ENSIGN, a commissioned officer, the lowest in degree, and immediately subor dinate to the lieutenants in a regiment of infantry. One of this rank is appointed to each company, and the junior ensigns are charged with the duty of carrying the colours of the regiment. Ensigns in the regiments of foot guards have also the rank of lieutenants. In the rifle brigade, and in the royal corps of artil lery, engineers, and marines, in place of an ensign, a second lieutenant is attached to each company.
Among the Spaniards and Italians, in the seventeenth century, it appears that no officer existed like the lieutenant of a company, whose rank is between that of a captain and ensign, any such being con sidered superfluous, and as tending to diminish the importance which was at tached to the post of the officer who had the charge of the colours, on the pre servation of which, in action, the honour of the regiment was made greatly to de pend.
When, as formerly, a battle partook far more than at present of the nature of a mêlée, the loss of a standard, which served as a mark for the soldiers under each leader to keep together in the fight, or to rally when dispersed, must have been a serious misfortune, and probably was often attended by the total defeat and destruction of the party ; and hence, no doubt, arose the point of honour respect ing the colours. A French military au
thor, who served and wrote in the time of Charles IX., intending to express the importance of preserving the colours to the last, observes that, on a defeat taking place, the flag should serve the ensign as a shroud ; and instances have occurred of a standard-bearer who, being mortally wounded, tore the flag from its staff and died with it wrapped about his body. Such a circumstance is related of Don Sebastian, king of Portugal, at the battle of Alcazar, and of a young officer named Chatelier at the taking of Taillebourg, during the wars of the Huguenots.
In the ancient French service, the duty of carrying the orifiamme at the head of the army was confided to a man of rank, and also of approved valour and pru dence ; the post was held for life.
The price of an ensign's commission in the foot guards is 12001., and his daily pay is 5s. 6d.; in the regiments of the line the price is 4501., and the daily pay 5s. 3d.