As always, studying the stories of cockades leads to fascinating tidbits of history. This is one of them.
Did you know that 10% of the Union army was German?
Over 200,000 Germans served in the Union army. Thousands of Germans also served in the Confederate army. US Major General Franz Sigel was perhaps the most famous Union German officer, inspiring a popular song of the era, "I Goes To Fight Mit Sigel."
The massive 6'4" Lt. Col. Heros von Borcke was probably the most famous German Confederate, running the blockade to serve in the Confederate army.
Space constrains me to be brief, but if you want a lot more details on German involvement in the war there's an entire article on wikipedia to get you started, called German Americans in the Civil War.
But why did these German immigrants come to America? And what does that have to do with cockades?
In 1848 a series of revolutions swept across Europe, instigated in party by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. The "March Revolution" revolution in the Austrian, or German, Empire featured reformers protesting the autocratic political structure of the separate states in the Empire. They pushed for political reforms and a united Germany. The Revolution eventually failed however, and many political exiles came to America.
These Marxist revolutionaries had been wearing tricolor cockades in their home country. For instance, the "Criminal Code of the German Empire" (published in 1871) observed, "Of course, Prussian criminal code prohibited wearing the national cockade as punishment for certain crimes. In 1848, it became the symbol of the revolutionary party."
An 1848 entry in the Burlington (VT) Free Press stated, "Leipsic, March 24 – News was last night received from Brunswick, that the Duke of Brunswick had placed his dominions at the disposal of the German Confederation and declared in favor of the German Empire. Tricolored cockades and flags of black, red and gold had been distributed to the military."
And another source tells us, "A united Germany now became the watch-word of the day….The students not only marched under German banners, but paraded the streets decorated with German cockades and ribbons."
And finally, Chambers Encyclopedia informs us, "Black, with some distinction, enters into the cockades of the German nations…..After the German war of liberation in 1813, a national cockade of black, red, and gold came into general use, and was afterwards assumed by the military and by officials. The wearing of these German cockades was prohibited in 1832, by a resolution of the German Diet; but in 1848 they were again introduced, not only by patriots as a badge of German union, but into the armies. Since 1850, the German cockade has disappeared, with other signs of the revolution."
Why do we care?
German marxists influenced both the war and Lincoln himself. M. Jeff Thompson of Missouri wrote, "A Missouri man had once written the Confederate authorities that all they had to do to get rid of the Saint Louis Unionists was destroy the local breweries and seize all the beer: '... By this means the Dutch [Germans] will all die in a week and the Yankees will then run from this State.'" German immigrants not only served with distinction in both armies (a penchant for beer notwithstanding!), but they influenced several states to stay in the Union.
An interesting book called "Red Republicans and Lincoln's Marxists" tells the story of these immigrants' influence, as well as the influence of Marx's philosophy on the Union. Many things we take for granted in our nation today, such as income taxes and mandatory government schools, were first brought to America by Marx's disciples.
So here is my re-creation of the German cockade. I hope you enjoy it, as well as this interesting piece of history!