“Give Us a Flag”


"Oh, Fremont he told them when the war it first begun How to save the Union and the way it should be done, But... Old Abe he had his fears Till ev'ry hope was lost but the colored volunteers." The war went badly until Black troops were used


The Union first began enlisting black troops (informally) in 1862. By the end of that year, four regiments were raised, only to have Lincoln shut them down. After the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation, however, Lincoln allowed the formation of (segregated) "colored" regiments.

In the end, over a hundred and fifty such regiments were raised. Their performance was mixed -- but this was probably the fault of the (white) officers rather than the black troops. A large fraction of the officers in the "colored" regiments were soldiers who had given up on promotion in the white army, and shifted to the "Colored" troops to get ahead.

The "colored" troops had other reasons for bad morale; their pay was much lower than their white counterparts, and their equipment less good. And soldiers from both sides looked down on them.

Among the references in this song are:

"Fremont he told them when the war was just begun" -- General John C. Fremont was the first theatre commander west of the Mississippi. He was a bad general but a good Free Soiler, and proposed the raising of Black regiments.

"McClellan went to Richmond with two hundred thousand brave" -- refers to McClellan's Peninsular Campaign of 1862. McClellan was a conservative Democrat, and did not want the war to interfere with slavery. The song exaggerates his forces (he had about 120,000 men in the Peninsula), but correctly notes that his campaign failed.

"The 54th" presumably refers to the 54th Massachusetts, perhaps the most distinguished of the "colored" regiments. It fought in the unsuccessful assault on Fort Wagner (outside Charleston; July 18, 1863), and suffered roughly 40% casualties.

The phrase "Give Us a Flag" is a request for a regimental standard. - RBW


  1. Silber-CivWar, p. 64-65, "Give Us a Flag" (1 text, 1 tune)
  2. Roud #11631
  3. BI, SCW064


Author: unknown