Texas Longhorns in the American Revolution

If you’re a history buff, you probably know that the American Revolution didn’t just happen in New England and Virginia. The Southern states played a big role as well. 

The first “tea party,” for instance, happened in South Carolina, not Boston. And the losses of the British and victories of the armies in the Southern states are what led to Cornwallis surrendering at Yorktown. So yeah – South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia – sure, those Southern states played a big part in winning the war. 

But did you know that TEXAS played a part too? Along with Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida!

But wait, you say. Most of those states (which weren't even states then) weren’t part of the British empire, nor were they claimed by the newly minted United States. How could they influence the war? 

The answer includes Texas longhorns and the British navy.

Great Britain's Navy Is Busy

When America declared her independence from Great Britain in 1776, the territory covering Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and West Florida belonged to Spain – the area was called “New Spain.” Spain had originally owned all of Florida, but traded part of it to Great Britain in the 1763 Treaty of Paris. And that’s where the American Revolution comes in. 

As Americans and British fought over whether we would remain independent, Britain also became embroiled in war with France, Spain and Holland. Since all of these countries had colonies around the world, Britain’s navy became stretched exceedingly thin. And British ships that could have been fighting Americans on the east coast were instead defending Pensacola, Florida against a siege. 

If you’ve only ever read basic American history textbooks, you may be confusedly thinking, “Who in tarnation was besieging the British at Pensacola?” And therein lies a totally amazing and fascinating tale. 

Bernardo de Galvez by José Germán de Alfaro

Galvez on the Warpath

A young Spanish 31-year-old named Bernardo de Galvez had been appointed Governor of "Luisiana" (Louisiana) in 1777. He already had an illustrious military career under his belt, starting at age 16, which included not only famous battles in Europe but also some Apache fighting in Mexico and Texas! 

Galvez, under instructions from his government, proceeded to provide covert help and assistance to American troops fighting the British. 

When Spain officially declared war on Britain in 1779, Galvez was given the chance to fight openly with the British at their outposts along the Gulf coast. He fought a masterful campaign through 1779-1781, with victories at Fort Bute, Baton Rouge, Natchez, Baton Rouge again, and Mobile… and finally wound up with a major victory at Pensacola! 

By the time Galvez defeated the British at Pensacola, he had 7000 troops (by comparison, Cornwallis surrendered 8000 men at Yorktown). How did those victorious troops survive during that long campaign, stretching from Louisiana to Florida? 

They lived on Texas longhorns!

Yes, the first cattle drives from Texas began, not in the Wild West of the mid-1800s, but in 1779! Though records are still being discovered, it’s estimated that from 1779 to 1782, somewhere between 9,000 and 15,000 head of cattle were sent to Galvez’s army from ranchers in Texas. And that’s the army that kept the British tied up – and defeated - all along the Gulf coast. 

So that’s how the Texas longhorn helped save American independence!

Pierre Georges Rousseau, an officer in the Gulf Coast theater,
sporting his alliance cockade

Cockades of the Gulf Coast Theater

In honor of both Spain and France’s contribution to the American Revolution, I’ve created a “Triple Alliance” cockade of red (Spain), white (France) and black (United States). These are based on actual accounts, drawings and paintings of soldiers’ cockades in the Gulf coast theater of war. 

Naturally, I had to create a cockade to honor the legacy of Bernardo de Galvez. (Did you know that Galveston was named after him?)

And I’ve also created a special cockade just to celebrate the contribution of that imminently American icon: the Texas Longhorn!

America's 250th!

Celebrate the founding of our country with cockades! This year marks the beginning of 250th anniversaries that so many of us have heard about all our lives. I will be offering cockades to commemorate these events. If you don't see a cockade in my shop to mark your favorite event, let me know and I'll be happy to add it!

Our founders wore cockades as they fought for our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The donning of a cockade showed their patriotic purpose to support the fledgling United States. It often required courage to take such a stand in a world where America was still viewed as a colonial frontier, not an international power. As we honor the memory of these patriots, we can wear cockades as well! 

Click here to see what America 250th cockades I currently offer in my shop. And let me know if I need to add something! Want to keep up with new items in the shop, as well as read fun cockade stories from history? Be sure to sign up for my emails here! (No spam, I promise)

Rosettes for Christmas

We all know of the basic old-fashioned ornaments that were used at Christmas time - strings of berries or popcorn, dried fruit and lighted candles. But did you know that rosettes were sometimes used as well?

Here's a little fun Christmas decoration history for you - and it includes rosettes!

A German Tradition

Christmas trees have been around in some form or another for centuries. But the modern version of the Christmas tree and Christmas decorations apparently originated in the area of Germany. People would go to the huge fir forests in Germany and cut off the tops of the trees for their Christmas celebrations.

Hessian soldiers in the Revolutionary War and nineteenth century German settlers in America brought this tradition with them. Especially in areas like Texas and Pennsylvania, German immigrants established traditions of a fir tree to be decorated for Christmas. They became so popular that they began to be sold commercially in the 1850s. President Franklin Pierce is credited with bringing the first Christmas tree to the White House in 1856.

Concerns about over-harvesting in both America and Germany resulted in the invention of artificial trees such as feather trees, and in tree farms (first established in 1901).

Queen Victoria, herself of German descent, popularized the Christmas tree in the 1840s, and the image of her family around the tree was widely published in both Europe and America.

A German engraving of a Christmas scene, c. 1869

Decorating the Tree

I found a sweet little story in an 1860 edition of Godey's Lady's Book entitled "The Christmas Tree." Long before Hallmark movies, ladies' magazines of the day carried heart-warming, feel-good stories about Christmas, and this tale is no exception. However, the fascinating part for me was the description of the family decorating their tree.

"The square of green baize being tacked down, a large stone jar was placed in the middle of it, and in this the tree stood nobly erect. Damp sand was put round the stem till the large green tree stood firmly in its place. A flounce of green chintz round the jar concealed its stony ugliness, and over the top, round the tree, was a soft cushion of moss. It was a large evergreen, reaching almost to the high ceiling, for all the family presents were to be placed upon it.

"The Christmas Tree," Harper's Weekly, 1870

"This finished, the process of dressing commenced. From a basket in the corner, Marion drew long strings of bright red holly-berries, threaded like beads upon fine cord. These were festooned in graceful garlands from the boughs of the tree, and while Marion was thus employed, Grace and the Doctor arranged the tiny tapers. This was a delicate task. Long pieces of fine wire were passed through the taper at the bottom, and these clasped over the stem of each branch, and twisted together underneath. Great care was taken that there should be a clear space above each wick, that nothing might catch fire.

"Strings of bright berries, small bouquets of paper flowers, strings of beads, tiny flags of gay ribbons, stars and shields of gilt paper, lace bags filled with colored candies, knots of bright ribbons, all homemade by Marion's and Grace's skilful fingers, made a brilliant show at a very trifling cost, the basket seeming possessed of unheard-of capacities, to judge from the multitude and variety of articles the sisters drew from it."

From other period descriptions of decorations, I suspect the "knots of bright ribbons" was another way of saying ribbon rosettes.

1876 Victorian Christmas Tree

As Advertised: Christmas Rosettes!

If you're looking for a more specific reference to Christmas rosettes, though, I love this one from a German newspaper in Allentown, PA, dated December 15, 1869:

"Christmas rosettes. Rosettes are the loveliest decoration for a Christmas tree and are being used more and more each year. Two to three dozen suffice to do a rather large tree. They can be used year after year. The price is thirty cents a dozen. Siemon, Bro & Co, Fort Wayne, Indiana and Hermann Albert, Allentown, PA."

And the tradition continued for many years, as evidenced by this advertisement from the Wilmington, DE "The Daily Gazette" in December 1876.

Well obviously I couldn't ignore this fun idea for decorating during the holidays! So a number of years ago, I started offering my customers the option of either choosing a pin back or an ornament loop for many of my cockades. If you don't see that option available on the cockade you want, just let me know and I'll be happy to offer it for you! I also offer cockades that can be tied onto a wreath.

Some of my ornaments have been vintage style, the "knot of ribbons" mentioned above. Others are more modern and include special photos or emblems. Either way, I think it's a beautiful fashion!

American Civil War: Which Cockade Is Right for Your Persona?

In my ten years of recreating and selling authentic cockades, I have helped many people choose just the right political cockade for their impression. Probably the most entertaining encounter I had was with a lady who insisted on choosing an American Civil War cockade to “match her dress.” I tried to point out that there was a big difference between wearing a pro-secession cockade and a pro-union cockade, but she airily dismissed my concerns. It had to match the dress! 

I’m assuming most of y'all care a bit more deeply about making sure your cockade is correct for your  historic persona. The heyday for cockades in America was 1850-1900, so there are dozens of options for you to choose from. Clubs, fraternities, funerals, processions, festivals, fundraisers, political events, campaigns, you name it! People wore cockades for all of these to identify with a cause or signify some kind of rank or service. 

So.... How do you choose what to wear? 

For the purposes of this article, I’m simply going to cover political cockades. (Otherwise, this might turn into a book!) But do be aware that there are many other types of cockades that can be designed and worn for your historic events if you wish. Meanwhile, let’s take a look at how to choose the appropriate political cockade for your Civil War impression!

Which side are you on? 

As noted above, there were cockades (typically rosettes made out of ribbon) for both North and South in 1860s America. As we all know, however, history is not quite as cut and dried as that. In every southern state that seceded, there were those who were pro-union. And in every state in the Union, there were those who were either pro-secession or at least sympathized with the South. You’ll need to decide what your politics are before you can make any further decisions regarding your political badges. 

Pro-union cockades were almost always red, white and blue, often called “tricolor.” The center emblem, if there was one, was generally left up to the wearer’s fancy unless it was a mandatory military cockade. Stars, military buttons, and small pictures of famous Americans (such as George Washington) were fashionable as centers. 

Pro-secession cockades fall into two general categories, Southern cockades and Northern Copperhead badges. 

Southern cockades were generally all blue, all red, or red and white. Once again, center emblems include stars, military buttons and pictures, but additionally southern products such as palmetto fronds, pine burs, corn or cotton were used. These homegrown products emphasized the agrarian nature of the Confederacy, as opposed to the more industrialized North.

These pro-South badges could be worn in the North as well as the South, but the pro-South movement in the North also had another badge – the Copperhead. Copperheads wore a copper “Lady Liberty” cent on their watch fobs, or had the head of Lady Liberty cut out and made into a stick pin. 

One other small niche of cockade designs was worn by both sides – a black, or black and white cockade. This harkens back to America’s beginnings in the 1770s, when the Continental Army’s official cockade was black or black and white. The idea, used by both Northerners and Southerners, was to show that their cause was the one truly representing the ideals of America’s founding.

What year are you representing? 

In 1860-61, patriotic fervor (both pro- and anti-secession) was at its height. The reality of a bloody war had not yet set in and many thought the coming conflict would be minimal. It was popular and fun to not only pick a side, but to publicly show your sentiments with a cockade. We see account after account like this one from a southern newspaper: 

“SECESSION MEETING IN GEORGIA. Columbus, Nov. 24. The demonstration made here to-day was the greatest ever seen in Western Georgia. All the merchants closed their stores and joined in the procession. Flags and banners were suspended on the streets, the military and Southern Guard paraded in procession, and cannon were fired as a salute to the Southern Confederacy. Messrs. Yancey and Rice spoke in the morning to a crowd of 5,000 people. John Cochrane, of Alabama, spoke at night, with Senator Iverson and Mr. Crawford. Nine-tenths of the people – men, women and children – wear the disunion cockade.” 

Northern accounts speak of the holiday atmosphere in cockade-wearing as well. “The uniforms on drill were fantastic - some self-made paper hats, tri cockade, square and round, as fancy designed; others, for pantaloons, had their blankets folded over a string much like the Kilt of the Scot, bound to the waist by a knotted cord, or a wooden skewer for a pin. Truly, we may have been taken for some of our forbears, who had risen from their tombs and wandered over from Valley Forge to give us inspiration for the awful struggle yet to come, which no one of us, looked up in a serious light, all nearly with the view that it was to be a holiday only.” (The Andersonville Diary & Memoirs of Charles Hopkins, 1st New Jersey Infantry)

As the war progressed and the casualty list increased, patriotism was no longer a “fun” thing to be celebrated, but a deeply-felt principle to be supported with your life and military service (for men) or your material aid and comfort (for women). Cockades became more rare in 1862-65. 

Sam Watkins in “Co. Aytch” reported early in the war, “Everywhere could be seen Southern cockades made by the ladies and our sweethearts.” By 1862 though, he said, “I saw then what I had long since forgotten – a ‘cockade.’ The Kentucky girls made cockades for us, and almost every soldier had one pinned on his hat.” 

Fannie Beers in Louisiana also recalled the cockade-wearing to be short-lived. “Who does not remember the epidemic of blue cockades which broke out in New Orleans during the winter of 1860 and 1861, and raged violently throughout the whole city? The little blue cockade, with its pelican button in the centre and its two small streamers, was the distinguishing mark of the “Secessionist.” 

Cockades certainly appeared throughout the war, but the height of their popularity was 1860-61. A popular gathering, such as a fundraiser or general’s visit, could prompt the crowd to bring out the cockades again in later years. But in general, the mass wearing of them in the streets faded after 1861.

The exception to this was the presidential election of 1864 and Lincoln’s death in 1865. Both occasions brought out in the North many specialized cockades with the proper person’s picture in the center or a printed pendant with the person’s name. Tricolor cockades were generally used for presidential candidates. Black cockades were usually used for mourning Lincoln’s death. 

Copperheads also had their heyday in 1864, the year of the presidential election. They controlled the Democratic platform and ending the war was one of their major campaign goals. When Lincoln won reelection, the Copperhead movement basically died.

Are you civilian or military?

Both civilians and soldiers wore cockades. Civilians’ cockades tended to be designed according to the wearer’s fancy. If a soldier was wearing a cockade provided by a friend or sweetheart, it was also usually designed by the maker. But in many cases, especially early in the war before uniforms on both sides became centrally standardized, regiments often had their own cockades. This happened most frequently in the South, but Northern militia regiments occasionally used them before later being absorbed into the regular US army. 

If you are part of a reenacting unit that is militia or early war, you should check your unit’s historical records to see if such a cockade was designed for you. Here is one example.“The scarlet cockade and steel button, of which we spoke yesterday, has, we learn, been unanimously adopted by the Edgefield Riflemen, and is now a pledge by them to resist Black Republican rule in or out of South Carolina. The motto is “Blood and Steel”—a reliable cure for present troubles.” 

What state/region are you in?

Though the pro-Union cockade seems have been universally tricolor, pro-secession cockades varied wildly from state to state. For instance, this popular item in Northern newspapers described cockades from several Southern states: 

“South Carolina.—The cockade is made of three layers of very dark cloth, stitched at the edges and fastened together by a gilt button, on which the following appears in relief: In the center is the "Palmetto," with two arrows (crossed,) and fastened together at the point of crossing with a bow know of ribbon. The following is the motto around the button: Animous opibusque parati—"Ready with our minds and means." 

Virginia.—This consists of a double rosette of blue silk, with a pendant of lemon color, the whole fastened together by a gilt button on which appear in relief the arms of Virginia, with the name of the State and its motto encircling it. Its motto is "Sic Semper Tyrannis." 

Maryland.—The cockade is formed of a double rosette of blue silk, with blue pendants, and fastened the same as that of Virginia, with the State button, and the single world "Maryland" beneath the arms.” 

This is by no means an exhaustive list of the various types of Southern cockades. North Carolinians often used pine burs on their cockades. One Arkansian account speaks of cotton and corn being featured on Arkansas cockades. If you want your cockade to be truly representative of your region, I recommend you either contact me for more information or search online newspapers and diaries from your area for references to cockades. (Use the words cockade, badge, rosette and ribbon, as they can all refer to the same thing.)

What is your socio/economic status? 

As you may have gathered from the quotes I’ve given so far, cockades were worn by men and women, adults and children. They were also worn by white and black, and poor as well as rich. Regardless of your status, you can wear a cockade. However, your position in life could have an impact on what the cockade looks like. 

Cockades were sold both retail and wholesale, so if you had money, you could purchase one. The price in the ads I’ve found seems to have generally been around 25-30 cents. You could also buy the ribbon and make the cockade yourself (or have your wife or sweetheart do it for you). Cockades were made from cotton, silk and wool, all of which would have been readily available in a lady’s sewing workbox. 

The accounts of poorer folks wearing cockades imply that they were likely wearing a simple strip or rosette of ribbon. In one account, it was noted that, “A number of charcoal dealers, from the interior of this district, were yesterday here on business, wearing—not the blue silk cockade—but plain strips of brown paper, bearing such mottoes as “Resistance,” “Remember Harper’s Ferry,” etc. We could not but admire the stern simplicity of this unpretending badge of devotion to South Carolina:—

The honest man, tho’ e’er sae poor, 

Is king of men for a’ that.” 

Some slaves apparently were able to either make or buy cockades themselves. I found several accounts mentioning them wearing these badges. “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.” 

How to use your cockade in your impression

So, using your politics, your region, and your status, you have now created the perfect cockade for your impression! What will you do with it? 

Cockades can be conversation-starters simply by wearing them. When explaining my badge to a spectator, I usually say that cockades are the “lapel pins” of the past. Then I try to draw an analogy of something they wear in modern life to support a cause – a t-shirt, hat or pin. Then I explain that wearing a cockade in the 1860s could be fun, but it could also be serious – cockades could literally start riots if you wear them in the wrong crowd! It’s pretty easy to bring up modern illustrations of how this could happen, to help them understand (wearing a MAGA hat to a Democrat rally, for example). 

Then I use my cockade as a jumping-off point to discuss my “cause” further if the spectator is interested. Why am I pro-secession? Or perhaps, why am I wearing a badge to support Breckinridge instead of Lincoln? Do some research and have some fun with this. 

You can create more intricate scenarios with cockades if you are interested and can get several other reenactors to help you. As I noted, cockades could start arguments, fights and riots. I’ve read a number of accounts of people trying to yank someone’s cockade off their hat or coat (ladies did this too!). A man could be kicked out of a bar for wearing an unpopular cockade. Officers have been documented to openly call out or sneer at a man wearing a badge from the opposite side. In one account, a lady was barred from receiving a teacher’s certificate because she was wearing a Copperhead badge. Politics was a blood sport in the 1860s. Try recreating these incidents to have some fun with your cockade!

As a final note, if you’re not sure where to start researching original descriptions and incidents concerning cockades, I have two digital books available in my shop that are compilations of quotes concerning Southern cockades and Northern cockades, respectively. 

Have fun telling YOUR story with a cockade!

How Did They Wear Their Cockades?

It's one thing to look at an original cockade and admire its beauty. It's another thing to wear a reproduction yourself - HOW did they wear their cockades? Most questions I get about wearing cockades concern the American Civil War, so that's the time period this post will focus on.

How Men Wore Cockades

How did men wear their cockades? A look at original photos and quotes will show us that gentlemen have many options!


When we look at photographic evidence, a large percentage of gentlemen wore their cockades pinned to their lapels. In "Blood and War at my Doorstep," Brenda McKean's memoirs of the war recall, "Patriotic individuals were sporting secession badges on their lapels and bonnets."

This civilian gentlemen is probably wearing an 1864 campaign cockade on his lapel, based on the date on the back of the photo. 

Shoulder or Chest

Obviously, many uniforms and battle shirts did not have lapels. In those cases, photographic evidence shows a number of soldiers wearing their cockades on their chest or shoulder. Note these two examples of military gentlemen.

I have found on rare occasions that gentlemen sometimes wore their cockades on their vests. It is possible that this man is wearing a mourning cockade (it appears to be made of dark ribbon with a photo in the center). If so, he may have felt it would be more decorous and respectful to the person he was mourning not to wear it flamboyantly on his lapel or sleeve. It could also be a campaign cockade, in which case he may have wanted to keep it protected under his coat till he reached his political meeting.


When looking at original quotes, by far the most oft-mentioned method of wearing a cockade is on the hat. (There would probably be more photographic evidence of cockades in hats if it weren't for the fact that many gents took their hats off to be photographed.)

Tennessee soldier Sam Watkins wrote in "Company Aytch," "I saw then what I had long since forgotten - a 'cockade.' The Kentucky girls made cockades for us, and almost every soldier had one pinned on his hat."

South Carolina militia men organizing in the fall of 1860 wore their cockades as military hat badges. "The badge adopted is a blue rosette, two and a half inches in diameter, with a military button in the centre, to be worn upon the side of the hat."

Civilian men also wore cockades on their hats. In fact, this January 1861 account mentions some black gentlemen who did so in Tennessee. "The Bolivar (Tenn.) Southerner says that the negroes of A.S. Coleman, Esq., of that place, created quite a sensation in that town a few days ago, by appearing on the streets with blue cockades on their hats."


And finally, some men chose to wear their cockades on their sleeves. Military gents almost universally did so when wearing a mourning cockade. We can see this by the many photos of officers wearing Lincoln mourning cockades after Lincoln's death in April 1865. Notice General Grant doing so in this picture.

I have occasionally seen photos of gents wearing political badges on their sleeves as well. In fact, this 1864 Lincoln campaign cockade has string ties on it, making it easy to tie it on as an armband.

The summary? Gentlemen, you have many choices for wearing your cockade!

How Ladies Wore Cockades

There is a lot of documentation that women wore cockades, as well as men. But how did they wear them? On their bonnets? In their hats? On their shoulders? The answer: All of the above!

There are many references in the newspapers, memoirs, and letters of the times talking about ladies wearing cockades, and there are even a few photographs. 


The New York Times printed a report from New Orleans in November 1860 which said, "What gave peculiar interest to this grand display of beauty, grace, and elegance, was the exhibition of blue cockades worn on the shoulders of nearly all the ladies who appeared in public."

Gideon Lincecum of Texas wrote on December 3, 1860, "Mass meetings, conventions, and minute men is all the go. Lone Star flags and blue cockades are fluttering to every breeze and glittering on every hat, as well as on the breast of many of our patriotic ladies."

This is certainly one of the easiest ways to wear your cockade. But hold on, there's more!


A quote from "Grander in Her Daughters" says, "Journalists covering the growing groundswell for secession in Tampa noted that blue cockades pinned in ladies' hats were 'a token of resistance to abolitionist rule - an appropriate graceful little emblem that evinces the true spirit of the wearers.'"

Fannie Beers wrote in her memoirs of the war, "Hats and bonnets of all sorts and sizes were made of straw or palmetto, and trimmed with the same. Most of them bore cockades of bright red and white (the "red, white, and red"), fashioned of strips knitted to resemble ribbons. Some used emblems denoting the State or city of the wearer, others a small Confederate battle-flag."

Ladies' hats were usually decorated with ribbons and flowers so it would have been easy to nestle a lovely cockade in the hat's decorations.


Brenda McKean recalled in her memoirs, "Patriotic individuals were sporting secession badges on their lapels and bonnets. Described as folded blue ribbons, some badges were red, white, and blue ribbons. Others wore a flower posy called a Southern badge, which consisted of a cluster of hyacinths and arborvitae tied with red/white/blue ribbons. Other men preferred a rosette of pinecones. Both men and women wore blue cockades during secession in Rockingham County, N.C."

The Daily Exchange noted in December 1860, "Many of the ladies of Richmond now wear the secession rosette in their bonnets, while others show the Union colors, red, white and blue."

So if you are a lady who wants to know where to wear your cockade... you have many options too!

Knights of the Golden Circle: Southern Empire, Secret Society

George W. L. Bickley was a man with a troubled childhood, a scheming brain, and a thirst for fame and power. Add to that a well-read mind and real talent as an author and speaker, and you have the ingredients for a founder of a secret society that rocked the United States to its core in the 1860s.

Bickley formed the Knights of the Golden Circle on July 4, 1854. Membership sputtered along until Bickley managed to convince the already existing Order of the Lone Star – and its 15,000 members ranging from New York to Texas – to merge with the KGC. Suddenly he had a national organization worthy of the name. 

The goal? To annex Mexico to the United States for a start, and later grab Cuba and other South American countries to create an empire – a “golden circle” of Southern states.

Annexation and Ambition

Annexing southern countries was not an idea unique to Bickley. Cuba, still under the power of Spain, had multiple uprisings for freedom in the 1800s. Due to its proximity to the United States, many Americans looked favorably upon the idea of taking possession of it, both to extend US territory and to neutralize any possible enemy attacks from that location. Of course, Texas had been annexed to the US in 1845. Therefore, many were eyeing the bordering country of Mexico as more fruitful land to add to the US’s “Manifest Destiny” of expansionism. Furthermore, many South American countries were in the midst of revolutions to overthrow their parent European countries’ domination. They seemed ripe for possible annexation as well.

Bickley tapped into these American expansionist ambitions to cull support for his own ambition – to be part of the ruling elite of a Southern empire. 

Goals of the Empire

Of course, it’s no fun to simply conquer an empire and leave it at that. Bickley had much larger visions. In his own twisted way, he wanted to bring a utopian prosperity and morality to mankind by ruling them with a benevolent rod of iron. 

In a long, windy and somewhat contradictory declaration in “General Order 52,” Bickley observed that while some say that peace is “a national blessing,” on the contrary, “all civilization is the fruit of war.” And it was just fortunate, according to Bickley, that there was a war for expansion and annexation just crying out to be fought. 

Non-Anglo culture desperately needed the intervention of white Americans, in Bickley’s mind. Bickley remarked loftily, “The Anglo-American race has shown its moderation in government, its justice in trade, its generosity in war, and its superiority in all the walks of life; and the K.G.C. firmly believe that Providence has ordained it to evangelize and civilize the world....there is a land open to our occupancy; there is a people who beg our intervention.”

Somehow, he and other KGC members deceived themselves into believing that non-Anglos (blacks and Hispanics in particular) were all part of inferior cultures that needed the firm ruling hand of the Anglo-Saxon race. Unfortunately, this was an all-too-common belief throughout the western world in the middle 1800s. Thus, expanding KGC membership by tapping into the “Anglo-Saxon” superiority complex was fairly easy.

Bickley's KGC badge.
Courtesy of Christopher Lyons
Badges, Codes and Rituals

Secret societies were all the rage in the 1800s. They were much like social clubs, and each society had its own aims and benefits. The KGC was primarily a military organization, but it had accompanying benefits such as the support of maimed veterans and widows. Local chapters were called “castles” and members were promised regular pay and rations when they went to war. And there was the promise of free land and presumed prosperity once the KGC’s aims of southern annexation were realized. 

Special tokens, badges, handshakes and secret signs were spelled out for the KGC members. This was more than mere playacting for fun – the society’s goals of militant empire-building were actually illegal under the 1818 US Neutrality Act. Secrecy was a practical requirement.

Though there were a number of badges and tokens specified, Bickley relied on one theme over and over: a star and a golden circle. The "Rules, Regulations and Principles of the KGC" command that, "All commissioned officers shall wear the great emblem of the legion…on the right breast." The emblem was described as "Gold circle encasing Greek cross, in center of which is a star.” A photograph exists of Bickley wearing his KGC badge and a badge of this description was found in Bickley’s effects after his arrest. Christopher Lyons, an historian of the KGC, has taken measurements of Bickley’s original badge and was a great help to me in recreating it for my customers.

Secession and Demise

As tensions rose between North and South in 1860, the aims of the KGC began to shift from planning annexation to supporting secession. By 1860, the KGC already had or was recruiting many members in positions of power. Government officials, legislators, and military officers throughout the US either became members or worked with the KGC to strengthen the position of the Southern states in case of secession and war. 

George Bickley, wearing his KGC badge.
By 1860, the KGC claimed at least 48,000 members in the North alone. There were castles from California to the Eastern seaboard. These were organized military units, not merely names on a club roster. Military service was a requirement for membership. By the time the conflict began at Fort Sumter in April 1861, KGC troops were already taking military posts across the South, including the large federal arsenal at San Antonio, Texas. In many cases, the nucleus of a Southern unit raised early in the war was a local KGC castle. KGC castles were also instrumental in “persuading” (peacefully or otherwise) state conventions to vote for secession.

As KGC castles became absorbed into the Confederate army, their fame dissipated. By the end of the war, the KGC had disappeared. Some claimed that it continued and simply reorganized under other names. But so far, no historic proof has been found for that theory. 

And what happened to Bickley? In June 1863, he headed north, possibly to help arrange support for Morgan’s Raid. His activities were deemed suspicious and he was eventually arrested and incarcerated for two years without trial. Ever concerned first with his own advancement, Bickley offered numerous plea deals, including a plan to instruct all KGC members to vote for Abraham Lincoln in 1864! (The deals were rejected.) He was released in 1865 upon his oath of amnesty with no charges ever being filed against him. He died in relative obscurity two years later. 

A Blood Red Field

No one felt the cold on January 9, 1861 as the Star of the West approached Charleston Harbor. South Carolina had seceded from the Union just a few weeks before, but Fort Sumter remained stubbornly in Union hands. Major Robert Anderson resolved to hold out as long as possible in his lonely, dangerous position in the harbor, but he needed support. That support was now steaming towards him.

But the South Carolina Citadel cadets stationed at Morris Island were likewise prepared to defend their position. As the ship rolled in closer, they fired the first shot of the Civil War across her bow.

And over the heads of the cadets flew "Big Red," a flag that would not only become famous in its own right but its colors would also start a Confederate tradition.

The Colors of the Confederacy

Contemporary sources tell us the flag had a “blood red field” on which was sewn a “remarkably executed white palmetto tree.”

The Charleston Mercury noted just four days before that the flag was presented to the cadets by the ladies in the family of flag maker Hugh Vincent. Eyewitness reports tell us that flags at Fort Johnson and Castle Pinckney looked similar. Shortly thereafter, red and white flags with stars or palmettos began appearing across the state.

As the color scheme caught on, it became associated particularly with secession and the Confederacy. Years later as the United Daughters of the Confederacy were organizing, they wanted to choose en emblem for their organization.

Their records state that, "Only one flower was considered by the committee, this one flower belonging exclusively to the South, giving the clear white and red of the Confederacy. The white for truth, the red for sacrifice, and again the white of a transcendent purity." Thus the cotton boll became the UDC's national emblem, and red and white became the organization's official colors.

The Cockades

But of course, what grabbed my interest was the cockades!

Shortly after South Carolina seceded, striking cockades appeared across the South of red, or red-and-white. Fannie Beers wrote in her memories of the war, "Hats and bonnets of all sorts and sizes were made of straw or palmetto, and trimmed with the same. Most of them bore cockades of bright red and white (the "red, white, and red"), fashioned of strips knitted to resemble ribbons. Some used emblems denoting the State or city of the wearer, others a small Confederate battle-flag."

A Baltimore newspaper reported in November 1860 that, "The scarlet cockade and steel button, of which we spoke yesterday, has, we learn, been unanimously adopted by the Edgefield Riflemen, and is now a pledge by them to resist Black Republican rule in or out of South Carolina. The motto is 'Blood and Steel'—a reliable cure for present troubles."

I love this sharp looking color combo! I've been inspired to re-create many cockades in the red and white scheme and people seem to love wearing them. 

Artist's rendition of the firing on the
Star of the West in Harper's Weekly.
Note the palmetto flag.

Big Red

And what became of the flag that started it all?

After analyzing it's construction, design and history, experts finally agreed that a flag in the Iowa Historical Society collection is likely the original "Big Red" of Morris Island fame. The famous flag was captured at the fall of Fort Blakeley, AL in April 1865, shortly before the war ended.

In 2010, "Big Red" came home to the Citadel, on loan for the four years of the War's sesquicentennial. And the design of Big Red lives on in the Citadel's flag today.