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Battle Honors and The Origin Of Campaign Streamers and Decorations

What was the origin of battle honors that today are recognized by battle streamers on the regimental flags of the Army and Marine Corps and those of higher units as well as Navy and Coast Guard units?  Today all the military services award campaign medals suspended from ribbons of the same colors as the battle streamers which are attached to the unit flag.

Battle honors were first depicted by inscribing the names of battles on the organizational color or guidon. On 25 August 1861, Major General John C. Fremont, commanding the Western Department, commended troops from Iowa, Kansas, and Missouri for their extraordinary service in the battle of Wilson’s Creek, near Springfield, Missouri which had occurred 10 days earlier. The Union soldiers had fought a Confederate force five times as large and the battle ended in a moral victory for the Union Army. Fremont ordered the word “Springfield” to be emblazoned on the colors of the units involved in the fighting. War Department General Order 19,  22 February 1862, prescribed that there should be inscribed upon the color or guidons of all regiments and batteries the names of the battles in which they had borne a meritorious part.  Over time this became very cumbersom and the Army began using campaign streamers in 1920.  The Coast Guard adopted the practice in 1968 following the precedent of the Marine Corps and the Navy.  The Coast Guard and Marine Corps Civil War streamer is a plain unadorned ribbon.  The Navy has three silver stars on the Civil War streamer to commemorate 15 actions in which naval personnel and ships participated. The Army flag has 25 streamers each adorned with battle and campaign names such as “Antietam”,”Atlanta” or “Peninsula”.  Interestingly there were no awards to recognize any battles or campaigns in the Trans-Mississippi Theater, which was all the country west of the Mississippi River in Missouri, Arkansas, Texas and western Louisiana plus the Indian Territory (Oklahoma), not to mention Kansas, and the territories of Arizona and New Mexico.  Notable battles such as Pea Ridge, which preserved Missouri for the Union, Wilson’s Creek, Westport (now Kansas City), the Red River Campaign, Prices 1864 Raid and many others have received no recognition and the white, black, brown or red soldiers in both blue and gray are in this case officially ignored.   Please refer to my website to read the petition we are using to gather signatures to ask for a remedy for this oversight. See www.civilwartriviajunkie.com and click on the petition tag.  The list of all the Campaigns is included in my book Collections Of A Civil War Trivia Junkie, available from Amazon. 

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