Civil War Flags

The Color Bearer Tradition

The War Between the States was the heyday of American battleflags and their
bearers. With unusualhistorical accuracy, many stirring battle paintings show
the colors and their intrepid bearers in the forefront of the fray or as a
rallying point in a retreat. The colors of a Civil War regiment embodied its
honor, and the men chosen to bear them made up an elite. Tall, muscular men
were preferred, because holding aloft a large, heavy banner, to keep it
visible through battle smoke and at a distance,
demanded physical strength. Courage was likewise required to carry a flag
into combat, as the colors "drew lead like a magnet." South Carolina's
Palmetto Sharpshooters, for example, lost 10 out of 11 of its bearers and
color guard at the Battle of Seven Pines, the flag passing through four hands
without touching the ground.



Birth and Early Life in Charleston

Born in Charleston in 1824, Charles Edmiston and his twin sister, Ellen Ann,
were the third son and second daughter, respectively, of newspaper editor
Joseph Whilden and his wife, Elizabeth Gilbert Whilden. The births of two
more sons, Richard Furman in 1826 and William Gilbert in 1828, would complete
the family, making seven children in all. Young Charles' roots ran deep into
the soil of the lowcountry. His Whilden ancestors had settled in the
Charleston area in the 1690's, and an ancestor on his mother's side, the Rev.
William Screven, had arrived in South Carolina even earlier, establishing the
First Baptist Church of Charleston in 1683, today the oldest church in the
Southern Baptist Convention. Like many Southerners who came of age in the
late antebellum period, Charles
Whilden took pride in his ancestors' role in the American Revolution,
especially his grandfather, Joseph Whilden, who, at 18, had run away from his
family's plantation in Christ Church Parish to join the forces under
Brigadier General Francis "Swamp Fox" Marion fighting the British.

At the time of Charles' birth, the family of Joseph and Elizabeth Whilden
lived comfortably in their home on Magazine Street, attended by their devoted
slave, Juno Waller Seymour, a diminutive, energetic black woman known as
"Maumer Juno" to four generations of the Whilden family. Raised
by Maumer Juno from the cradle, Charles soon developed a strong attachment to
the woman - an attachment that would endure to the end of his life. The
prosperity of Joseph Whilden and his family would prove less enduring,
however, and business reversals, beginning in the late 1820's, combined with
Joseph's stroke a few years later and his eventual death in 1838, would
reduce his family to genteel poverty. To help make ends meet, Maumer Juno
took in ironing. Despite a lack of money for college, young Charles managed
to obtain a good education. Details about Charles' schooling are sketchy, but
the polished prose of his surviving letters reflects a practiced hand and a
cultivated intellect. Charles' admission to the South Carolina bar at
Columbia in 1845 is further evidence of a triumph of intellect and effort
over financial adversity.

In the closing decades of the antebellum period, when Charles Whilden was
growing up in Charleston, the city was the commercial and cultural center of
the lowcountry as well as South Carolina's manufacturing center and most
cosmopolitan city. By the time Charles Whilden reached adulthood, however,
the Charleston economy was in decline, and the city's population would
actually diminish during the decade of the 1850's. Not surprisingly, after a
brief attempt to establish a law practice in Charleston, Attorney Whilden
chose to seek his fortune outside his home town. But the practice of law in
the upcountry town of Pendleton also failed to pan out for Whilden.
Confronted with a major career decision, Whilden elected not only to leave
the law but also to leave the Palmetto State for the north.

The 1850 federal censustakers found Charles Whilden living in a boarding
house in Detroit, Michigan, where he worked as a clerk, probably in a
newspaper office. Speculation in copper stocks and land on Lake Superior soon
left Charles deeply in debt to his youngest brother, William, who had built
up a successful merchandising business back home in Charleston. Desperate to
get out of debt, and perhaps