The United States Army flags can trace their chaotic roots to the colonist empires of England, France, Netherlands, Spain, and a few others who brought with to North America their flags, military uniforms, traditions and customs. Since the United States of America is a country of immigrants, not too far removed from these old empires, we still carry and are influenced by the traditions put forth by the old Western European empires. These empires used flags, and guidons as a means of identification and a feeling of pride and security among their ranks. It also serviced a more practical use of providing a rallying point for troops.
With the defeat of the British Empire, the United States of America gained their independence. So, the need for chaotic flags and guidons came to the forefront. February 20, 1776, the headquarters of George Washington made an order that,
“As it is necessary that every Regiment should be furnished Colours, and that those Colours should…bear some kind of similitude to the Uniform of the regiment to which they belong, the Colonels… may fix upon such as are proper, the standard (or Regimental Colours) and Colours for each Grand Division, …The Number of the Regiment is to be mark’d on the Colours, and such a Motto, as the Colonel may choose, in fixing upon which, the General advises a Consultation amongst them. The Colonels are to delay no time, in getting this matter fix’d, that the Qr. Mr. Genl. May provide the Colours as soon as possible;…” (QuinStreet, Inc, “United States Flags and Guidons,” Army Study Guide, 2018).
The British used two different flags for their military. One for their Navy and Marines and one for their Army. Around the year 1779, George Washington and the Board of War, represented by Richard Peters, came up with the ideas for the designs of national and regimental colors that would be carried by the recently victorious United States Army and Navy. Following the culture of the British, they decided on different flags for the two forces, as well. By 1780, the first Army flag had the color of blue with the design of an eagle that was used until 1841, when it went from the National color of the Army to the regimental color. The eagle has carried on and has or is still on battalion, regimental and Major Army Command Flags. The stars and stripes design, that the United Stated eventually used for the national flag, was a maritime flag that was used almost exclusively at sea.
Guidons, as we know them today, came from these backgrounds. Becoming great significance during the Civil War. From the policies of the time, they would eventually take on many modifications, add ons, and changes as weapons, how we conduct war, and how the actual flags would be made changed. These flags would be and still are used as a means of pride, and morale boost for those who have the honor of operating under them. They would resemble different elements of the unit’s insignia that would be worn on each member.
The word Guidon can find its origins dating back to the Italian word “guidone” meaning ‘guide’ or ‘marker’. Historians have theorized that Roman legions were to have fought ferociously to defend their guidons from the enemy, and the loss of a guidon was considered a disgrace for the men and empire. Before battle, war or combat the Romans would have their guidon blessed by their religious practice for victory.
Long-standing beliefs are that the handling of a Guidon was the remained the sole right of the soldiers who fought face to face and hand to hand, with the enemy. These were almost exclusively the Cavalry and the Infantry, who were always in the midst of battle. They started off as battle flags, carried by the Generals, Kings, Lords, and Commanders. Individuals not close to the battle itself. So that they would be more recognizable and easier to find in the field, they would be cut into the swallow tail design, like that they are today, so that the guidons would blow in the wind with more relative ease.
By 1861 The U.S. Army Regulations wanted Infantry regiments to carry two flags, the National colors and the regimental colors. Due to the larger size of the flags carried by Infantry regiments, it would have been unpractical to have. To fix the issue, cavalry regiments would then carry much smaller flags than the infantry. They would call them “standards.” Another reason why they are so important, we as OCS Candidates say, “standards, Sir,” when addressing an officer. Coincidence? I do not believe so nor do I get paid enough fall for such things. Cavalry set forth standards for the colors that were similar in contrast to the infantry regimental colors.
Guidons carry a great sense of pride. They are to never touch the ground and sure as hell not lean against a DEFAC wall while the individuals that operate under its colors are eating chow. One issue that is not exactly an official definition, is of the term “loss of colors.” This term refers to the capture, or stealing of a of a unit’s guidon or colors by the enemy in battle. It also is form of punishment or disciplinary action. I saw first hand this at BCT. Our DS wrapped up our flag and would not let us phase up for misbehavior. It was a sense of hurt that I was not expecting coming from an inanimate object. The colors that we fall under are a great source of pride. They represent victories or defeats. The stealing of an enemy flag even resulted in awards, such as the Medal of Honor during the Civil War. Even then however, units which lost their colors remained intact and continued to fight. Times have changed, however, and modern warfare tactics do not have units rallying in the open, for the purpose of large numbers of men performing tactical movements across the battlefield.
The Army of today use these prideful colors in ceremonies but do not carry them into battle. Irregardless of the use modern use of guidons, they still have a rich history. Starting all the way back to Ancient times, being molded by our European ancestors and finally finding its practicality and use during the civil war. We need to treat our colors with compassion, care, and sense of pride that we are Officer Candidates in the finest Army that the world has ever known. Hooah.