Orrin Dow  - and the bravery of a Color Bearer

Mr. Dow was an older enlistee — at age 27, he joined the Army on 9 Sep 1862  as a Corporal in Company E, 13th Infantry. Prior to his enlistment, he worked as a laborer living with his parents Josiah and Louisa Grant Dow in Lee.  He mustered in 19 Sep 1862, and was appointed Sergeant.  He was wounded 1 Jun 1864 at Cold Harbor, VA., and again on 29 Sep
1864 at Fort Harrison.    He was one of the first men to enter Richmond, April 3, 1865.   He was discharged 12 May 1865.  

He was born and resided in Lee and his military credit went to Lee. The 1870 census lists him as a watchman living in Lawrence, MA; before 1890 he had moved to Newmarket, as his pension lists him in town and indicates that he had been wounded twice.  The 1890 census lists him as a day laborer living with his family in Newmarket.  His wife, Maranna (Mary) Dow died 21 Apr 1905.   He was still employed as a laborer at age 71 in Newmarket when he died  19 Jul 1906.  The Town took him in as one of their own, as his name is engraved on the G.A.R. monument.

(photo: Emancipation Day, Richmond, VA)

His obituary, printed July, 27th, 1906 in the Newmarket Adveritser reads:

The funeral of Orrin Dow, who died Thursday of last week, was held at his late home Saturday afternoon, conducted by Rev. J. A. Wiggin of the Baptist Church.  George A. Gay Post, G.A.R., if which the deceased was a member, attended in a body.  Mr. Dow was born in Lee, but had resided in Newmarket for many years, his age was 71 years and 10 months, and surviving him are one son, Horace, and one daughter, Edith, both residing in Newmarket.

Mr. Dow enlisted August 11, 1862, as a Private in Company E, Thirteenth New Hampshire Volunteers, and served three years in that regiment.  He participated in the following battles and skirmishes:  Fredericksburg, Seige of Suffolk, Walthall Road, Swift Creek, Kingsland Creek, Drury’s Bluff, Cold Harbor, Battery Five, Petersburg, Battery Harrison, and was wounded in the ankle at Cold Harbor. 

He was at one time a color bearer, and was afterwards promoted to Sergeant.

Mr. Dow was a model soldier and served with great bravery until the end of the war.    He also served as a police officer in the City of Lawrence, Mass., from 1871 to 1874.

 (photo: State Regimental Flags, Civil War at NH Capitol, Concord)



NH COlor guardsCarrying a regiment’s colors into battle was considered an honor and a privilege. It was also a very dangerous job and would likely get a man maimed or killed.  The devotion to a flag wasn’t merely emotional. Regimental flags played a vital part in Civil War battles.  Both Union and Confederate were organized as regiments from particular states, and soldiers felt their first loyalty toward their regiment.  They firmly believed they represented their home state (or even their local region in the state).  Much of the morale of Civil War units was focused on that pride.  State regiments each had their own distinctive flags carried into battle.

The regimental battle flags were always treated with great reverence, and at times ceremonies would be held in which the flags were paraded in front of the men. While these parade ground ceremonies tended to be symbolic, events designed to instill and reinforce morale, there was also a very practical purpose, which was making sure that every man could recognize the regimental flag.

The Practical Purposes of Civil War Battle Flags

The regimental flags were critical in Civil War battles as they marked the position of the regiment on the battlefield, which could often be a very confused place.  In the noise and smoke of battle, regiments could become scattered, and vocal commands, or even bugle calls, could not be heard.  A visual rallying point was essential, and soldiers were trained to follow the flag.  The popular song of the Civil War, “The Battle Cry of Freedom,” made mention of how “we’ll rally ‘round the flag, boys.”  The reference to the flag, while ostensibly a patriotic boast, has the practical use of flags as rallying points on the battlefield.

Because the regimental flags had genuine strategic importance in battle, designated teams of soldiers, known as the color guard, carried the flag.  A typical regimental color guard
would consist of two color bearers, one carrying the national flag (the U.S. flag or a Confederate flag) and one carrying the regimental flag.  Often two other soldiers were assigned to guard the color bearers.  Being a color bearer was considered a mark of great distinction and it required a soldier of extraordinary bravery.  The job was to carry the flag where the regimental officers directed, while unarmed and under fire.  And color bearers had to face the enemy and never break and run in retreat, or the entire regiment might follow.

As the regimental flags were so conspicuous in battle, they were often used as a target for rifle and artillery fire. And, of course, the mortality rate of color bearers was high.  

(photo: The cartoonist Thomas Nast drew an illustration in 1862 for the cover of Harper’s Weekly captioned “A Gallant Color-Bearer.” It depicts the color bearer for the 10th New York Regiment clinging to the American flag after receiving three wounds.).


The Loss of a Civil War Battle Flag Was Considered a Disgrace

With the regimental flags generally in the middle of the fighting, there was always the possibility that a flag could be captured which would have been a colossal disgrace. The entire regiment would feel shamed if the flag was captured and carried away by the enemy.  Conversely, to capture the battle flag of an opponent was considered a great triumph, and captured flags were cherished as trophies. Accounts of Civil War battles in newspapers at the time would generally mention if any enemy flags had been captured.

On the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1, 1863, the men of the 16th Maine were ordered to hold off an intense Confederate attack. As they became surrounded the men took the regimental flag and tore it into strips, with each man hiding a portion of the flag on their person. Many of the men were captured, and while serving time in Confederate prisons they managed to save the portions of the flag, which were eventually brought back to Maine as cherished items.

As the Civil War continued, regimental flags often became something of a scrapbook, as the names of battles fought by the regiment would be stitched onto the flags. And as flags became tattered in battle they took on new significance.  At the end of the Civil War state governments put considerable effort into collecting battle flags, and those collections were looked upon with great reverence in the late 19th century.


Source excerpted: 19thCentury History: “Why Were Flags Enormously Important in the Civil War?” By Robert McNamara, About.com Guide