"They represented the soul of the regiment," says Dave Redden of Sotheby's auction house. "They represented the cause for which they were fighting."
Now, more than two centuries later, the battle flags are up for auction at Sotheby's in New York, reports CBS News correspondent Randall Pinkston.
British warrior Banastre Tarleton captured them and sent them to his home in England, where his heirs passed them down.
"They're worth millions," Redden says.
Tarleton's descendants say they are selling the flags now because they can not afford to insure them.
One, which Redden describes as a "sacred icon," is estimated to be worth between $1.5 million to $3.5 million.
Tarleton, however, didn't think the flags were sacred. In his signature portrait, he's stepping on America's early flags.
Some historians believe these regimental standards are the beginnings of today's stars and stripes. The one from the Connecticut Dragoons, had 13 red and white stripes. The other, from a southern battle, was among the earliest to use five-pointed stars in a field of blue — a signature of Betsy Ross.
That has historians like Evelyne Ryan excited.
"It's such a rarity to find something that unique and that historic," says Ryan, the director of the Bedford Historical Society. "It's a tangible expression of what was going on at that time."
A few miles from the location where Tarleton captured the Connecticut Dragoon's flag, there's a cemetery. Some of the men who fought in the Revolutionary War are buried here. Their tombstones are tangible reminders of the price they paid to protect the flag — and in the fight for freedom.
"If you were attacking an enemy force, you went after two things," Redden says. "You went after their commander, and you went after their flags."
Redden says that one of the dark spots on a flag is blood.
"I think it is almost without question, for the three South Carolina flags, that several of the flag bearers would have given their life that day," Redden says.
Historians hope the highest bidder will keep the flags in America, for good.