Thursday, February 4, 2016

African Americans & Civil War Cockades

Did African Americans wear cockades during the Civil War? There is a lot of evidence that white people did, but what about black folks?

Though the evidence is more scarce, there are a number of fascinating stories involving both free and slave black Americans wearing cockades during the Civil War.


Dead Out For Secession

Many slaves were very aware of the political scene in 1860. They had opinions and they were willing to publicly declare those opinions. An interesting December account in a Tennessee newspaper observes the state of affairs in Mississippi:

A gentleman of this city, now travelling in Mississippi, says the Nashville Gazette, writes back to a friend as follows:

The further down I get, the more secession I see. Not content with wearing the blue cockade themselves, the people put them up on wagons, carriages, riding horses, etc. At one place where I stopped, all the negroes had them on. You may safely put Mississippi down as dead out for secession.


Love and Contempt

Cockades were seen on slaves further north as well. Three days after South Carolina seceded, a Nashville newspaper carried the following story.

Tennessee Darkies and the Blue Cockade. - The Bolivar (Tenn.) Southerner of the 14th instant says: "The negroes of A.S. Coleman, Esq., of this place, created quite a sensation in that town yesterday, by appearing on the streets with blue cockades on their hats. It learns from Mr. Coleman that they requested the privilege of wearing them, as they said, to show their contempt for the abolitionists, and their love for their native South."

Cockades vs Flags

The Secessionist flag flying over Yale
Sometimes the black folks wore blue cockades to show love for the South. But sometimes they were put up to it by others as a joke. There are multiple accounts of the following interesting incident. It involved an African American in Connecticut who was prompted to taunt secessionists at Yale with his cockade. The Southern students retaliated and the whole college was thrown into an uproar. This newspaper carried a short version of what happened:

Secession at Yale.—The Yale College boys raised a Palmetto flag on the alumni tower of that institution, on Sunday, and barricaded all approaches to the top of the building. This was done in retaliation of the supposed insult offered by persons who employed negroes to wear the secession cockade before the Southern students.

The tower was eventually accessed when a door was broken open, and the offending flag was taken down.

The Tricolor on Colored Troops

Black folks wearing secession cockades was considered newsworthy and reported. Accounts of them wearing Union cockades are less frequent, but a Washington D.C. newspaper carried this story in 1863:

FIRST APPEARANCE OF THE NEGRO SOLDIERS. – Company I of the colored regiment of  this District made their appearance on our streets this forenoon. They numbered some forty or fifty, and wore a red, white and blue badge. Some of them, however, in addition to the badge, wore also a cockade composed of the same colors. They seemed to bear their honors well, notwithstanding the derisive remarks they met with as they marched along – coming in several instances from those of their own color. Their drillmaster – as we presume – a colored man, seemed to appreciate the dignity of his position to the fullest.

These stories and many others are included in my two books on cockades in the North and South during the war. For some fun and informative reading on where and why people wore cockades in the 1860s, check them out!



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