George L. Banks First Sergeant, United States Army-Union Army

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BY DUANE ALLEN VACHON, PH.D. Banks’ early years were spent in Lake and La Porte counties Indiana. It was there where he obtained his early education. He worked with his father’s farming operations until he was seventeen. Having a bit of the wanderlust in him, not long after his seventeenth birthday he traveled to St. Anthony Minnesota where he found employment in a sawmill there. In 1857, he moved on again to the great forests in Northern Michigan. After a short time he returned to his family’s homestead farm, in Lake County, Indiana. Banks did a large amount of contract work in the digging of drainage ditches and for a while he worked as a clerk in a grocery store and a dry-goods store. Eventually he returned to farming and that was what he was doing at the outbreak of the Civil war. On the 6th of June, 1861, in response to President Lincoln’s first call for volunteers, Banks enlisted as a private in Company C, Fifteenth Indiana Volunteer Infantry.



The 15th Indiana Regiment Infantry was organized, at Lafayette, Indiana, for one year’s service in May 1861 and was re-organized for three years’ service and mustered on June 14, 1861.


On November 25, 1863, the 15th Indiana was under orders to capture the Confederate rifle pits at the foot of Missionary Ridge. Muskets cracked and gun smoke rose in choking clouds as the 15th Indiana rushed into the battle. The regiment went face down on a road, well up on the Ridge, in a storm of lead. Suddenly within the withering musket fire Major White of the 15th Indiana gave the command, “Men, for God’s sake forward!”


Immediately, Color-Sergeant George L. Banks got to his feet waving Regimental Standard and calling on his comrades to follow the Colors. The whole regiment surged forward to rally around the flag. Suddenly Banks, already wounded in the left thumb, was struck by a minie ball in the chest. He was knocked to the ground by the minie ball. While Banks was stunned and senseless, four fellow soldiers carried the Colors forward into the relentless wall of bullets. Of the four defenders of the flag: two were wounded, two were killed.



Banks took part in, engagements at Greenbriar and Elkwater. Later he was a participant in the memorable battles of Shiloh, Perryville, Murfreesboro, Chickamauga and Chattanooga. In the battle of Chattanooga he was wounded three times but his injuries were not serious and he was able to return to the battlefield in just a few weeks. Banks was the color sergeant of his regiment in the storming of Missionary Ridge, the colors were shot down six times, and Banks was wounded on the first and last of these occasions. He was first wounded in the ribs, and after regaining consciousness he was again wounded,—this time through the top of the head.


Coming to his senses, Banks realized he was not disabled. Luckily, the ball had struck a novel and two letters inside his shirt. He jumped to his feet running up the hill and seized the flag as it went down for the fifth time. Once more, Banks raised the Colors and called on his compatriots to follow the Colors!


As the 15th Indiana reached the Ridge, they saw the Confederates lower their guns. The men of the 15th dropped to the ground to avoid the volley and inescapable death. Before the rebels could reload the 15th Indiana stormed the Ridge. The chants of “Chickamauga! Chickamauga!” were heard from the Union soldiers. Banks scrabbled up the earthworks waving the stars and stripes and calling to his fellow soldiers. As the regiment captured the works on the crest of the Ridge, Color-Sergeant Banks received a second wound. This second wound was to the side of his head. As Banks fell backwards off the earthworks, Second Lieutenant Thomas Graham, of Company G, seized the flag and moved forward. Finally, the day was won by the Union troops.


Showing the grit and tenacity that Hoosiers are known for, Banks, as color bearer for his regiment, was the first regimental color sergeant to plant the colors on the enemy’s works at Missionary Ridge out of a brigade of six regiments. For this act of courage and determination he received the Medal of Honor. The actions for which Banks received the Medal of Honor were on November 25 1863, one week after President Lincoln had made his Gettysburg speech.



“As color bearer, led his regiment in the assault, and, though wounded, carried the flag forward to the enemy’s works, where he was again wounded. In a brigade of 8 regiments this flag was the first planted on the parapet”.


//William McKinley//   President


Over half of the Medals of Honor bestowed upon soldiers, during the Civil War, had to do with carrying the Colors or related incidents with the flag. The tattered, torn, bullet ridden flag gives a silent testimony to the heroic acts and the Hoosier grit of the men of the 15th Indiana Regiment.


George L. Banks First Sergeant is buried at Mount Hope Cemetery, Independence Kansas.



The information in this article was sourced from a variety of sources both internal and external. Every effort was made to ensure that the information is current and correct. These articles are presented to honor the heroes they are written about.


If you can read this, thank a teacher. If you can read this in English, thank a veteran.


Author: Duane Vachon

Duane A. Vachon PhD has been a licensed clinical psychologist for over thirty years. He belongs to the order of Secular Franciscans and is a life member of the Guild of Pastoral Psychology. After living almost 40 years as an expatriate, he now writes from his home in Hawaii. He has several books published and has written hundreds of articles on social justice and spiritual issues. His Doctoral thesis on ethics has set the standard at many universities. Reach Dr. Vachon at