Civil War Ballads: Carry the Colours

David Matthews wrote and recorded this song for his 1994 album Shades of Blue & Gray: Songs From The Civil War, released by Delta, and re-released on various alternatively-titled albums over the years. The song beautifully captures the devotion Civil War soldiers had for their regimental colours. Regiments used colours, standards, or guidons to mark their position on the battlefield and serve as a rallying point.

At the head of the army, in front of the boys
On a long pole of hickory she flies
Yes I speak for my colors and I give her my love
Just to hold her so many have died
Just to hold her so many have died

And if you think you’re worthy and your heart is so pure
If your love and devotion do shine
Then death will pay tribute to the soldier and guidon
Just to carry the colors in line
Just to carry the colors in line

It’s a rare lad of courage, few chosen, few live
It’s a curse and a blessing, you see
It’s the brave and courageous who reach out their hand
To carry the colors for you and for me
To carry the colors for you and for me

It’s a few tattered pieces of blood, sweat, and tears
It’s a gold-plated memory to last through the years
And when the lad falters you’ll rush to the fore
Take the flag to your breast evermore

So beat the drums lively and play the fife’s sweet
As the wind blows the lady for sweet victory
It’s the brave and courageous who reach out their hand
To carry the colors for you and for me
To carry the colors for you and for me

At the head of the army, in front of the boys
On a long pole of hickory she flies
Yes I speak for my colors and I give her my love
Just to hold her so many have died
Just to hold her so many have died

And if you think you’re worthy and your heart is so pure
If your love and devotion do shine
Then death will pay tribute to the soldier and guidon
Just to carry the colors in line
Just to carry the colors in line

On the often smoky and confusing battlefields, large, colorful flags gave a sense of comfort and direction. Units stitched the names of battles they fought onto the banners. Holding the flag was an honor, but unfortunately as the most visible unit on the field, flag bearers were often targeted and had a short lifespan.

Capturing regimental colours was also considered a great honor. The U.S. Congress established the Medal of Honor in 1862 to recognize soldiers who distinguished themselves “conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity” in combat. Many were awarded to soldiers, like Second Lieutenant John E.B. Adams of the 19th Massachusetts, for capturing Confederate flags.

Adams was awarded the Medal of Honor for, “Seizing the 2 colors from the hands of a corporal and a lieutenant as they fell mortally wounded, and with a color in each hand advanced across the field to a point where the regiment was reformed on those colors.”

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About Michael Kleen

Michael Kleen is an author, raconteur, and freelance columnist. He has a M.A. in History and M.S. in Education. He lives in Rockford, Illinois, where he was the 2013 Republican candidate for mayor.

Posted on May 11, 2017, in History, Music and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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