At this season of the year 150 years ago, a corps badge system was developed for the purpose of recognizing troops in battle and for general esprit-de-corps.

Apparently the original idea for this system traced back to General Philip Kearney, who was killed in the Battle of Chantilly on September 1, 1862 – just two weeks before Antietam. There are varied anecdotes as to how the idea developed of a red cloth badge to distinguish his men – one of these stories alleging that he errantly disciplined some men not actually under his command.corps badges

News correspondent William Swinton wrote of this: The germ of the badge designation was the happy thought of General Kearney, who, at Fair Oaks, ordered the soldiers of his division to sew a piece of red flannel to their caps, so that he could recognize them in the tumult of battle. Hooker developed the idea into a system of immense utility, and henceforth the different corps and divisions could always be distinguished by the red, white, or blue trefoil, cross, lozenge, star, etc.

When Hooker took command in January of 1863, he chose Daniel Butterfield as his Chief of Staff. The previous “grand division” structure of the army essentially created armies within an army, so Hooker returned the basic structural scheme to that of corps. Enhancing the spirit of this structure, along with creating utilitarian function in battle, a more specific system of badges was designed and announced in March of 1863. An Army of the Potomac Headquarters circular dated as March 21st wrote:

20th NY Monument

20th NY Monument

For the purpose of ready recognition of corps and divisions of the army, and to prevent injustice by reports of straggling and misconduct through mistake as to their organizations, the chief quartermaster will furnish, without delay, the following badges, to be worn by the officers and enlisted men of all the regiments of the various corps mentioned. They will be securely fastened upon the centre of the top of the cap. The inspecting officers will at all inspections see that these badges are worn as designated.

First Corps – a sphere: red for First Division; white for Second; blue for Third.
Second Corps – a trefoil: red for First Division; white for Second; blue for Third.
Third Corps – a lozenge: red for First Division; white for Second; blue for Third.
Fifth Corps – a Maltese cross: red for First Division; white for Second; blue for Third.
Sixth Corps – a cross: red for First Division; white for Second; blue for Third. (Light Division, green.)
Eleventh Corps – a crescent: red for First Division; white for Second; blue for Third.
Twelfth Corps – a star: red for First Division; white for Second; blue for Third.

The men were very proud of these badges, and even though they were not put into use until after the Battle of Antietam, many of the monuments at Antietam have these badges of pride and distinction upon them (see the pictures of the trefoil on the Philadelphia Brigade Monument – 2nd Corps, and the cross on the 20th NY Monument – 6th Corps).

(This is post #200 since the inception of Enfilading Lines in December of 2011)

Philadelphia Brigade Monument

Philadelphia Brigade Monument

About Randy Buchman

I live in Western Maryland, and among my too many pursuits and hobbies, I regularly feed multiple hungry blogs. I played college baseball, coached championship cross country teams at Williamsport (MD) High School, and have been a sportswriter for various publications and online venues. My main profession is as the lead pastor of a church in Hagerstown called Tri-State Fellowship. And I'm active in Civil War history and work/serve at Antietam National Battlefield with the Antietam Battlefield Guides organization. Occasionally I sleep.

2 responses »

  1. Gary Rohrer says:

    Very interesting, Randy. I’ve always been fascinated with the implementation of corps badge system.

  2. Doug Mosher says:

    Congratulations on your 200th post. Keep them coming.

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