The flag was an essential part of nineteenth century warfare and served many purposes. For one, they served a crucial role on the field of battle, as a visual reference for the men of the regiment's location amidst the confusion of the battle. In battle, the color-guards remained several feet back from the firing line to avoid being shot by their own men and to protect the flag. Small flank markers or general guide markers were also often carried at both flanks of the regiments. The lieutenants and sergeants positioned themselves behind the color-guards and the rest of the men to discourage potential deserters.
Secondly, the flags were used to rally the men during battle. Many victories would have been lost if not for a brave flag-bearer encouraging the men to fight on, while gripping the precious icon. To be a flag-bearer was a great honor despite the danger brought by carrying the colors and the high mortality rates of color-bearers.
The loss of a flag during battle represented the ultimate disgrace to a regiment, but to attain one from the enemy was the ultimate honor. Despite the imminent danger of carrying the colors, soldiers would risk their lives to prevent the color's capture, and lay down their arms to rescue the color from a fallen comrade.
Flags were a symbolic testament of the regiment's courage and valor. As such, many flags were adorned with battle honors either painted directly onto the stripes, or on supplementary battle ribbons or streamers attached to the staff. At the end of the war, some colors were so tattered and worn, soldiers commissioned the creation of new flags with honors to carry in the 1865 Grand Review and subsequent GAR parades.