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!


Lapels

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.



Vest
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.

Hat

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."


Sleeve

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. 


Shoulders/Breast

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!

Hats

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.

Bonnets

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.



Reformation and Cockades

Over five hundred years ago, a movement began that would change the map of the world - and influence cockades for centuries!

On October 31, 1517 Martin Luther published his Ninety-Five Theses combating the errors of the established Catholic church. This was no mere theological argument. The Pope and his church hierarchy had accumulated vast power in the world, making and unmaking kings and kingdoms. Luther's Theses were the first stroke at the foundation of a massive empire.

Beards, Breaths, and Feathers 

(and Cockades)

One of the sources of income for this religious Catholic empire was the sale of indulgences, supposedly the forgiveness of sins for money. Peddlers of these indulgences often displayed phony "relics" - items supposedly belonging to Christ or the Catholic saints. In an 1853 history of the Protestant Reformation, we are told about some of these relics - note the cockade reference!

"At Wittenberg were shown a piece of Noah's ark, a small portion of soot from the furnace of the three young Hebrews, a bit of the manger in which our Savior was laid, a little of the beard of the great Christopher, and nineteen thousand other relics of greater or less value. At Schauffhausen was shown the breath of St. Joseph, which Nicodemus had received into his glove; at Wurtemberg, a dealer in indulgences carried on his head a cockade, containing a large feather from the wing of Michael the archangel! Think you, was it not time for heaven to interpose? Luther appears amid all this to accomplish heaven's behests."

Luther was the catalyst for the Reformation, a movement that insisted the church go back to Scripture alone, without inventions of men.

Reformers, Catholics and Cockades

Catholicism and Protestantism began a struggle that involved not merely the kingdom of God, but also the kingdoms of men. Many a civil war was fought between Catholic and Protestant claimants to the same thrones. And naturally, each side of the conflict usually had its own cockade.

The Catholic Stuarts wore the white cockade in their quest to gain England's throne and that became the basis for the Scottish white cockade. (Read my blog post about it here.)

The Protestant Dutch William ultimately gained England's throne and brought with him the Dutch orange cockade. That's why Protestant Irish wear orange, while Catholic Irish wear green. (Yep, I've got a blog post on that too.)

William and Mary established Britain as Protestant, but the fracas between Catholic and Protestant didn't end. The Papist Act of 1778, for example, sparked riots that rocked the city of London and were led by anti-government rioters wearing blue cockades. Those blue cockades, by the way, were to appear again several times in American anti-government movements - notably the Nullification Crisis of 1832 and the Secession Crisis of 1860-61. (Aaaand here's the blog post.)

As Protestant and Catholic statesmen  boiled along in political disputes, the real Reformation continued. Puritans within the church and Separatists or Non-Conformists outside of the church sought to wean the church from the teachings of men and go back to Scripture alone. But the persecution continued. An account of French Huguenots tells of cockades and a massacre:

Armed bands rushed from Nimes into the country around, ravaged, murdered, or blackmailed the Protestant farmers and small cultivators. Some of the more remote, isolated, and consequently defenceless victims, wishing to find protection, obtained from the Prefet of Alons white flags and cockades. This was done under the eyes of the ' Sous-Prefet ' who, on August 2, gave Graffan the order to march on those very men termed now by that treacherous official 'disguised rebels.' Graffan, proud of this official order, marched forthwith to St. Maurice, seized six men haphazard, brought then triumphantly to the same 'esplanade,' and shot them under the windows of the 'Sous-Prefet,' notwithstanding the protests of the doomed men that they were Royalists and bore the white cockade.

The first Thanksgiving at Plimouth
In seeking a way to practice religion according to Scripture instead of the State, many people began looking for a new place to start over. And they found it in the New World. Pilgrims began to arrive in America to create a city on a hill, an example of how practicing biblical religion can create a strong, healthy society.

The Christian foundations of America's history can be traced 500 years back to Martin Luther and his 95 theses. And a long line of cockades marks the trail!

Betsy Ross and the First American Flag

The colors and emblems on cockades have always signified great meaning. The same is true with flags. The Betsy Ross flag is no exception! Both the meaning of the flag and the story of the woman who made it are an inspiration to every American who loves his country.

The Woman
Betsy Ross's story is that of a true American who works hard, asks no favors and is a blessing to society. Betsy was no stranger to hardship. Twice widowed by age 30, she had also lost a child by her second husband. Her third marriage survived many years but she lost another child. But Betsy had the resilient American spirit that keeps going through struggle.

She was an entrepreneur and talented upholsterer and seamstress. She supported herself with these skills through the loss of two husbands and made a name for herself as a woman of skill. She worked on uniforms, tents and flags for the Continental Army, and reportedly even made bed hangings for George Washington. As her business succeeded, she became a blessing to extended family, taking in widowed or orphaned relatives who needed help.

Historical tradition says that in the summer of 1776, George Washington, Robert Morris and George Ross visited her upholstery shop and brought a sketch of an American flag for her to make. It is said that Betsy then made the first flag shortly thereafter.

The Flag
On January 1, 1776, Washington ordered the Grand Union Flag to be raised during the Continental Army siege of Boston.  This flag had thirteen stripes which alternated red and white. The British Union Jack was in the upper left corner of the flag. "Ceremony staged on Prospect Hill, in Somerville, where a seventy-six foot flagstaff had been erected, so lofty that it could be seen even in distant Boston.  On this was hoisted the 'Union Flag in Compliment to the United Colonies.'  This Great or Grand Union Flag was nothing more than the Meteor Flag of Great Britain modified by having six horizontal white stripes imposed in its field....These of course signified the thirteen original colonies, while retention of the British Union in the first canton testified continued loyalty, as Americans saw it, to the constitution of the government against which they fought." (The History of the United States Flag)

On June 14, 1777, the Continental Congress passed the First Flag Act, creating the new country’s first official flag.  "That the flag of the United States be made of thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new Constellation." (First Flag Act)

George Washington is credited with saying: "We take the stars from Heaven, the red from our mother country, separating it by white stripes, thus showing that we have separated from her, and the white stripes shall go down to posterity representing Liberty." In speaking of the new Great Seal, more meaning was given to the colors chosen for the fledgling United States. "White signifies purity and innocence, Red, hardiness & valour, and Blue, the color of the Chief (the broad band above the stripes) signifies vigilance, perseverance & justice."

In recent days, the story of Betsy Ross and the First Flag of the United States have been under attack. Therefore I thought it only fitting to create a special Betsy Ross Cockade to celebrate this amazing woman and the flag that symbolize our American heritage!

Italy's First Cockade

The world was facing violent unrest in 1794. Across the globe, monarchical dictatorships grew more oppressive, the power of the papal despotism was growing - and the people were revolting.

The French Revolution was in full swing and France was pretty much at war with the world. Napoleon would justly win fame as a world-class military leader through these wars, but his success was also due to another factor: Many countries were already facing internal revolution. When his army approached, he was often greeted by friendly revolutionaries trying to overthrow their own oppressive government.

Which brings us to Italy – and the dramatic story of their first cockade.

Young Plotters

Italy was fragmented and largely ruled by absolutist foreign powers in the late 1700s. Consequently, there was much unrest and protest among the people, particularly against the power of the papacy and the Holy Inquisition. Two of these protesters, young university students, were to go down in Italian history: Giovanni Battista De Rolandis and Luigi Zamboni.

De Rolandis and Zamboni were planning a revolution. But Napoleon was approaching the Italian borders, so De Rolandis’ and Zamboni’s friends urged them to wait, in order to receive help from Napoleon's army. Young and impatient, they disliked the idea of perhaps another year or two of grinding oppression… and they also disliked the idea of French interference in Italian affairs.

Conspirators' Cockades

So they continued anyway. They created a network, not only plotting an overthrow of the current government, but also arranging for a new government to be immediately set up. They set a date for their uprising. And to provide a badge of identification, they created a tricolor cockade.

This cockade was based on the French tricolor of red, white and blue, just as their ideals were based on French republicanism. But not wanting to copy the French exactly, they substituted green for blue, as the universal symbol of “hope.” Subsequent records indicate that Zamboni's mother and aunt sewed the cockades.

The uprising was initiated on November 13. But on November 14, a gathering of these plotters was betrayed and the students were arrested by the papal police. Both were tortured to try and find out who else was involved in the plot. Neither gave in, however. The following summer, Zamboni committed suicide in prison and De Rolandis was hanged. Zamboni's mother and aunt, along with his father, also suffered death for their part in the uprising.

When the papal police crushed the initial uprising, they tried to destroy all of the patriots’ cockades. But one survived, and is now considered an Italian national treasure. It is still the property of the De Rolandis family who allows it to be displayed in national museums. This is a picture of it.

Napoleon's Ratification

When Napoleon’s troops did finally arrive the following year in 1796, he was greeted as a savior from oppression by many of the Italian people. In a grand ceremony, Napoleon presented the military of the new Italian republic with a flag. It was the flag we know today, stripes of red, white and green. And the reason for those colors? They were based on the cockades of the two patriotic students, De Rolandis and Zamboni. “Since they chose these three colors, so let them be,” Napoleon declared.

Symbol of Patriotism

Italian poets ever since have rhapsodized about the symbolism of the colors. In the 1790s, the colors were equated with the republican virtues of liberty, equality and fraternity. In religious lore, faith, hope and charity have always been symbolized by white, green and red. Other poets say these colors symbolize Italy’s land – the white snow of the Alps, the green grass of the valleys, and red fire of the volcanoes.

But the ultimate symbolism of the colors comes from the cockades of two young men and their families who refused to submit to oppression and gave their lives for the freedom of their people.


If you want to read more about this stirring story from history, this is a good article to start with. (Warning: It's in Italian.)