Insignia and Medals

The regulation embroidered bugle horn insignia is shown in this photograph of an officer holding his Hardee hat. David Scheinmarin.

Sack Coat American Civil War

Ten years befqre the outbreak of the American Civil War, several changes were made to United States military insignia. Metal insignia for all branches of the service was cast in brass. Distinctive colours were also adopted for branches of service; blue for infantry, red for artillery and yellow or orange for the cavalry.

The yellow cavalry trim dated back to the dragoons' yellow trim authorised in 1833. At first, this trim clashed with the artillery who were already wearing yellow facings as their branch of service colour, and as some dragoon officers favoured wearing orange sashes, orange became the dragoons' branch of service colour. The cavalry in general adopted yellow when the facing colour of the artillery was changed to scarlet. Traditionally, the artillery had yellow as its facing colour, to match the yellow metal of its guns. But scarlet which had first been adopted by the American army in the Revolution was much more appropriate.

White facings had originally been adopted as the infantry's branch of service colour in 1832, but the infantry's facings were eventually changed to light blue or dark blue because the white cloth soiled too easily.

The War Department issued insignia which went on a soldier's accoutrements, while the ordnance department was largely responsible for issuing insignia which soldiers wore on their clothing. Some insignia has already been mentioned in this book, but the subject of Union insignia during the Civil War is so complex that it deserves a detailed study. One of the most distinctive forms of Union insignia was the eagle cap badge. Introduced in 1851, it was made out of gold embroider}' for officers and yellow metal for enlisted men. The brass version featured a stamped design showing the United States national bird, the eagle. Eagle badges were slightly under 21/, inches high and measured 1V4 inches between the wing tips.

Officers' eagles were richly embroidered in gold on an oval of black velvet fixed to a small tin plate which had two wire loops attached, so that the eagle could be fixed to the officer's headgear. There was no regulation for which way the eagle should look, eagles 'looking' both to the left and right were common.

Eagle symbols were also an important feature on officers' and NCOs' sword belt plates. In 1851 a new pattern for these plates was adopted that remained virtually unchanged until World War Two. Regulations stated that the belt plates should be: 'Gilt, rectangular, two inches wide with a raised rim, a silver wreath of laurel encircling the Arms of the United

The regulation embroidered bugle horn insignia is shown in this photograph of an officer holding his Hardee hat. David Scheinmarin.

Spanish American War Sword Belt Plate
Rectangular belt plates like the one worn by the officer here, found much favour with cavalrymen. A brass eagle motif was surmounted by a silver wreath on these plates. David Scheinmann.

States, eagle, shield scroll, edge of cloud and rays bright. The motto "E Pluribus Unum" in silver letters, upon the scroll, stars also of silver; according to pattern.'

Sword belts were attached to the plates usually by passing the right end of the belt through a slot in the right side of the plate. Despite regulations belt plates varied in design. Most were cast but others were stamped out of metal. Some had the silver wreath cast as an integral part of the plate but on many plates the wreaths were separate items added to the plates as a finishing touch.

Not only did officers of the 8th Wisconsin Infantry have eagle sword belt plates, the regiment actually carried a live eagle as part of its insignia. Bought from a Chippewa Indian, Old Abe the Battle Eagle was carried into battle tethered on top of a special perch and saw action several times, including the siege of Vicksburg in May 1863. Old Abe survived the war only to die of smoke inhalation when fire swept through the Wisconsin Capitol building where he spent his retirement.

Eagle plates used decoratively on shoulder belts supporting the infantryman's cartridge box, had a raised rim with an eagle holding three arrows and an olive branch. The plate itself was made out of stamped thin brass with a lead filled back with imbedded hooks for fastening it to the belt. The plates were also used to fasten the two halves of sergeants' shoulder belts together. Shoulder belt plates had a regulation diameter of 2.5 inches and while there were variations in design most shoulder belt plates followed a similar pattern.

Regulations stated that each infantryman should have an oval plate holding his waist belt together and another on the flap of his cartridge box. Classic U.S. plates dated as far back as the 1840s and came in two sizes; 3.5 by 2.2 inches and 2.8 by 1.6 inches. Usually the plates were made out of stamped brass filled with lead solder on the back. Most commonly they bore the letters US but many carried state initials.

Some of the most unusual cartridge box plates were the ones carried by the company of Zouaves raised by Captain H.T. Coll is as a bodyguard for General Banks. These carried the initials 'Z.D.A.' standing for Zouaves d'Afrique. When the company was expanded to become the 114th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, the men were issued with standard cartridge box plates, but some of the distinctive Z.D.A. plates probably saw service throughout the war.

Standard issue plates were made in Federal armouries, but more than 250,000 were also manufactured by private contractors. Circular brass two piece belt plates also saw service on white buff leather sword belts for carrying artillery swords or


As displayed on the forage cap of this officer, the infantry bugle horn insignia was one of the most widely worn during the Civil War. David Scheinmann.

Civil War General Belt1851 Hat Officer Insignia

This officer's crossed sabres are embroidered on a black piece of oval cloth. The number of his regiment and company letters also appear to have been added. David Scheinmann.

Enlisted men often displayed insignia on the tops of their forage caps, as shown here by these pipe smoking comrades.

David Scheinmann.

This officer's crossed sabres are embroidered on a black piece of oval cloth. The number of his regiment and company letters also appear to have been added. David Scheinmann.


In 1851, after years of unofficial use, insignia identifying infantry, cavalry and artillery were officially authorised. General officers and staff officers had an embroidered cap badge insignia with a silver 'U.S.' in I old English characters in a golden laurel wreath. Cavalry insignia developed from the insignia worn by the old regiments of dragoons. The cap insignia

Enlisted men often displayed insignia on the tops of their forage caps, as shown here by these pipe smoking comrades.

David Scheinmann.

authorised for the dragoons in 1851 was an orange pompom for enlisted men and crossed sabres for officers. The crossed sabres were in gold and had their edges upward. In the upper angle the regimental number was placed. This insignia was usually ' embroidered directly on to the cap, but crossed brass sabres began to become popular as well.

Enlisted men were later authorised to wear a brass company letter one inch high on their hats. When the dragoon regiments were authorised to wear felt hats in 1858, officers' insignia was worn on a black velvet background; an oval of velvet with a narrow embroidered border and tin backing. Enlisted men were now authorised to wear cross sabres, which came to be forever associated with the United States cavalry. Officers also continued to wear crossed sabres, either embroidered on black or blue cloth or in metal like their men.

The most distinctive Union infantry insignia was the bugle horn which was heavily influenced by the bugle horn insignia of the French voltigeurs. Bugle horn insignia had been adopted by the United States



1851 Eagle Buckles
This infantryman wearing an overcoat clearly displays the eagle buckle on his shoulder belt. David Scheinmann.

Army as early as 1831 but in 1851 the metal was changed from silver to gold and officers were authorised to wear a gold embroidered bugle on their caps within the number of their regiment in silver in the centre of the horn. Interesting variations on this are some Zouave officers who wore the letter 'Z' in the centre of the bugle horns on their kepis.

Some unique items of infantry insignia were the special cap plates worn by the 10th New York Volunteer Infantry, National Zouaves usually on the turbans wrapped around their fezzes. Not much is known about them, but they were over an inch long and were inscribed '10 NZ'. Infantrymen were specialists in arranging brass letters and numbers on their clothing and kepis. Many men of the 14th Brooklyn Regiment proudly bore the brass numerals 14 on the fronts of their kepis while the 11th New York often sported FZ letters standing for Fire Zouaves.

The distinctive castle insignia worn by the engineers and topographical engineers dated back to 1840 and it was used on the dress cap of U.S. Military Academy cadets in 1842. Engineer officers in the Civil

Shell Engineer Cadets
The most famous American insignia of all time are the cavalry's crossed sabres, here worn by a cavalry private. Such devices gave regiments valuable esprit de corps. David Scheinmann.

War also wore an embroidered star within a laurel wreath on the collars of their coats. Apart from their distinctive buttons, officers of the topographical engineers also wore a gold embroidered shield surrounded by a wreath of oak leaves.

The ordnance department wore an embroidered shell and flame motif. Very much influenced by the French style, the Ordnance Department had worn its distinctive badges since 1833 and the unique design became exclusively theirs in 1851. Officers wore it in gold embroidery on their forage and dress caps, and embroidered in silver it was also worn on the crescents of their epaulettes. Enlisted men wore a similar design made out of brass on their caps and the collars of their uniforms, but eventually gave up wearing the device on their collars.

The famous crosscd cannon of the artillery had been worn since 1833 and was officially adopted in 1851, when regulations stated that officers should wear gold embroidered badges with crossed cannon on their caps. They were also to have the regimental

146th New York Volunteers Letter
This private of the 146th New York Volunteer Infantry, Garrard's Tigers, wears his corps badge on his chest. It was not unusual for men to make their corps badges out of wood or bone and also inscribe them with their name and the letter of their regimental company. Michael J. McAfee.

number in silver above the intersection of the cannon. These badges were also made in metal. Embroidered cannon badges came in different shapes and many featured different motifs but a common feature was the fact that the muzzle ends of the cannon designs were longer than the breech ends. Enlisted men had originally only been authorised to wear company letters in their caps, but in 1858 they were authorised to wear brass crossed cannon insignia with a brass regimental number and a company letter. The brass crossed cannon was reminiscent of the insignia worn on artillery dress caps before 1851, but the 1858 crossed cannon badges were flatter and had slimmer and longer cannon barrels. Like infantrymen, artillerymen put their badges and company letters either on the fronts of their forage caps, or on top.

In 1858 artillery officers' cap devices were changed to black velvet ovals of material bearing the gold embroidered cross cannon which also had the regimental number embroidered on a black base in a small circle of gold embroidery. Artillery officers' black velvet ovals were a little smaller than those worn by the cavalry. Miniature size cannon badges were also widely available and embroidered crossed cannon badges without the ovals were also widely worn.

Late in the Civil War, it seems that some horse artillery officers adopted a unique badge with a laurel wreath, a horse, crossed cannon and the words 'Horse Artillery'. Whether it was officially authorised or not isn't known and it represents just one of the many badge variations found in the Union Army.

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  • sara
    How much for the brass american eagle militayr insignia?
    8 years ago
  • yohannes
    What were metal bird with insigna e pluribus unum?
    7 years ago
  • italia trevisani
    What insignia did civil war generals wear on their hats?
    6 years ago

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