I bought this book when it was first published, never intending to actually read it. At the time I was still painting 15mm Civil War miniatures to use in battles with my historian friends, and being historians, we were all in an unspoken competition to have the most detailed, most accurate uniforms and flags for our troops. What drew me to this book was the gorgeous collection of color photo plates of Confederate flags in its center.

Turns out this book is a pretty remarkable feat of scholarship and research. Rollins starts with a couple chapters of explanation as to why battle flags were so important to Confederate units. In part they were cultural icons, symbols of the communities from which the units came—many, if not most, were sewn and presented to the units by the ladies of their city or county as their men mustered to march off to war. But the flags were also tactical control mechanisms, the primary way for commanders to command and order their units in the chaos of a deafening, smoky battlefield. Troops were ingrained with the need to recognize and form on their own colors, and this made flags crucial to their survival and success in an age of linear warfare.

The flags came to mean even more to Southern troops as the war wore on, and they started sewing battle honors onto their flags as badges of pride for the service they had seen. Names like "Chancellorsville," "Seven Pines," and "Sharpsburg" were common on the battle flags of the units that would eventually take part in Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg in 1863.

And it's the Pickett's Charge part of the book, the whole last half, that is so well researched and so hard for a son of the South to read. We relive the agony and hope and ultimate destruction of each regiment in excruciating detail, in order to learn what happened to the colors (and the poor, doomed colorbearers) of each regiment in turn. It's experiencing the end of the Confederacy over and over again as we read each unit's story of forming up on Seminary Ridge, advancing over a mile under a fire, dressing on their colors to fill up the holes in their ranks, and the last desperate charge across the Emmitsburg Road and up to the stone wall, where the Confederate drive ultimately, and inevitably, stalled and was driven back with grievous loss. In the wake of the retreating, defeated troops they left heaps of their dead, and at least 38 of their regimental battle flags.

Rollins deeply analyzes who, among the Union defenders, captured or salvaged the Rebel standards, and the truth is not always heroic. In some cases men of one unit would be engaged in combat with southern attackers, when souvenir hunters from another unit would dash forward and abscond with a fallen flag. In other cases a heroic Yankee corporal or sergeant would take a flag in personal combat with one or more Confederates, only to have an officer ride up on a horse when the fighting was over and demand that the man hand over the colors. Very little glory for some of the defenders of the Federal government that day.

I can't commend Rollins' scholarship too highly. Anyone wanting to delve deeply into the details of Gettysburg, particularly the third day, simply must include this book. I only give it three stars because of the narrowness of its focus, which will appeal to few, even among Civil War enthusiasts. It does not reflect my esteem for Rollins' research or his writing style, which is efficient and engaging.