The Flag Bearer – Part I

I came across this story as I was tracing relatives in my grandmother’s branch of the family. It’s always exciting to find connections between my genealogy and Civil War interests. Nathan Andrew Jackson (1838-1864) served as a flag bearer for 21st Mississippi Infantry .

Nathan Andrew Jackson (1838-1864)

Nathan was my grandmother’s great great uncle (brother to her great grandfather Thomas Andrew Jackson). The family moved to Mississippi from Georgia soon after the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit opened up Choctaw ancestral lands for white settlement. They became planters in Copiah County, about halfway between present day Jackson MS and Brookhaven MS.

Around 1855, Thomas Andrew relocated to Allen Parish, Louisiana. The rest of the Jackson family remained in Mississippi. Nathan married Martha Ann Smith (1842-1877) in 1858. They lived in Copiah County near Brookhaven.

Nathan was nearly seven feet tall. His unusual height must have made quite an impression among his neighbors. Following Nathan’s enlistment in the 21st Mississippi Infantry, his height earned him a special assignment in “C” Company. He was the flag bearer.

The regimental flag or “colors” served an important function in Civil War armies. In much the same way that sports teams rally around their mascot or school emblem, the regimental flag defined the identity of the fighting force. It was a matter of shame for a company flag to be captured by the enemy. There are numerous stories of soldiers who sacrificed their own lives to save the flag.

Yes, we’ll rally ’round the flag, boysWe’ll rally ’round againShouting the battle cry of freedom

We tend to picture the United States flag (or the Stars and Stripes) when we sing this song. But soldiers of the Civil War era would have sung this song to their regimental flag.

During battle, flags allowed generals to identify the location of various companies under their command. Troops followed their flag. As long as it stayed in the field, men would stand and fight to defend the position. A flag bearer had to be uniquely brave and trustworthy. He literally led the regiment into battle. Officers communicated closely with the flag bearer to move combat units into the correct place.

When seven foot Nathan Jackson reported to Manassas Virginia to muster into 21st Mississippi, his commanding officer knew exactly where to assign the 22 year old.

Austin A. Trescott, Company A, 21st Mississippi Infantry, holding the regiment’s battle flag

Lost Cause Statement