Corps Badge History & Info
From the outbreak of the war in 1861, and the clamoring of the North for the Federal Government to act against the southern states, the First Battle of Bull Run became the result. This included the poorly assembled Federal Army that was sent to fight it. As stated by John D. Billings in his post war recollection book Hardtack and Coffee, “In reality, the battle was one of regiments rather than brigades, the regiments fighting more or less independently.” This became a military defeat for the army, but an eye opening experience for reorganizing it. General George B. McClellan, being the most qualified man for the job at the time was tasked with turning this mob of militias into a standing army. Thus the army went through phases of organization and training from late 1861 into mid-1862. The Army of the Potomac took shape and as it’s numbers grew, it transformed itself from Brigade formations, into Divisions, and then into the French style corps d` armee or Army Corps.
*Apparently, the Confederate Army, though they never adopted a system of recognizable insignia for their Corps, did not adopt the system of corps themselves until after the Battle of Antietam.
BADGES (once called a Kearny Patch)
Although the story is more legend now, it has been retold that sometime in 1862, a situation arose where General Phillip Kearny himself, a Federal division commander, came to the realization that he could not recognize the men under his command from anyone else’s. It is argued whether or not Kearny himself issued orders for his men to wear the “patch” or if it was a token of respect made by his men after his death in September at the Battle of Chantilly. Initially, this gesture was reserved for officers of the division, but later it spread amongst the rank and file. Whatever the case, a red “lozenge” shape was adopted by the men of his division. From this the pride of being distinguished by an insignia spread throughout the Army of the Potomac, and by Spring of 1863 the army was now under the command of General Joseph Hooker, who took to planning out a corps insignia for all those under his command. His chief-of- staff General Dan Butterfield is said to have had the most involvement in “designing and perfecting” the first ideas for what these corps insignia would be.
As to why certain shapes were chosen over others, and why the division colors were chosen as they were (First- Red, Second- White, Third- Blue) there stems simple patriotic simplicity. However, as with many things in the U.S. Army of the Civil War, things were regulated, but with a noticeable amount of freedom of expression. Several corps, such as the 14th and 15th designed their own badges out of their war experiences. The 18th, whose badge had started as so overly intricate that it later was simplified. The 17th and 19th changed their initial corps insignia altogether. These are only a few examples of the fascinating details pertaining to Corps Badges and the history behind them.
With the popularity and need for Corps Badges spreading to the various Federal armies across the South, similar and slightly different regulations can be seen. In the AOP Fourth Divisions arose wearing Green badges as these individuals originally designated to help medics help clear battlefields of the wounded. Western Armies with fourth divisions sometimes, but not always comprised of mainly Cavalry, wore yellow badges to distinguish themselves. Artillery Batteries and Corps Headquarters staff had adopted multi-colored badges in the shape of their corps in the combined colors of its divisions. After 1863, when numbers lost from significant battles led to the armies “consolidating” their forces, men chose to wear badges combining the symbols of each corps they had belonged too. It appears that so long as the badge was still recognizable for what it was meant to symbolize soldiers were allowed to wear it in any form they could acquire. Self-made badges appeared throughout the war, but a close look at period newspaper advertisements show a significant market by jewelers to make badges in many forms for soldiers willing to pay for them. Here is where metallic, enameled, and more decorative badges (usually for officers) come into play.
To this day new period examples of corps badges appear in many materials, shapes, colors, and styles. Unfortunately, it is difficult to always determine if a badge was “war made” or post war made” as veterans groups continued to have badges made straight into the 20th century. Unfortunate still, there are few to no comprised sources to learn more about corps badges. Stanley S. Phillips, was good enough to self-publish a wonderful work on the subject in 1982, but even this work does not cover every form of badge there was, or that has been discovered. Nevertheless, as The Badge Maker I take great pride in continuing the research on the subject and have tried to educate ,as all reenactors tend to do, through my work making badges. Therefore to conclude, as Billings states at the end of his chapter on Corps Badges, for what these badges represented to the wearer, was worth more than any “Astor and a Vanderbilt combined could purchase.”
As the soldiers we represent took great pride in their corps badges so do we, as reenactors, take great pride in representing those who participated in the great conflict known as the American Civil War.