U.S. Army Red over White Guidon, Troop E, 6th US Cavalry.
If the woolen threads of this guidon flown by E Troop of the "Fighting Sixth" could speak they would tell stories of long voyages across the Pacific for service in Asia. They would include stories of defiance by Boxer rebels and of grateful embraces by rescued civilians in China; of danger from malarial mosquitoes as well as from bullets in the jungles of the Philippines. They would also tell stories of dangers closer to home, such as those of men and horses suffering the heat along the United States' southern border in order to catch violent spillover from the Mexican Revolution.
This guidon has borne silent witness to all that and more, but cannot speak and therefore appeals to us to record its history. It is an example of the bigger style of guidon used by American mounted troops for nearly a century, from the 1830s through to 1931. That year the Army adopted today's smaller 27" x 20" guidon-a foot shorter in length, half a foot shorter in width, and with only half the surface area of the guidon you see here. Cotton often replaced wool during the Second World War and, after the war, nylon and rayon were preferred. So, as much as the battles it has survived, this large wool guidon's construction and composition recall vanished times.
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.
The 6th United States Cavalry takes inspiration from the Latin Ducit Amore Patriae for its motto: "Led by Love of Country." Its soldiers have loved, fought for, and died for their country for nearly a century and a half on battlefields from Antietam to Iraq and Afghanistan. Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln occupied the White House in 1861 when the 6th became the last regular mounted Army regiment formed to fight the Civil War. From its recruiting headquarters in Pittsburgh the 6th Cavalry enlisted Civil War soldiers from Pennsylvania, western New York, and eastern Ohio, joining combat in December.
The Army replaced the red-over-white design of its silk Cavalry guidons with stars and stripes in 1862. Taking the American flag into combat was not yet an honor given to Cavalry regiments, who therefore used instead the starred and striped guidons. In winning sixteen campaign streamers and three Medals of Honor, the 6th saw action in every major campaign waged by the Army of the Potomac under a succession of commanders: McClellan, Burnside, Hooker, Meade, and, unofficially, Grant. The 6th fought in the Peninsula Campaign, at Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Fairfield, the Wilderness, Petersburg, Shenandoah Valley, Spotsylvania Court House, and in the war-ending Appomattox Campaign of 1865.
In July 1863 at the Battle of Fairfield in Pennsylvania, the 6th placed itself in the path of two brigades of J.E.B. Stuart's Confederate cavalry. Though Stuart demolished the 6th, their courage and stubbornness slowed his ride around the Union Army and helped prevent victory by Robert E. Lee at nearby Gettysburg, decisively ending Lee's invasion of the North. Private George Platt, a young Irish immigrant from Londonderry, won the Medal of Honor for preventing capture of the regimental standard.
After the Civil War the 6th moved to Austin, Texas to assist in the Reconstruction. Its soldiers endured the hatred of the local white population for enforcing martial law, supervising free elections, and protecting freed blacks in their newly granted right to vote. The 6th also guarded courts and battled criminal gangs.
In 1871, the 6th began an era of hard campaigning against Native American Indian tribes in Kansas, Texas, New Mexico, the Oklahoma Panhandle, and Arizona. This climaxed in the role the 6th played in forcing surrender by the feared Chiricahua Apache chief Geronimo at Skeleton Canyon, Arizona in 1886. The previous year, having finally received the honor of carrying the American flag into battle, the Cavalry had returned to using its red-over-white guidon design.
Late in the 1880s, the 6th moved to New Mexico and settled into a routine of garrison duty, patrolling, building quarters, and improving life at western army posts. But in 1890 the regiment again took to the field against the Sioux on the Pine Ridge Reservation in the Dakotas and participated in the famous (or infamous) Battle of Wounded Knee. Then two years later on the plains of Wyoming, the 6th helped end the bloodshed known as the War on the Powder River or the Johnson County War. This range war among big cattlemen and small ranchers, sheriff's deputies, and hired killers has inspired popular novels like The Virginian, The Ox-Bow Incident, and Shane, as well as films like Heaven's Gate and The Cheyenne Social Club.
During the 1890s in Yellowstone and Yosemite National Parks, the 6th also began performing the duties later given to the National Park Service, not established until 1916. In 1872, Congress and President Grant had created Yellowstone as the first national park, but failed to provide adequate supervision. As a result, poachers, loggers, graffiti artists, careless amateur geologists, grazing livestock, and unchecked wildfires mocked the intention to preserve the breathtaking beauty of the parks. Tour guides even ran bath and laundry facilities at Yellowstone's hot springs. So the 6th received orders to stop the abuses, fight fires, build roads, and set up regulated campgrounds. At Yellowstone the regiment's guardianship resulted in establishment of a permanent military post, Fort Yellowstone, which remains as the park's headquarters and still includes a cemetery where five soldiers from the 6th were buried.
The guidons that U.S. Cavalry regiments followed into battle starting in the 1830s were sewn from silk. But in 1890 the Cavalry had debuted rugged wool "Service Guidons" intended for day-to-day use and more fit than silk guidons for the rigors of combat. This enabled regiments to save their silk guidons for display on parade.
The first combat for the new wool guidons arrived in 1898 with the Spanish-American War. Together with the 3rd and 9th Cavalries, the 6th formed the 1st Cavalry Brigade under General Samuel Sumner as part of Major General Joseph Wheeler's Cavalry Division. However, limited transport space deprived the 6th of their horses for the invasion of Cuba. A cavalry in name only, they charged up San Juan Hill into a storm of bullets on foot alongside Teddy Roosevelt's "Rough Riders" of the 1st Volunteer Cavalry-likewise horseless except for Roosevelt himself! Roosevelt, the bespectacled future President, had resigned as Assistant Secretary of the Navy in order to taste combat only months short of his fortieth birthday. He called the charge "great fun" and "a bully fight" and became a national hero, although political infighting would deny him the Medal of Honor during his lifetime. But if none of the soldiers of the 6th won the renown that Roosevelt did, its men had also endured the deadliest battle of the war on San Juan Hill, their wool guidon flying high throughout. Back in the saddle in 1900 the 6th shipped out to China with the wool guidon you see here. This was distinguished from its wool brethren which had been introduced in 1895 by stitching on the zigzag sewing machine, in use since 1899 as flag-makers accelerated production to keep up with the Cavalry's rising numbers. Once ashore the 6th played a role in the multinational China Relief Expedition. This was devised to rescue Americans, Europeans, and other foreign nationals endangered by the Boxer Rebellion. After also taking a hand in suppressing the uprising, the 6th returned to the United States in 1903 where it soon found itself crossing the Pacific once more just four years later. This time the regiment posted its colors in the Philippines, where a Muslim people called the Moros sought a separate nation. In 1909 the 6th helped defeat the Moros in a major battle on the volcanic island of Jolo.
In 1910 the start of its Revolution threw Mexico into turmoil, with violence sometimes bursting across its northern border. In response the U.S. Army stationed troops at strategic points from Brownsville, Texas to San Diego, California for the sake of thwarting rebels and bandits looking to benefit from the chaos. The 6th came back from the Philippines for tense patrols along the Mexican border and, in 1916 assisted General "Black Jack" Pershing's failed Mexican Expedition aimed at capturing Pancho Villa to end his cross-border raids.
The 6th traveled to France in the spring of 1918, but the November Armistice arrived before they could face combat. They returned to permanent stationing at Fort Oglethorpe in Georgia, to interwar "spit and polish" status, and, in 1921, to the last farewell of the silk guidon. Now the way of life of the 6th became military equine tournaments, polo and other team sports, parades, troop reviews, and marches and maneuvers in Alabama, Tennessee, and South Carolina. Then President Roosevelt's creation in 1933 of the Civilian Conservation Corps obliged men from the 6th to supply organization and instruction to civilians who received better wages than the soldiers training them.
With the invention of the machine gun horses became useless on the battlefield by this time, and at Fort Oglethorpe the 6th began experimenting with jeeps, motorcycles, and armored cars. So the new 6th Cavalry (Mechanized) which reached Northern Ireland in 1942 brought no horses. On July 9, 1944-thirty-three days after D-Day-they landed on France's Normandy coast as part of General George S. Patton's legendary Third Army, going on to 281 days of continuous and victorious combat. The 6th earned five battle streamers for their distinguished service and received the Presidential Unit Citation for its part in the Battle of the Bulge of 1944 and 1945.
The 6th remained with the Allied Occupation forces in postwar Germany, patrolling the rugged mountain terrain along the German-Czech border. They also helped with the rebuilding of Germany and worked at schools and orphanages. In gratitude, the Bavarian Government gave the 6th a silver plaque embossed with the Shield of Bavaria-the only known official recognition of an American military unit by the government of any of the German states.
The unit reorganized in 1948 as the 6th Armored Cavalry Regiment, then again in 1973 as the 6th Cavalry Brigade (Air Combat). Its post-World War II duties have included testing the use of attack helicopters on the battlefield and, in the 1990s, deployment to Korea. In 1990 and 1991 some of the brigade's subordinate units posted to Iraq for Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
Since September 11, 2001, elements of the 6th have served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Today the 6th Cavalry Brigade's various squadrons use helicopters to perform crucial missions of reconnaissance for different parent units in order to make their forays into combat safer and more effective.
Since its founding right before for the Civil War, many things about the 6th have changed. The regiment has experienced a radical growth in ethnic diversity, thorough integration of women to its ranks, as well as the permanent pasturing of its horses. Accordingly, many things about the guidon flown by the 6th have changed as well. However, the courage, sense of unity, and reverence for the history of 6th that its soldiers draw today from their nylon, machine-sewn, 27" x 20" symbol remains.
ZFC Significant Flag
• Troop E, 6th U.S. Cavalry, circa1898 - 1912
• Acquired by Thomas F. Aldon Collection, until passing in 2009.
• Sold via Cowan's of Cincinnati, Ohio to Zaricor Flag Collection, 2010