January 13, 1862
Rishworth Rich, a shoemaker from Portland, had no military background when he was elected Colonel of the 9th Maine Infantry Regiment in September 1861. His on-the-job training presented a number of challenges, in part because the regiment spent much of its early months traveling or in camp rather than in combat.
The 9th Maine left the state on September 24 and arrived in Washington two days later. The men barely had time to find their way around camp when they were ordered to board ships and go to Hilton Head, on the coast of South Carolina.
There, they stopped briefly beside the recently captured Fort Walker before moving on to occupy Port Royal. Now among hundreds of other Union regiments as members of the Department of the South, the Maine soldiers occupied themselves digging entrenchments, going on scouting parties, and participating in drills.
As the army's encampment took shape, Col. Rich felt a little lost.
Neither he nor anyone else at Port Royal could locate the Maine regiments because none of them had identifying flags to mark their locations.
"The Maine regiments are the only ones here without them," Col. Rich writes in mid-January, 1862, to Col. E.K. Harding, Assistant Quarter Master General.
Flags enabled commanders to locate their troops either on the battlefield, or, in the 9th Maine's case, in camp. A regiment's camp colors were smaller flags to denote a unit's right and left limits when forming camp or in regimental lines on parade.
In the Civil War each regiment carried two camp colors or guidons. They were carried on poles that could fit into the barrel of a gun.
Rich's note to Harding proved timely. Less than a week after writing his letter, the United States War Department issued General Orders No. 4 stating that: "…camp colors will be made like the United States flag with stars and stripes."
The 9th Maine received its distinguishing flags before participating in the capture of Amelia Island and Fernandina, Florida, in March, 1862.
- What would a regimental flag or a guidon look like to make it distinctive?
- Who would design it?