'His heart's blood has written upon the flag he loved so well...'
You've never heard of Sgt. George Poundstone of tiny Grand Ridge, IL. Poundstone was a member if the 53rd Illinois infantry regiment that mustered in during 1862. He had what, at the time, was considered one of the most important - and dangerous - jobs in the regiment; he carried the flag into battle.
I described the job of the color bearers during the Civil War here:
There was no more deadly job in the Union Army than color bearer - and none more honored. Carrying the flag into battle made one an instant target, the enemy believing quite correctly that killing the color bearer would sap the will to fight in their opponents. It became a point of honor for a regiment that if the standard bearer fell, another would immediately pick the fallen flag off the ground and take his place. There was a reverence for the flag then, a feeling of personal responsibility for upholding what it represented. It was a tangible way for these men to express something inexpressible that lived in their breasts and enabled them to march into almost certain death and remain while their comrades fell around them. The flag gave them courage while reminding them of what they were fighting for.
Poundstone was no different than a lot of color bearers at the time. The job was usually given to the bravest, the most reliable members of the regiment in battle. As it turned out, Poundstone didn't disappoint his brothers.
From a Memorial Day article by Charles Stanley in my hometown paper, the Streator Times:
Mortally wounded Civil War Sgt. George Poundstone of Grand Ridge was bleeding very badly on the battlefield. But his focus was on saving his country's flag.
Hoping to keep his regiment's U.S. flag from Confederate forces after a battle, Poundstone stuffed it in his tunic.
Today the flag, visibly stained with Poundstone's blood, is stored flat in a cabinet in Springfield with hundreds of other similar fragile banners.
They are waiting for the day when funds can be raised to restore them to a condition where they again can be seen and perhaps shared with their home communities.
That battle was like a lot of Civil War battles; a useless charge that accomplished nothing but adding to the butcher's bill:
After the battle, a Confederate patrol brought back to Jackson three Union flags and 200 prisoners, which included Poundstone, who had been shot in his thigh, left eye and heart.
After the news reached Grand Ridge, Sgt. Poundstone's father, Richard, and his brother, Samuel, headed south with a wagon, said Jeff Poundstone of Marseilles.
"His father said he would bring his son back to health or bring him back to bury him," said Jeff Poundstone.
"When he and Samuel arrived, the Confederates let them through the lines. As it turned out, George was dead before they got there. So they brought him back for burial."
What happened to the flag? No one is sure, but a story from the New York Times in 1885 indicates that the 53rd's standard ended up with the War Department, who returned the flag to the state of Illinois where it was put on display with other battle flags in the Capitol. The display was moved to the Centennial Building in the 1920's and could be seen until 2003 when the flags were removed and are now stored at Camp Lincoln.
This Memorial Day, I will think about Sgt. Poundstone and the blood he shed for the United States - blood that will forever be part of a flag that he tried to save and uphold the honor of his regiment and country.