Heraldry and Insignia of the California
State Military Forces
Flags of California's Naval Forces
By Mark J. Denger
for Military History
Battalion of the National Guard of California
One of this state's most
distinctive symbols, the grizzly bear, has long been an emblem
of the California National Guard. Its very character is not only
worn by the men and women of this state's military forces but
can be found on the state's ensign as well.
Our state ensign, easily
distinguishable, truly embodies the history of this state. The
"Bear Flag," known from the annals of this state's
history, dates from the days of those early California pioneers
and commemorates the biggest bear known to science, the California
grizzly, now extinct.
Adopted in 1911 as the
state's official ensign, the state's flag was first flown on
the battlefields of Europe during World War I, borne by the citizen
soldiers of the National Guard of California, mustered during
that war into the Federal service. Since receiving its first
baptism by fire, the men of this state who fought under these
colors during that war were entrusted with the proud distinction
of winning the first silver bands which encircle the staffs of
this state's regimental standards, thus perpetuating the story
of this state's citizen soldiers' worthy achievements during
the Spanish-American War (1898) and Philippine Insurrection (1898-1902).
Yet the flag of the Naval
Battalion of the National Guard claims no such honor or distinction.
No silver band encircles its staffs. Still, much of today's Naval
Reserve history is based upon this state's Naval Militia and
its humble beginnings under the flag of the Naval Battalion of
the National Guard. In the terms of its place in the annuals
of military history, the flag of the Naval Battalion bears forth
one of this state's most picturesque chapters in American naval
The Naval Militia of California
and its flag's history rightly begins with the act of the Legislature
by which the Naval Battalion of the National Guard became a possibility.
Approved March 31, 1891, and entitled: "An act to establish
a naval battalion, to be attached to the National Guard of California",
by the terms of the act, the organization of the battalion was
made to conform generally to the provisions of the laws of the
United States government militia bodies, and the system of discipline
and exercises was made to conform as nearly as might be, to that
of the United States Navy. When not otherwise provided for, the
organization was placed under the laws of which govern the National
Guard of California, and the Governor had the same power over
it as he had over the other State military forces.
The Naval Battalion, and
thereby its flag, occupied a peculiar position in its relation
to all other military forces, both regular and militia, and the
naval forces of the United States. It partook of the properties
of all, and yet the true Naval Militia man was every inch a citizen
soldier and sailor of the National Guard of California.
The Adjutant General's
Report of 1891-1892, under General Order No. 4, page 121, first
describes the flag of the Naval Battalion as follows:
"The flag designed for the Naval Battalion is six feet fly,
by four feet six inches hoist; a blue field with crossed foul
anchors, surrounded by thirteen stars; the stars to be arranged
in an oval form; anchors and stars to be of white material."
The flag of the Naval
Battalion of the National Guard, with its blue field and two
crossed anchors, fouled in their cables and surrounded by thirteen
white stars, also adorned all battalion stationary and formed
the official badge of the battalion. It was to the Naval Militia
men the embodiment of the "Bear Flag" itself.
Following the theory of
the organization to its logical conclusion, the Naval Militia
man was a true fighter of the first order. He had to know the
duties of that of the sailor on shipboard, first of all; he then
was required to know how to land on a beach or rocky shore, and
that, too, in the face of an enemy; then, after his landing,
become a soldier, and thereby assuming the duties of a soldier
making the theory of land warfare a must as well. In addition
to the afore mentioned, this citizen soldier had to be a good
shot with his rifle, whether on solid ground, on the rolling
deck of a ship, or in the swaying "top" at the mast
head. He had to have a complete understanding of the machine
gun, of torpedoes, and powder in all its forms; he had to be
able to use his cutlass and revolver with deadly effect, and
above all, those long black, wicked looking naval breech loaders
had to be as familiar to his hand and eye, as his vessel itself.
He was required to be a sailor at sea, a soldier on land, a sharp-shooter
in the top, a gunner on deck, and at home efficient in any or
all of his numerous characters.
The officers and men of
the Naval Battalion of the National Guard were bound together
by only two inseparable ties. One was the state flag under which
they served, the other was their love for the sea.
While the flag of the
Naval Battalion soon gave way to that of the Naval Militia, like
its counterparts of the National Guard, their standard continues
to perpetuate the history of this state's many worthy military
achievements. And, like the flags and banners of our other state
military forces, the flag of the Naval Battalion of the National
Guard, and that of the Naval Militia of California, long ago
epitomized for our state's army and navy the high principles
for which our state's citizen soldiers strive in battle. Were
it not for the ideals which these banners have kept ever before
the citizen soldier and sailor of this state he would be bestialized
We, the citizen soldiers
of this state, therefore, hold to the ideals represented in the
history and promise of this Republic's grand "Bear Flag"
wearing its mighty symbol upon our military uniforms today.
And though many a Guardsman have fallen in the achievement of
those ideals, a noble and imperishable good endures as a monument
to their sacrifice.
Unlike the flag of the
state's early Naval Battalion, which was of state design, the
flag of the Naval Militia was imposed upon the state by Department
of the Navy.
The flag of the Naval
Militia is described as consisting of a blue field with a yellow
diamond imposed thereon. Centered upon the yellow diamond is
the (blue) foul anchor of the navy.
In addition to the flag
of the Naval Militia, ships of the Naval Militia flew the commissioning
pennant of the Naval Militia while in the commission of the state.
This flag was displayed at the main mast in place of the commissioning
pennant of the U.S. Navy, unless the commanding officer had the
rank of commodore, in which the commodore's pennant of the Naval
Militia was flown in its stead. The commissioning pennant of
the Naval Militia is of similar design to the commissioning pennant
of the U.S. Navy. However, in place of the stars, a smaller version
of the Naval Militia flag is represented; and instead of a red
and white stripe, the commissioning pennant of the Naval Militia
boar the colors blue and yellow.
The commodore's flag is
similar to that of the U.S. Navy's commodore's flag except instead
of a solid blue field, only the upper half of the flag is blue
and the lower half is yellow, and on the blue half of which appears
the five pointed star of the commodore.
Militia Commissioning Pennant
Commodore's Flag. The flag of a commodore has one star and is
a burgee. There are no commodores in active service in the U.S.
Navy today. The title of commodore has been abolished from the
naval service during peace time but the courtesy title of commodore,
however, is still in use.
Militia Flag. Vessels of the Naval Militia display this flag
at the fore mast as a distinguishing mark.
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