Corps Badges

One of the most distinctive features of Union Civil War uniforms were the corps badges worn by soldiers on their forage caps or on their uniforms. Such badges gave soldiers a sense of identity and increased the esprit de corps of the Union Army. Unlike insignia or uniform regulations, the corps badge system was developed during the American Civil War and was unique to the conflict.

Corps badges were originated by Major General Philip Kearny as a means of identifying soldiers from a particular command after he mistakenly reprimanded some officers who were not under his direct orders. In May, 1862, Kearny ordered that the officers of his Third Division, Third Corps, Army of the Potomac, should sew a piece of red flannel 2 inches square on the fronts of their caps for identification purposes.

Legend has it that these badges, nicknamed 'Kearny patches' were cut from scarlet blankets bought by Kearny from France. Before the war Kearny had seen a lot of service with the French Army in North Africa and even charged with the French cavalry during one battle. Kearny was highly esteemd in the Union Army and when he was killed at the Battle of Chantilly in 1862, the distinctive red badges continued to be used as a tribute to him.

General Orders No 49, Headquarters of the 1st Division, Third Army Corps, issued to announce General Kearny's death, stated: 'To still further show our regard for him and to distinguish his officers as he wished, each officer will continue to wear on his cap a piece of scarlet cloth, or have the top or crown piece made out of scarlet cloth.' General Hooker widened the use of corps badges in a circular issued on March 21 1863, recommending the adoption of original corps badges 'for the purpose of ready recognition of corps and divisions of this army and to prevent injustice by


This officer sports what looks to be a commercially available corps badge on the front of his frock coat. David Scheinmann.

Photos Army FrockcoatsPeter Newark Military Pictures
Ogden painting of Union uniforms and corps badges. Peter Newark's Military Pictures.

reports of straggling and misconduct through mistake as to their organisations.'

Soon the entire Army was wearing corps badges. Union Corps were usually divided into three divisions and the colour of the badge corresponded to the number of the division. The 1st division wore red badges, the 2nd white, and the 3rd blue. When more than three divisions existed in a corps, green was used for the 4th and orange for the 5th.

Corps badges were also used on flags and also drawn on ambulances and wagons belonging to the particular corps. Regulations authorised that the 1st Army Corps should have a sphere symbol, the 2nd a i trefoil, the 3rd a lozenge, the 4th an equilateral triangle, the 5th a Maltese cross and the 6th a Greek cross. The 7th Corps was discontinued before any orders for a badge were given and the 8th Corps unofficially used a star with six rays.

The 9th Corps saw duty in the south, east and west, and adopted a shield with a figure 9 as its badge. The centres of these badges also featured an anchor and a cannon. The 10th Corps spent a lot of its time building fortifications and a badge showing a four bastioned fort was selected for it.

On March 21, 1863, a crescent was prescribed for the 11th Corps and the 12th Corps was to wear a 12 pointed star. When the Army of the Potomac was reorganised in March 1864 it was stipulated that transferred troops should preserve their badges. The combined 1st and 5th Corps used a circle surrounding a Maltese cross as their badge when the new 5th Corps was formed, while the 6th Corps retained a Greek cross.

The 13th Corps never had an official authorised badge during the war, but seems to have adopted an elipse shape surrounding a canteen. Corps serving in the Department of the Cumberland also had distinctive badges. General orders stated that they were 'For the purpose of ready recognition of the corps and divisions of this army and to prevent injustice by reports of straggling and misconduct through mistakes as to organisations.'

It was claimed the 14th Corps was given the distinctive acorn badge in memory of the bad times they went through in the autumn of 1863. The weather was so bad that supplies couldn't get through and the men were reduced to eating the acorns from a grove of oaks growing near their camp. Ingeniously, the men roasted and boiled the acorns and even ground them between stones to make bread. Not surprisingly, they were known ever after as the 'Acorn Boys'.

The 20th Corps, which was formed by consolidating the 11th and 12th Corps, adopted a five pointed star, the old badge of the 12th as its badge, but men of the 11 th Corps jealously stuck to their crescent badges for a long time, using it in combination with the star.

The badge of the 15th Army Corps was described in general orders issued on February 15 1865: 'The following is announced as the badge of this corps: A miniature cartridge box, black, set transversely on a field of cloth or metal: above the cartridge box plate will be stamped or marked in a curve, the motto "Forty Rounds".'

This distinctive badge came about as a result of the rivalry between the Eastern soldiers of the 12th Corps and the Western soldiers of the 15th Corps. A soldier


Mary Tepe was awarded a Kearny Cross for her gallantry in action when she served as a vivandiere with the 114th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment, the Collis Zouaves. Based on the French idea, many Civil War Regiments had vivandieres who sold tobacco and liquor to the men and wore a version of their regiment's uniform. Michael J. McAfee.

Vivandieres American Civil WarUnion Army Generals Epaulettes

This colonel wears a particularly large set of epaulettes. These uniform ornaments were favoured by the commanders of volunteer infantry regiments. David Scheinmann.

Fifteenth Corps Rounds

Infantry sergeant with chevrons. David Scheinmann

This colonel wears a particularly large set of epaulettes. These uniform ornaments were favoured by the commanders of volunteer infantry regiments. David Scheinmann.

of the 15th Corps joked that the star badges then carried by the 12th Corps made them all look like brigadiers, and when the 12 th Corps men asked what the 15th Corps badge was he patted his cartridge box and said: 'this is the badge of the 15th Corps, 40 rounds.' The 15th Corps' commander, General Logan, later heard the story and this decided him on the 15th's corps badges.

Infantry sergeant with chevrons. David Scheinmann

No official order was ever given for a badge lor the 16th Corps. Instead several designs were put into a hat and the first drawn out was accepted as the design for the corps badge. The rough drawing plucked out of the hat was a circle crossed by two bars at acute angles and this was modified into a figure resembling a Maltese cross with curved lines for the 16th Corps' badge. The badge was called the A.J. Smith Cross, in honour of the first commander of the corps.

The 17th Corps badge was an arrow design and though simple it was very memorable. In general orders issued on March 25, 1865, General F. P. Blake wrote: 'In its swiftness, in its surety of striking where wanted and in its destructive powers when so intended, the arrow is probably as emblematical of this corps as any design that could be adopted.'

The 18th Corps had a cross with foliated leaves as its badge, while the 19th Corps badge was changed from a four pointed star to a fan-leaved cross with an octagonal centre on November 17, 1864. Ironically the 19th hardly fired a hostile shot while they had this badge late in the war.

No official orders were ever made concerning badges for the 21st and 22nd Corps, but as the 22nd

Corps served in the defences of Washington, a pentagon was chosen with the edge cut into five equal sections and a circle in the centre. The 23rd Corps used a shield as its badge, while the 24th Corps, largely composed of veterans from the 10th and 11th Corps, adopted a heart as its badge in the closing stages of the war.

Orders dated March 18, 1865, explained the poignant feelings behind the choice of symbol: 'The symbol selected is one which testifies our affectionate regard for all our brave comrades - alike the living and the dead - who have braved the perils of this mighty conflict and our devotion to the sacred cause - a cause which entitled us to the sympathy of every brave and true heart and the support of every strong and determined hand.'

The 25th Corps composed of coloured soldiers from the 10th and 18th Corps had square corps badges, featuring a smaller square superimposed into the main design. These badges were very distinctive and when they were issued on February 20, 1865, General Weitzel had these words to say: 'Soldiers, to you is given a chance in this spring campaign, of making this badge immortal. Let history record that on the banks of the James thirty thousand freemen not only gained their own liberty, but shattered the prejudice of the world, and gave to the land of their birth peace, union and glory. '

The men of Hancock's First Corps, Veteran Volunteers, were never officially authorised a badge, but adopted badges with particularly elaborate motifs, which one account describes as: 'A circle is surrounded by a double wreath of laurel. A wide red band passes vertically through the centre of the circle. Outside the laurel wreath, rays form a figure with seven sides of concave curves. Seven hands, springing from the circumference of the laurel wreath, grasp spears, the heads of which form the seven points of the external radiated figure.'

Cavalry corps also adopted badges, even though no official orders were ever given authorising them. General J. E. Wilson's Cavalry Corps had a red swallow tailed cavalry guidon with crossed sabres suspended from a rifle or, alternatively, a carbine. The badge issued to Kilpatrick's Cavalry Corps had a swallow tail flag. It also had three gilt stars and an eagle motif. The Signal Corps badge had two flags crossed over the handle of a blazing torch, signifying that by day the signal corps used flags to signal, and by night they used torches.

Corps badges proved so popular that Union soldiers were given the legal right to wear them, even when they left the Army. Orders stated: 'All persons

First Sergeant Diamond

On his unusual three button coat with pockets, this infantry first sergeant wears chevrons with a diamond shape above.

David Scheinmann.

On his unusual three button coat with pockets, this infantry first sergeant wears chevrons with a diamond shape above.

David Scheinmann.

who have served as officers, non-commissioned officers, privates or other enlisted men in the Regular Army, volunteer or militia forces of the United States, during the war of the rebellion and have been honourably discharged from the service, or still remain in the same, shall be entitled to wear, on occasion of ceremony, the distinctive army badge ordered for or adopted by the army corps and division respectively in which they served.'

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    What do Civil War maltese cross corps badges look like?
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