Wide Awakes and Minute Men

Many historians talk about the rush to enlist that occurred when the Civil War started. But not as well known is the fact that a good number of men were already organized in quasi-military groups long before the war broke out. Newspapers of the time recognized two general categories: "Wide Awakes" (Northern sympathizers) and "Minute Men" (Southern sympathizers).

And yes, both groups had badges!


As political hostilities grew during Lincoln's 1860 presidential campaign, friction between Northern and Southern sympathizers also grew. The Wide Awakes and Minute Men were ostensibly created to keep the peace, but with tensions running high, they were often embroiled in clashes. And little wonder - does this Wide Awake mission statement sound like the makings of trouble, or what!

Wide Awake Mission
  • To act as a political police. 
  • To do escort duty to all prominent Republican speakers who visit our place to address our citizens. 
  • To attend all public meetings in a body and see that order is kept and that the speaker and meeting is not disturbed. 
  • To attend the polls and see that justice is done to every legal voter. 
  • To conduct themselves in such a manner as to induce all Republicans to join them. 
  • A Wide Awake marcher with his badge. Seen on eBay.
  • To be a body joined together in large numbers to work for the good of the Republican Ticket. 
Of course, the Minute Men's mission doesn't sound exactly peaceful either!

The Minute Men are for the protection of the State as well as to resist any attempt on the part of the Federal Government, to coerce those States which may determine upon secession, as, in their judgment, the proper remedy for a violated Constitution.


A Noisy Crowd

Naturally, friction was inevitable in Baltimore, that hotbed of conflicting political views. But the Wide Awakes were there to "keep the peace." Here's an account of one event:

Baltimore. Nov. 2. –The procession of the Wide Awakes last night, encountering great demonstrations of indignation throughout the whole route. The members were greeted with constant hissing and groans, and in some localities rotten eggs were plentifully showered upon them by women. Their transparencies were smashed with stones, but no personal injuries inflicted. They were protected throughout by a strong police force.

At the theatre the galleries were taken possession of by a noisy crowd, who, with groans and hisses, drowned the voices of the speakers. The Hon. E. Joy Morris, of Philadelphia, was cried down amid a scene of excitement. The Wide Awakes made several moves to clear the galleries, and finally the police forced all to leave except those wearing the Wide Awake badges. The meeting, however, was effectually broken up. Three-fourths of the Lincoln men were Germans. After the meeting, the remains of the procession were escorted by the police to their headquarters.



Preparing for the Crisis

While the Wide Awakes were "keeping the peace" up North, the opposition Minute Men were organizing and arming themselves too. This newspaper notes:

The Minute Men. - We are glad to see the people of our State everywhere preparing for the crisis which is at hand. As an offset to the “Wide-Awakes” of the North, “Minute Men” are organizing in all the principal districts of South Carolina. Their object is to form an armed body of men, and to join in with our fellow-citizens, now forming in this and our sister Stales as “Minute Men,” whose duty is to arm, equip and drill, and be ready for any emergency that may arise in the present perilous position of the Southern States. In Kershaw, Abbeville and Richland Districts the organization is already complete and powerful, embracing the flower of the youth, and led on by the most influential citizens. The badge adopted is a blue rosette, two and a half inches in diammeter, with a military button in the centre, to be worn upon the side of the hat. Let the important work go bravely on, and let every son of Carolina in prepare to mount the blue cockade. -Charleston Mercury.

Crimson Ribbons and Blue Badges

Not all political events involved violence. This account of a Wide Awake event from the Massachusetts Berkshire County Eagle sounds not only peaceful, but fun.

Speaking of the illumination, the Berkshire Courier says: the finest display of this kind, was at the Maplewood Institute, which was one complete blaze of light. The words “LINCOLN & HAMLIN,” were prominently displayed in bold letters, and even at the peak of the tower of Gymnasium hall, the initials of our ever worthy successful candidates could be plainly observed.

The Wide Awakes were here greeted by cheers, waving of handkerchiefs, and the smiling faces who had lent largely to the features of the occasion; the “wide awake” Republican young ladies being easily distinguished by a crimson ribbon, with the words “LINCOLN & HAMLIN” inscribed thereon, while the other parties wore blue badges.

Drilling Daily

Many chapters of the Wide Awakes and Minute Men ended up enlisting en masse into the regular armies when the war started. Their military drilling and organization had already been in place for months.

This South Carolina newspaper noted in November 1860:

A gentleman who arrived here [Washington D.C.] from the South to-day, states that Minute Men and Committees of Safety are organizing all over the South. In Virginia they are enrolling men all over the State, and the regular volunteers drill daily. The four batteries of rifled cannon, twenty pieces, lately ordered by Col. Smith, will arrive in Richmond next week, with five thousand revolving pistols, and 25 hundred carbines. Eight hundred barrels of powder have already gone on. There is no exaggeration in all this. Governor Letcher declares openly that its object is to sustain any sovereign State against federal coercion. Letters from Georgia say all parties are united for secession on Lincoln's election. No doubt is entertained here that in less than sixty days several of the Southern States will have dissolved their connection with the government.

The Civil War did not occur in a vacuum. As the badges and rallies multiplied during 1860, the Wide Awakes and Minute Men became well-prepared powder kegs ready to be touched off. Both sides felt their convictions deeply. As tensions rose, each side vowed to defend the right - even to the death.

Wide Awake Rallying Song:

Wide awake! wide awake!
This is no time for sleep!
Let every friend of Freedom now,
His wary vigils keep.
The foe is on his march again,
His council fire aglow;
Then rally now, my gallant boys.
To battle with the foe.




The Boys With the Blue Cockade

No stranger or insolent foeman shall tread
O'er the graves where the dust of our heroes is laid.
Our mothers and daughters - our living and dead
We'll trust to the Boys with the Blue Cockade.


If you need Union badges or Secession cockades, I have them in my shops! Or feel free to email me with a custom order - no extra charge.

Below is a link to the reproduction Wide Awake badges in my shop. 

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