By definition, a color guard is a detachment of soldiers assigned to the protection of regimental colors and the national flag. Historically, this duty was so prestigious that the color (usually the nation’s color) was generally carried by a young officer, while an experienced non-commissioned officer, the color sergeant, was assigned to the protection of it by carrying rifles and/or sabres.
History of The Color Guard
Throughout history, the tradition of the color guard was incredibly important and honorable. The color sergeant led the troops into battle proudly raising the colors into the sky as the guard marched around him in cadence. Although normally protected by six corporals, it remained a very dangerous assignment and it was considered a high honor usually reserved for the bravest and strongest soldiers. The flags they carried represented the reputation of the unit and were not to be surrendered, creating a sense of power and unity.
In 1814 during a battle fought between Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee, a Union color sergeant during the close, intense fighting was gravely injured. As Sergeant Charles E. Morse saw his color sergeant dying in the field, he rushed to his side, grabbed the colors and raised them into the air, continued the rallying cry through the entire battle.
As years and technology progressed, so did shooting accuracy in battle. The position of the sergeant color began to grow more dangerous, eventually leading to the decision of abolishing the rank altogether; however, the tradition of the color guard still remains today. The drills and ceremonies soldiers participate in still share the important values that the color guard was built on centuries ago.
The Color Guard Today
Oftentimes you will see the soldiers participating in ceremonies like military retirements, change of commands, funerals, and commissioning ceremonies. Additionally, in these modern times, a few other organizations have begun to adopt the color guard traditions and put their own twist on it, while still maintaining the historical importance.
For example, you will commonly find high school students join their color guard to interpret the music that the marching band or drumline is playing via the synchronized work of flags, sabres, rifles, and even through dance at high school sporting games.
Speaking of sorts, at professional sporting games, a group of cadets will come out in formal dress fully equipped with their flags, rifles, and sabres during the national anthem to show their respect to our great nation and all that it entails.
Through the centuries and all the adaptations of the color guard, there is one thing that has always remained, the soldiers who make up a color guard play a pivotal role in honoring tradition and paying respect to those serving, both present and past.