ROOTS-L ArchivesArchiver > ROOTS > 2008-06 > 1214527906
From: "Bob Hoover" <>
Subject: Re: [ROOTS-L] ROOTS Digest, Vol 3, Issue 386
Date: Thu, 26 Jun 2008 20:51:46 -0400
> 10. Ensign of Foot (Dalle, Nancy)
> I'm researching some very old ancestor's and one of them says he was an
> Ensign of Foot.
> Does anyone know exactly what this means?
At one time in the British Army the lowest ranking officer was an Ensign
(like a 2nd Lt. today). This was true up until at least the end of the
Napoleonic Wars and I'm not sure when it changed. Usually there two ensigns
for a regiment and they were the ones who carried the Regimental Flag and
the British National Colors into battle. They were protected by the 'Color
Sergeant's and the 'Color Guard'. Usually the Sergeant was armed with a
short pike but I am not sure what the rest of the Guards carried. Needless
to say, these could be very dangerous positions since the enemy frequently
tried to take the Colors as a show of bravery and to humiliate the enemy.
Since this was considered a very great insult, most regiments would do all
that they could to preserve (keep) their colors. The only other insult or
humiliation that comes any near this is for infantry to be known as 'Square
Regiments were usually either 'Foot' [or Foote] (infantry) or 'Horse'
(cavalry). A 'Guard' regiment could be either.
Just some additional thoughts [tidbits of useless information]: :-))
The importance of the 'Colors' faded away when fighting no longer consisted
of infantry or cavalry maneuvering and fighting literally 'shoulder to
shoulder'. The Regimental Colors were the heart and soul of a regiment. If
they went forward, you had to go forward. If they stood still, you could
stop or keep advancing. It was considered a sign of great cowardice to
retreat before the Colors started to fall back. Perhaps the importance of
the Colors is shown by the actions of both sides during our Civil War. It
was not uncommon for a Federal soldier who captured a Confederate Flag to
receive the new Medal of Honor. On both sides, it could also lead to
promotion. Two good examples showing the importance attached to the Colors
are the Battle of Gettysburg, particularly on July 1st at the railroad cut
where both sides were literally 'slugging it out' over the Confederate
Battle Flags and the Confederates at Appomattox. The Confederates were to
surrender all of their Battle Flags but a number of regiments tore their's
up so the Yankees would not get their beloved flag and each man carried home
a piece of it.
The 'square' was the only formation in which an infantry unit could
successfully resist a cavalry charge. It was composed of four sides
consisting of three ranks (lines) each and the Colors in the middle of the
square with the officers. The front rank knelt with grounded bayoneted
rifles held out an angle while the other two lines would 'present' bayoneted
rifles on the level. Cavalry horses usually took one look at this hedgehog
of bayonets and decided it was best not to attack them. I think this showed
the horses had greater sense than their riders since they were usually
forced to attack anyway. LOL I have also heard that the square was formed
on a few occasions during the Civil War but have never seen definite proof
of this being done.
The square was somewhat 'iffy' against infantry as shown by the British in
either Afghanistan or Africa in the mid 1800's. If you want to start a
fight, there is one particular regiment (a Scottish Guard regiment I think
but I forget it's name and number) even today, just call them 'Square
Breakers'. I believe it was against native infantry that simply kept coming
over their own dead.
The most dangerous possibilities for a square was for artillery to be
brought up and fired at it since it could take out men on two sides and
there was no defense against canon balls, one or more of the attacking
cavalry's dead horses careen into one side of the square temporarily
breaking it or for other infantry on their side seek safety within the
square's center thereby disrupting the solid lines of bayonets. Once one
side of the square broke, the square was pretty much a death trap for the
unit making it, especially against cavalry.
(Just out of curiosity, how did a British ARMY rank became a US NAVY
Hope all of this information helps.
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