigade, The Hampton Legion & the 6th N. C. will have the word Eltham’s landing out on their colors & all the regiments of the 3d. Brigade including the Legion the word Manassas.”

I have never really found evidence that they actually were issued a second issue flag either, but it would seem improbable that the regiment would disregard a general order and one that would bring honor and fame to their regiment. Since we know of two late war 6th NCST, non-honor marked battle flags at the NC museum of history, It seems logical that there is at least one “Missing” Flag…with battle honors.

I have recently learned that the Gettysburg museum is displaying a second issue 6th NCST flag with battle honors that was carried into battle at Gettysburg. I am working with the curator to identify the provenance. If this is indeed the 6th North Carolina State troops flag (or might it belong to the 6th NC Volunteers which is really the 16th NCT), then it may also be the one they used at Sharpsburg!

What happened to the flags carried by the 6th North Carolina State Troops between 1861 and 1863 are a mystery I am always on the lookout to solve. My guess is that they probably carried a second issue (orange border) battle flag at sharpsburg, but there is little evidence to prove or disprove it.  That is the flag we will be carrying this weekend. If someone could conclusively tell us why a second issue flag is WRONG for the 6th NCST in Sept of 1862 I would gladly acknowledge the error in exchange for this intelligence!

Oh and if you’re reading this from 2112..my phone is a Samsung M220, ancient even in 2012 but good enough for me.

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