U.S. Army Red over White Guidon, Troop A, 3rd US Cavalry
This unassuming red over white wool guidon made nearly a century ago represents a distinguished Cavalry regiment associated with legends like Winfield Scott, Kit Carson, Buffalo Bill Cody, and George S. Patton.
In the United States Army a guidon is a flag that a company carries to signify its unit designation and corps affiliation. A basic U.S. Cavalry guidon is rectangular with a wedge-shaped slice cut out, leaving a "swallow-tailed" appearance. The name guidon dates back to the Middle Ages when a company of French dragoons would often use a small flag to guide men or "guide hommes." This became the English "guide upon" and, ultimately, "guidon." When the U.S. Army reauthorized a mounted service in 1833, its guidons followed the design of the pennants made famous by Polish lancers during the Napoleonic Wars: a red upper half above a white lower half. The guidon is a source of both identity and pride for the unit it represents.
Congress created the 3rd Cavalry in 1846 as the Regiment of Mounted Riflemen, assigning them to establish military posts from Missouri to the Columbia River in the Oregon Country. Arming mounted soldiers with percussion rifles which possessed greater range and accuracy than smoothbore infantry muskets or dragoon carbines, was new to the United States Army. But foot soldiers would have stood little chance against mounted Native American Indians and the increased mobility, and therefore versatility, of mounted troops also made them more economical. Besides protecting Americans living on or moving to the frontier, mounted men could carry the mail and act as messengers.
Yet nostalgia may have played a role in creation of the 3rd as well: one Congressman voted to raise the regiment simply because Americans had once been the world's greatest riflemen but had apparently fallen behind the Europeans. Georgia Congressman Hugh Haralson's list of requirements for the Mounted Riflemen foretold a hard life: "We want men acquainted with pioneer life, who have been accustomed to the woods-men who can sit in the saddle, and who know how to manage a horse, and the use of the never-failing rifle who can pursue an enemy, and whose habit of life are such, that they can wrap themselves in a blanket at night, and comfortably in the open air, contented to be in the service of their country."
However, the horsemanship, ruggedness, loyalty, and marksmanship of the Mounted Riflemen would not serve to guard the Oregon Trail right away. Almost immediately upon their founding, they joined General Winfield Scott's Army for the War with Mexico and in 1847 they helped with the capture of Vera Cruz.
In Mexico the Mounted Riflemen also won fame by leading the advancing forces in the final battle at Chapultepec and by hoisting the American flag over the Mexican National Palace. They would distinguish themselves in six campaigns and, after ferocious combat at Contreras, enjoy the honor of a bow from General Scott, who proclaimed, "Brave Rifles! Veterans! You have been baptized in fire and blood and have come out steel." From Scott's words derive the regiment's nickname, "Brave Rifles," and its motto, "Blood and Steel."
In 1847 the famous frontiersman Christopher "Kit" Carson had been appointed a Lieutenant of Rifles in Company C of the 3rd. Yet Congress refused to confirm the notoriously independent Carson's appointment, although Company C carried him on its rolls from May to December.
After the Mexican-American War, the Mounted Riflemen guarded against hostile Native American Indians in Oregon from 1849 to 1851, then in Texas and also, from 1856 on, in New Mexico up to the start of the Civil War. But in August 1861, the U.S. Army reorganized its mounted troops, re-designating the Mounted Riflemen as the 3rd United States Cavalry. As they remained in the West throughout the war's first several months, the 3rd helped defeat the Confederacy's attempt to seize New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and California, and then in 1862 transferred to Tennessee. With Memphis as their base, the 3rd saw action in Alabama at Barton Station, Cane Creek, and Dickinson's Station. They also served in the Chattanooga Campaign as part of the advance guard of Sherman's Army before moving, in 1864, to Little Rock, Arkansas. There they fought guerrilla forces, remaining after the war to conduct occupation duties.
In 1866 the Southwest again became home to the 3rd when they went back to New Mexico to put down an uprising of the Chiricahua Apaches, led by Geronimo. Operations against the Apaches occupied the men of the 3rd until their transfer to the Department of the Platte to fight the Plains Indians in the present-day states of Wyoming, Montana, the Dakotas, and Nebraska, in 1871. The following year, William "Buffalo Bill" Cody, serving the 3rd as a scout, won the Medal of Honor for gallantry in action against the Cheyenne Indians.
Several years later at the September 1876 Battle of Slim Buttes, the 3rd helped defeat Crazy Horse. From this battle they also had the grim privilege of recovering a handful of trophies taken by the Sioux from Custer's Last Stand at the Little Big Horn three months earlier, including a 7th Cavalry guidon from Company I, the bloody gauntlets (or protective gloves) of Company I's Irish-born commander, Captain Myles Keogh, and government-issued guns and ammunition.
The victory over the Plains Indians in 1877 enabled the 3rd to return to the Southwest where, from their base at Fort Thomas, Arizona, they campaigned against the Apaches until Geronimo's final surrender in 1886. No longer needed for the Indian Wars, the regiment dispersed to Texas, Vermont, Missouri, and elsewhere for a decade of garrison, training, and ceremonial duties.
During its first half-century of service, the 3rd often operated not as a whole, but split into individual companies serving where they were most needed. A company guidon would be the unit's only visible flag because the regiment's colonel held the regimental standard in his possession, often far from where he had posted one of his companies. The U.S. Cavalry's 27" x 41" silk guidons evolved from the red over white pattern of 1833 to the stars and stripes design introduced in 1862, and back again to red over white in 1885. Five years later, the Cavalry started issuing the same 27" x 41" red over white design in wool bunting to replace the less durable silk guidons in everyday use. After its long stretch of peacetime service, the 3rd would carry the new rugged wool guidon into combat in Cuba in 1898.
Oddly, the 3rd fought as infantry in Cuba yet limited space for transporting horses the short distance across the Caribbean forced the dismount of most U.S. Cavalrymen who saw combat there. But the need to fight on foot never kept the soldiers of the 3rd from exhibiting the brave rifles or the courage in the presence of blood and steel which had distinguished them since the Mexican-American War.
In the war against Spain, the 3rd took part in the attacks on San Juan and Kettle Hills, in each case being the first to raise the U.S. flag at the point of victory. During the bloody assault on San Juan Hill, Color Sergeant J.E. Andrews of the 3rd took a bullet to the stomach and tumbled back down the hill, still clutching the regimental colors. At this point Sergeant George Berry of the 10th Cavalry took the standard from Andrews and carried it, along with his own regiment's standard, up the slope, shouting, "Dress on the colors, boys, dress on the colors!" Berry ultimately planted both standards on the summit as American soldiers swarmed over the hill.
Spain's defeat meant American acquisition of the Philippine Islands, to where the 3rd was posted in 1899. Their enemy would be General Emilio Aguinaldo's Insurrectos, who sought a Filipino nation independent from the United States. The regiment took up residence on the island of Luzon, cultural and symbolic heartland of the Philippines and an Insurrecto stronghold. On Luzon the 3rd fought in more than thirty battles as part of the successful denial of Filipino independence-finally recognized by the U.S. in the Treaty of Manila on July 4, 1946, during the first wave of post-WWII creation of new independent nations.
Troop A of the 3rd probably received an issue of the guidon you see here in 1917, as they prepared at Fort Sam Houston in Texas for U.S. entry into the First World War. The regiment arrived in France in November 1917, almost exactly a year before the end of the war. They went on to operate three major remount stations for horse soldiers who scouted for enemy machine gun nests, provided courier service, gathered information, escorted prisoners of war, and supplied military policing.
During their stationing in the 1920s at Fort Meyer, Virginia, the 3rd became known as the President's Own. Due to their proximity to Arlington National Cemetery, they often furnished honor guards, escorts, and other ceremonial services, including dedication of the Tomb of the Unknowns. In 1931, long before the regiment would see its next hostilities in the Second World War, the Army replaced the 27" x 41" guidon with the smaller 20" x 27" model in use today.
The Army re-designated the regiment as the 3rd Cavalry Group (Mechanized) during WWII. After their 1944 landing in France, soldiers from the 3rd enjoyed the honor of being the first elements of General George S. Patton's legendary Third Army to penetrate Germany where, in May 1945, they also experienced the horror of the Nazis' "Final Solution" in the village of Ebensee (in present-day Austria). A concentration camp there held thousands of starving prisoners who were dying at the rate of approximately four hundred per day until soldiers from the 3rd pointed their guns at the village bakers to force a frenzied round-the-clock bread production.
Over the last six decades, the 3rd has given extensive Cold War service in Europe and then executed missions in the Persian Gulf War, as part of the Stabilization Force in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and in Afghanistan. Today these soldiers with their roots in combat on horseback in Mexico and in the Indian Wars continue to steel themselves against fire and bloodshed-symbolized by the old wool guidon in front of you-as A (Apache) Troop of the 1st Squadron (Tiger) of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment.
ZFC Significant Flag
• Troop E, 6th U.S. Cavalry, circa1912 - 1918
• Acquired by Thomas F. Aldon Collection, until passing in 2009.
• Sold via Cowan's of Cincinnati, Ohio to Zaricor Flag Collection, 2010