During the war the flag was a crucial tool. It marked the boundaries of the unit it represented. Where it stood is where you are supposed to be and, hopefully it can be seen it through the smoke of battle. It was used as a signalling tool, and of course was the very proud symbol of the unit fighting. It was often hand sewn by the ladies back home and presented to the unit just before it marched off to war. To loose it would be devistating for all in the unit. Especially so for those charged with its safe keeping. Capturing the enemy's was most rewarding as it destroyed their morale. The flag bearer would have most likely volunteered for the post of honor. He would be given guards...thus the term honor guard. they would be armed and would protected him with their lives. He would probably be unarmed. as it took both hands to handled the 9 Foot staff that the flag was mounted to. Many a picture exists of very battle torn and often blood soaked flags, that have been shot up by the enemy at every chance they got. Many a guard member and also bearer would also be killed throughout the life time of the flag. And there were thousands of flags. Literally. Many cases are on the net quoted high numbers..one as high as nine men that gave their lives protecting the unit flag.
It is therefore obvious why the capture of such a high prize, or the saving of one's own unit flag was rewarded with the recipient often being promoted on the spot for their bravery, and just as often later being awarded the Medal of Honor. In fact at least 467 medals were so awarded in the Civil War. A fare share were earned by Canadians.
Todays blog is about one of these men.
John Harties Brown is believed to have been born in New Brunswick sometime in 1834. By his mid 20's he was studying at school in Charlestown Main when the Civil War broke out. Wanting to do his part for the cause, John signed up first with the 5th Main Infantry and later also served with the 36th Maine infantry. He had enlisted as a private but was by them promoted to Sergeant. By mid August of 1863 he had been commissioned to the rank of Captain and transferred over to a third unit,... the 12th Kentucky Infantry where he was given command of an infantry company of men. Some 15 months later he would become a hero during the bloody battle at Franklin Tennessee.
Captain Brown's company in the 12th were positioned just below the Lotts House seen above and would be pushing forth in a southerly direction. His unit, though difficult to see, is in blue, and the 2nd line south of the house, and in the centre of 3 units.
The records of Medals of Honor tell us that about 20 flags were captured that day, and a handful would be passed up the line but many were actually wripped in threads and handed out as souveniers for the troops. This may be the reason for an apparent confusion of who captured what flag. All references I can find simply say that Brown captured a Confederate flag... but not which one. It is the same for some of the other heroes that, like Brown, would later be awarded the Medal of Honor for their bravery.
In early 2005 I contacted the Canadian Embassy at DC and requested that on the US National Medal of Honor Day, which is annually on 25 March, I requested the Embassy take some staff to Arlington and lay wreath and Canada's flag at the base of each of these MOH graves. They gave it some thought, requested lots of backup materials and then decided to move on it. Because the President was visiting Arlington on the date requested, the embassy decided that another date ought to be picked and still move forth with the idea.
Soon they contacted me to say that arrangements had been made for the ceremony to go ahead.... on July 1st... Canada's very birthday, and so on 1 July 2005 Ambassador McKenna, his military Aide... Admiral Mack and several other service personnel attached to the embassy went to Arlington and performed this wonderful ceremony. It is believed that they are actually standing in front of Captain Brown's grave in this picture.
And so it should be. His medal was approved, on 13 Feb 1865... 148 years ago today.