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Flag Ceremony Question

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Okay RALLY commands.


To protect a column of soldiers marching down a road, one company from each regiment would send out skirmishers, a thin line of protection around the marching column so as to not have the enemy surprise the group while it was not in battlefield formation. One company walked single file on each side and a third company spread out in the front.


If a column was attached on any of these fronts it would sound the alarm and offer up a bit of defense until the marching army could form up in battleline ready to face the enemy. These skirmishers were lightly armed and had minimal defense against a major attack. If the attack was very sudden, i.e. a unit of cavalry, they would RALLY BY FOURS which meant the men would form a small square of 4 soldiers each facing in the 4 directions. That way they had a bit of protection in all for directions. If they had enough time they RALLY ON THE RESERVES. 1/3 of the company was held in reserve to replace men knocked out of action in a skirmish fight, at that command they would run back to the protection of the reserves and fall in on each flank forming a semi-circle of defense. If the battleline was ready to take on the enemy the command RALLY ON THE BATTALION was given. That means the skirmishers are to beat feet to either end of the battalion and get out of their way so the battleline could fire at the enemy. They would reform behind the battalion and then come back on line at the command of the battalion leader.


In the midst of a battle a company captain in order to regroup his company that may have had to retreat when a battle line was broken would take the identifier flag and call out to his men to rally on the flag so as to regroup his company back into a formation suitable for fighting in the style of combat at that time. The command was not official, but practical when the disheartened men saw their leader with the flag calling them back into the fight. Also in a major disruption of the battleline, the company captains would rally their men back into formation by rallying on the colors which meant they were to find their unit flag and get back to it so they could get back into the fight. In a mass melee, men could be spread out all over the place, but with only a few flags in the area, they would know which direction to start out in to find their friends. The flags were the tallest thing on the field and in the midst of battle confusion would be the only thing visible to the soldier that would enable him to get back to his unit and reform. This flag communication was important and thus very important for the flag to remain visible in the battle. To capture an enemy flag was to insure that enemy unit a low probability of reforming. To lose your flag or to have it "go down" and not be seen silences all visual communication for that unit. That is why it was so important to have 10-12 men specifically designated to insure that flag stayed upright and in the unit's possession. The color company was responsible for protecting the color guard and keeping them in the proper place on the field during the confusion of the battle.


Rally 'round the flag, was not an official command, but it was used to heroically call the men to form up when running away seemed like the best option at the time. :)


To the Color(s) was never a battlefield command. It was only used to call the men out of camps for parade to to the parade ground or for morning/evening flag ceremonies while in garrison.


Stosh(This message has been edited by jblake47)

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Cubs Scouts = herding cats

Boy Scouts = moderately trained cats

Venture Crew = mixture of trained and feral cats.. anything can happen.


If most of 'em are pointed the right way and the flag gets to the stand and back again without the "herd" getting lost, then put a Cap on it and call it good.


Keep it minimal, a nod to mean "go" and no commands other than "Salute" and "two".


The one thing most often done, the most "Uniformed Scouts" chosen to carry the flag.



(This message has been edited by dg98adams)

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For decades the command "Color Guard, Retreat" has been used in flag ceremonies at veteran's day ceremonies, memorial day ceremonies, 4th of July ceremonies, meetings, summer camps, etc. etc. etc. by the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, 4-H clubs, and various other civic organizations.


If someone wants to take offense now, you can't stop them (indeed, you would probably end up offending someone else if you changed it now and didn't use "Color Guard, Retreat"). Don't change what you've practiced with the boys now - it's not worth it. Frankly, it's not even worth worrying about in the future. If someone really wants to take offense, smile, nod and ignore them.


The veterans at the ceremony won't even be listening to the commands all that well - they'll just be so glad and proud to see your Cub Scouts conducting this ceremony that they wouldn't even care if the Cubs accidently let the flag touch the ground. They could drop the flag into the mud and most of the veterans will still come up to them to tell them they did a good job. Your instincts are right not to change things now - it just increases the chances for mishaps during the ceremony.


BTW - in the morning, Reveille is played while the color guard advances to the flag pole. To the Colors is played while the color guard is raising the flag. In the evening, Retreat is played while the color guard advances to the flag pole. To the Colors is played while the flag is lowered.


In the military, the color guard commands are spoken so that the color guard hears them, not the entire assembly. Other people may hear it, but for most people it won't be clear what's being said, only that some kind of command is being given. The person giving the commands is part of the color guard and walks with them - it isn't someone standing at the flag pole or in front of the room.


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Thanks. When the Girl Scouts break our Square I will know what to say. :)


One time when we tried to get the Troop together at Summer Camp I actually yelled "rally 'round the flag, boys" and heard a newbie yell "to the Troop flag, to the Troop flag!".


Coulda just said "stand by the Scoutmaster" but it just wasn't the same.

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In my experience, "Retreat" has been what we called our daily end-of-day flag ceremonies at camp. Thus, to avoid confusion, our summer camp used the command "Color guard: Return to your post" to direct the CG to head back after retiring the colors, and just before dismissing the camp to dinner.


As long as the ceremony is done with respect, dignity and practice, no one should really care what the words are that accompany it. Especially for Cub Scouts, though Boy Scouts and Venturers should be designing and executing their own ceremonies.(This message has been edited by shortridge)

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Question: When and how did "To the Color" become the bugle equivalent of the National Anthem.


After doing a bit of research, I think the better question is when did the National Anthem become the band equivalent of To the Color.


The history of To the Color is a bit hard to pin down. I've been unable to find out the composer or when it was composed. But - I did discover that To the Color was used in the US Civil War, so we know that it was in use as a military call in the 1861-1865 period.


Though the Star Spangled Banner was written during the War of 1812, it did not become the National Anthem until 1931. Prior to 1931, we didn't have a National Anthem. The first approved military use of the Star Spangled Banner was in the Navy in 1889, long after the Civil War ended.


To the Color came first, the National Anthem followed.


But to answer the question as posed, To the Color became the bugle equivalent of the National Anthem sometime after 1931 but only during flag raising and lowering ceremonies (and that's as precise as I'm able to get). In current usage, To the Color is used when there is no band available, when everything is being done by Bugle. Nowadays, it's rare to have either a bugle or a band present - the music is often provided by recordings (which could, if we're not careful, lead to the virtual extinction of the beautiful To the Color in flag ceremonies).



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The big disconnect in this process happened over the past 150 years.


During the Civil War, the last war fought with flags on the field, the commands were very clear and precise and military only. Battlefield tactics required the visual communication of the flag on the field, supplemented by the bugle to signal regimental commands to the officers of the companies and the drummer boys, re-translated those commands to the company soldiers. This is how the commanders relayed commands to the thousands of soldiers all over the field without the use of today's radios. Communication between armies was done by signal flags. The national flag was a military asset only. Civilians did not possess flags. Except on the battlefield where flags were carried, the only other flags displayed were on military and government garrisons/buildings/ships.


With the onset of WWI, flags were discontinued on the battlefield because in the trenches one did not need them and one didn't want to advertise to the enemy just who it was they were up against.


After WWI the use of the flag was becoming only garrison/government buildings/ships only. Congress introduced in the early 1920's the US Flag Code so that civilians could display the flag on private property and use them for ceremonial purposes other than the military.


Since that time the US Flag Code has undergone a lot of changes and being disconnected from the military, the traditions diverged. Bits and pieces of each went back and forth, but were and are not synchronized. Folding the flag in a triangle is military, not civilian. There is no flag folding procedure prescribed for civilians. Flags on coffins is not a military-only practice and any US citizen can have a flag draped coffin, that is prescribed in the civilian US Flag Code.


One can see an occasion "difference" and may think that something is "wrong", but not necessarily so. I do believe that an indoor ceremony, US military personnel stand at attention, do not salute, nor say the Pledge. Originally the placement of one's hand over the heart was for women and children only. Men only stood at attention. If they had a hat on, which they wouldn't in a building, they would take it off and place the hat over their heart, not hand. If they were outside and it was raining, they would only lift their hats a couple of inches over their heads and hold it there. When women and children were saying the pledge they would place their hand over their heart and say, "I pledge allegiance to the flag" and at that point extend their hands, palm up, towards the flag for the rest of the Pledge. Obviously this gesture was reminiscent of the Nazi salute (palm down), so it was discontinued during WWII.


The use of military commands during civilian ceremonies is purely discretionary. One can use any command they want because there is nothing expected in the civilian US Flag Code. Parades and display is definitely prescribed, but not ceremonies for a color guard.


Knowing the history of this whole process, I would recommend that whatever "tradition" a group adopts for a flag ceremony, it be within the guidelines of the US Flag Code and done respectfully. Such ceremonies can vary tremendously and still not be "wrong", just different.


Whatever "commands" one gives need only be understandable to the people needing to know. Now military personnel may smile when a command is given that brings to mind something else for them, but normally they don't mind as long as it is respectful. For example, RETREAT, MARCH means to march backwards, not turn around and march forward. :)


And to add a little flame to this post... :) Military and governmental uniforms can have the flag flying "backwards" on the right sleeve. Civilians aren't supposed to have the flag displayed in any way that isn't hanging and flying free, a symbol of the freedom we all share. So, in fact, the BSA uniform is not in compliance with the US Flag Code. :) The one practice that irks me is the horizontal display of the flag over the athletic field. The flag needs to be upright and free not displayed reminiscent of laying on the ground even if it "technically" isn't touching it. Symbolically it represents laying on the ground to me.


At one point there was quite an uproar in the US Postal Service who put a flag on the US postage stamp and then desecrated it by canceling the postage with an ink stamp. Of course that was back in the day when the Flag was held in a lot higher esteem than it is today.



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We are chartered to a VFW and if we ever suggested we retreat the colors we would have about 300 dead veterans. They refer to it as retiring the colors. Sounds only slightly better to me but I suppose if I was a retired soldier that kind of makes sense...



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Actually, Scouts do not have "color guards". As a former Color Guard commander, I have to point out that color guards are ALWAYS armed. Otherwise, how can they "guard" the colors?


Scouts are not supposed to be armed (even with symbolic or "parade" rifles) so therefore Scouts only have "flag details". And the proper command to retire a flag detail is "Detail, dismissed!"


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"Civilians did not possess flags. Except on the battlefield where flags were carried, the only other flags displayed were on military and government garrisons/buildings/ships. "


That may have been true in the U.S.A. It most definitely was not true in the C.S.A. Interestingly, the U.S.A. used the same flag for National and military. The C.S.A. had a different flag for the military from the National flag.

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Personally, I avoid flag ceremonies for Cub Scouts that involve marching around. Just too complicated for the Cub Scout I'm acquainted with.


I have two flag ceremonies I use:


1) Use a large flag and have WScouts unfurl it paralell to the ground. As many people as practical are invited to hold on to a convenient part of the flag with their left hand and salute/hand over heart with their right hand for the pledge.


2) A den or group of Scouts and adults hold the flag aloft on a pole, each holding the pole with their left hand while saluting/hand over hearting for the pledge.


Both of these often put people together with a degree of intimacy with each other and the flag. Much more personal and simpler.

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The flag codes does say that the flag should never be displayed horizontally/parallel with the ground. I know it's become popular to do it that way recently, even in very high-visibility circumstances, but I'd urge that the flag code and thence the flag, be honored.


I wasn't able to attend the ceremony Friday, but haven't heard of any issues. In the future we may go with "return to post" rather than "retreat". "Dismissed" makes it sound like they can head wherever and I want the dignity and respect to carry to a logical end. To me that means the color guard/detail stays in formation until leaving the eye of the audience and then they quietly go wherever they should be.


Thanks for all the history and feedback. I've become well-acquainted with the flag code during my tenure as a scouter, but less so with the history behind some of the traditions. I did manage to hold my tongue this week when my oldest son's scoutmaster talked about a flag retirement they'll be holding soon. His description implied that there was A ceremony and A specific way to retire a flag. I'm not sure I'll have opportunity to correct him in private or not. And while he's a reasonable guy in general, I'm not sure he'd truly listen anyway.

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TO THE COLOR(S) was a French bugle call for infantry use on the parade field. In the early 1800's General Winfield Scott translated the French manuals to English and adopted it for use with the US Army. Scott's Manual was used throughout the Mexican War. Just prior to the Civil War a new/revised version was written by Hardie from West Point. Both those manuals were used throughout the Civil War, Hardie's was renamed Casey's because Hardie went south and joined the CSA and so when the Federals used the manual, they didn't want a traitor's name on the manual. :)


TO THE COLOR(S) is an infantry call, never used by the navy, cavalry or artillery. Those branches did not need a call to muster the men to a parade field.


The color guard/flag detail does not salute. :) They were unarmed and the command was to present arms (weapons) to the color(s). They only stand at attention and recite the Pledge. This was the norm when the first US Flag Code came out, all males were not to salute, just stand at attention. If a scout is holding the flag, just hold with both hands and stand quiet. If they ran the flag up a lanyard, stand at the base of the pole at attention, looking at the flag.


For scouts, Woapalanne is correct. None of the scouts are armed so it is a flag detail and the commands should reflect this.


I have never heard of the tradition of the National Anthem being used in place of TO THE COLOR(S). The National Anthem is never used to present the color(s) any more than Scout Sign is part of a flag detail ceremony. Both those traditions are civilian additions. No problem, works nicely to lengthen the ceremony. God Bless America could also be used.


I have a problem with the horizontal display of the Flag in that it is explicitly expressed as not acceptable. A small flag held high and flying free by one scout is my preference every time. I do not accept the use of the shoulder patch as the focus of a flag ceremony either. It, too, is not appropriate according to the US Flag Code.


As far as CSA flags during the Civil War, the CSA National Flag WAS used extensively as a battlefield marker throughout the war!! The battle flags were the secondary colors like the Federals used state flags as the secondary colors. The Stars and Bars is NOT the Rebel flag we know of today. The Stars and Bars looked a lot like the US Flag but had only three stripes (bars). Red on top and bottom and white in the middle. It, too, had a blue union with 13 stars. On the battlefield it was often confused with the US Flag so they adopted the 2nd National Flag which was the "Sterling" Banner. It had a square union consisting of the St. Andrew's cross with 13 stars (similar to the Rebel flag but was square. The rest of the flag was all white. This however, caused problems in that it was often mistaken as a flag of truce. The 3rd National flag, which came out late in the war was the Sterling Banner with a wide red stripe running up and down on the fly end of the flag. Secondary flags varied a lot, South Carolina had the Bonnie Blue flag, Army of Northern Virginia had the only "Rebel Flag", and the rest of the units used either state flags or one they made up from scratch. Most of the St. Andrew's cross flags were square, not rectangular like Rebel flag is portrayed today. The Confederate Union Jack (gunboats/ships) were rectangular like the ANV Rebel flag.


The modern Rebel flag represented only the Army of Northern Virginia during the war (Lee's command). An interesting bit of trivia for all.... When Georgia got in trouble a few years back for having the "Rebel Flag" on their state flag, the people got all up in arms and demanded they change it. Ignorance is bliss because the State of George adopted a new state flag. It has a blue union, with 3 wide stripes on it. Red on top and bottom and white in the middle. They put a symbol of columns in the union instead of the 13 stars of the "Stars and Bars"! :) So they in fact traded out the unofficial battle flag of Northern Virginia for the CSA National Flag and 99% of the population was now satisfied. Go figure! :)


One has to understand a little history and tradition so as not to jump out of the fry pan into the fire.


I would suggest for a flag detail of Cub Scouts. Line them up and instruct them where they are to stand after they march in. Then say PRESENT THE COLORS. The boys respectfully walk in to their assigned places for the ceremony. When done, RETURN TO POST and they come back to their original spot to be dismissed. It should be simple enough for even the Tigers to figure out and be part of the ceremony when it's their turn. Mom or dad getting a picture of junior bringing in the flag is not a sign of disrespect, but one of great pride for the honor given to their boy. This should not be discouraged in anyway.





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