"Loss" of Colors

  1. There is no official definition of the term "loss of colors." However, the term, in common usage, refers to the capture of a unit's colors (flags) by the enemy in battle, or the taking away of a unit's colors as a punishment or disciplinary measure.

  2. "Colors" or unit standards have historically served as a means of identifying units of the battlefield. During the Civil War, men were trained to follow their colors in battle, to "rally" around them, and generally to use them to maintain unit cohesiveness. Unit colors were a great source of pride, and victories or defeats were often expressed in terms of colors being captured from or lost to the enemy. During the Civil War, many awards of the Medal of Honor were made for the capture or defense of colors. Even then, however units which lost their colors remained intact and continued to fight.

  3. Modern warfare tactics do not call for rallying points in the open, with large numbers of men performing intricate maneuvers. Therefore, today's armies use colors in ceremonies but do not carry them into battle.

  4. Official Army records contain no mention of any unit of the United States Army having lost its colors to the enemy during World War II, the Korean War, or the war in Vietnam. There is also no record of any unit having its colors taken away as a punishment for any action at any time in the history of the United States Army.

  5. There have been several rumors concerning various units losing their colors. These are generally false. Some of these include:

    1. The 1st Cavalry Division in Korea. The incident that apparently gave rise to this false rumor appears to be the Unsan Engagement which took place on 1 and 2 November 1950 at Unsan, Korea. In that battle, the 8th Cavalry, a component of the 1st Cavalry Division, was pushed back from positions in and around the town of Unsan by vastly superior Chinese forces. The regiment was severely battered, suffering heavy casualties and losing a considerable amount of equipment. This was one of the first major Chinese operations in the Korean War and, like the Changjin (Chosin) Reservoir Battle of this same period, it took the United Nations Command by surprise. Considering the circumstances, the 8th Cavalry fought very well, and it has never been criticized for its conduct in this operation.

    2. The question of the loss of colors by the 7th Cavalry at Little Big Horn has also generated considerable debate. Although this office has no conclusive evidence one way or the other, it has been suggested that Custer's personal flag along with several troop guidons were taken, but that the regimental flag was not captured. A regimental flag subsequently turned up at the Custer Battlefield National Monument in Crow Agency, Montana, but it has never been verified that this was the flag at Little Big Horn. There is also a rumor that the 7th Cavalry lost its colors in Korea. This can be tracked back to the 7th's association with the 1st Cavalry Division and the incident detailed in para 5a (above).

    3. It was also suggested that the 27th Infantry lost its colors. This rumor was traced by Mr. John Wike, [a historian in] this office, to a request made by the regimental commanding officer, August 19, 1919, on the basis that the old colors, which were fourteen years old, had become "so rotten that [they] cannot be repaired." The replacement colors somehow were missent to the Philippine Islands Quartermaster Depot, where they were discovered during an inventory nine years later. Meanwhile, on April 21, 1922, the 27th's commanding officer again made a request for new colors. In doing so, he stated that the regimental colors then in use were so tattered and torn as to present an unsightly appearance, having been in service for more than sixteen years.

    4. These are not the only units rumored to have lost their colors. They are, however, the ones most frequently mentioned regarding the issue of "loss of colors."

    Prepared 6 January 1994 by DAMH-HSO [Later DAMH-FPO]