American Cockades


Before the Revolutionary War, American military wore the Hanovarian black cockades of King George of Great Britain. When the colonies seceded from Britain, they continued to wear the black cockades inherited from the mother country.

However, for the first few years of the war, General George Washington created a new military cockade style. “As the Continental Army has unfortunately no uniforms, and consequently many inconveniences must arise from not being able to distinguish the commissioned officers from the privates, it is desired that some badge of distinction be immediately provided; for instance that the field officers may have red or pink colored cockades in their hats, the captains yellow or buff, and the subalterns green. July 23, 1775”

In 1780, the military cockade system was changed again. France had entered the war against Britain in 1778 and France’s cockade was white. Thus, as a symbol of the two nations’ alliance, George Washington established that the American cockade would be an Alliance Cockade – black with a white center. Many of the French troops likewise wore an Alliance Cockade of white with a black center.

After the war, the American military cockade was standardized once and for all. “All persons belonging to the army, to wear a black cockade, with a Small white Eagle in the centre. The cockade of non-commissioned officers, musicians and privates, to be of leather, with Eagles of tin. James McHenry, January 9, 1799.”

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THE CIVIL WAR 1860-1865

When the secession crisis broke out in 1860, political feeling was running high in both the North and the South. Cockades were worn all over the states to proclaim the wearer's political views. They were so widespread that the newspapers began listing the designs each state was wearing. The Richmond Daily Dispatch reported:

South Carolina - This cockade is made of three layers of very dark blue cloth, notched at the edges and fastened together by a gilt button, on which the following appears in relief: In the centre is the "Palmetto," with two arrows (crossed,) and fastened together at the point of crossing with a kow-knot of ribbon. The following is the motto around the button: Animis 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 appears in relief the arms of Virginia, with the name of the State and its motto encircling it. The motto is - Sic semper tyrannis.

Maryland - This 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, with the simple word "Maryland" beneath the arms.

The Union Cockade - This is also a double rosette, the centre one being of red silk, the inner one of white silk, and the pendants of blue. The gilt button that fastens the whole together shows the eagle of America, surrounded by the stars of the United States.

Cockades were usually handmade by the ladies, though occasionally they were offered by manufacturers and merchants. They were often created out of silk ribbon, but there is documentation for cockades made of cotton and wool as well.


Senator Toombs and the Ladies.-The Columbus (Ga.) Times, of the 30th ult., says: "Senator Toombs was in the streets of Columbus, on Saturday, the "blue cockade" given him by the fair ladies of Montgomery. God bless them! We are for them and a union with them, where love, harmony, and good feeling exists, but are opposed to any other sort of Union." The night that the Senator spoke in Montgomery many ladies wore the badge of secession.

- The Constitutional Union, November 16, 1860. Newspaper Research, 1861-1865


Neat and Appropriate.-We have received, from a young lady in Burrowsville, Searcy county, a tasteful presentation in the shape of a rosette. It is so simple and pretty that we will endeavor to describe it. A grain of corn is fastened, by means of a hole drilled through it, to a floss of cotton, spread so as to form a circle; this is also attached to a light blue circle, and the whole to a deep blue, of the usual size of a rosette. By using a grain of red corn, we have the colors of the Confederacy flag; red, white and blue, while the corn and cotton are emblematical of the Confederacy. The design and execution are both excellent.-The present was sent with a patriotic note from the true hearted donor. In the revolution of '61 as in '76, the women are on the side of truth and liberty and, if need be, will show themselves to be heroines as did their foremothers. God bless them and the Southern Confederacy.

- Arkansas True Democrat, May 9, 1861


While Gen. Wool and staff, one their recent trip to Connecticut, were awaiting in Bridgeport the arrival of a train, a Copperhead adherent of Seymour showed the symbol of his tribe (a badge) in the presence of the General. The Copperhead badge is the head of Liberty on an old copper cent cut from the body of the coin, and attached to a pin, so that it can be fastened as an emblem on the coat or vest of the wearer. The General regarded the man for a moment, with an expression of scorn upon his face, and said, “Such men ought not to be at large – you are a traitor.”

- Cass County Republican, April 23, 1863


We are pleased to learn that a company of "Minute Men" has recently been organized in Fernadina, under the most favorable circumstances. The association already numbers amongst its members many of our most respectable young men, who are fully impressed with the emergency now so imminent, and who are prepared to defend and protect those rights whose destruction is speedily threatened. The "blue cockade" is familiar to many of the citizens of Florida, and the Palmetto State is not the only section where that emblem will be worn and appreciated. From the tone and temper of the people of Florida, we confidently expect the organization of "Minute Men" will pervade every portion of the State, and embrace within its ranks our best and most patriotic citizens. Success to it!

- The Athens Post. (Athens, Tenn.), 02 Nov. 1860. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.


It seemed to me that before we were well settled war excitement was at its height. South Carolina had seceded, quickly followed by several other states; military companies were diligently drilling, new ones were being rapidly formed; sound of the fife and the drum and bands playing martial music filled the air. There were frequent political meetings, the making and presentation of flags; ladies forming societies. Everything seemed to be preparing for active service; and on all sides the cockade was visible.

- Clayton, Sarah Conley. "War Comes to Georgia." In Requiem for a Lost City: A Memoir of Civil War Atlanta and the Old South, 40. Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 1999.


Imagine a man standing in a pair of long boots, covered with dust and mud and drawn over his trousers, the latter made of coarse, fancy-colored cloth, well soiled; the handle of a large Bowie-knife projecting from one or both boot-tops; a leathern belt buckled around his waist, on each side of which is buckled a large revolver; a red or blue shirt, with a heart, anchor, eagle or some other favorite device braided on the breast and back, over which is swung a rifle or carbine; a sword dangling by his side; an old slouch hat, with a cockade or brass start on the front or side, and a chicken, goose or turkey feather sticking in the top; hair uncut and uncombed, covering his neck and shoulders; an unshaved face and unwashed hands. Imagine such a picture of humanity, who can swear any given number of oaths in any specified time, drink any quantity of bad whiskey without getting drunk, and boast of having stolen a half dozen horses and killed one or more abolitionists, and you will have a pretty fair conception of a border ruffian, as he appears in Missouri and Kansas.

- John H. Gihon, Geary and Kansas: Governor Geary's Administration in Kansas: with a Complete History of the Territory Until June 1857, Philadelphia, Chas. C. Rhodes, 1857, p. 106-107


Sam Watkins in Co. Aytch reported, “Everywhere could be seen Southern cockades made by the ladies and our sweethearts.” Later in the war (1862) he mentioned another incident of cockades made by the women. “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.”

- Samuel R. Watkins, “Co. Aytch,” Maury Grays, First Tennessee Regiment (Chattanooga, Times Printing, 1900), 12, 48


The South has even decided on a new symbol of independence - a blue cockade, an iconoclastic emblem which was worn by anti-government rioters in London in 1780, and by George Washington's armies during the Revolutionary War. Arrangements are now being made to sell cockades at Baton Rouge's Armory Hall and other major meeting places across the South. A Baton Rouge resident told our reporter that he fully intends to procure a cockade, and adding: 'This badge is a perfect encapsulation of our resistance; simple, visible and drenched in history. The whole of the South will be sporting a cockade by the end of the year, mark my words.'

- Atlanta Southern Confederacy Newspaper, November 11, 1860


Important from Washington: "The Government is determined to put a stop to the Secession cockades and other emblems which have been so unblushingly exhibited in Baltimore for months past and those found wearing them in the future will be arrested as traitors against the Government."

- Public Ledger, Philadelphia, Pa, Saturday, September 7, 1861


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.

- Memphis Daily Appeal. (Memphis, Tenn.), 09 Dec. 1860. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.


One of our citizens showed us yesterday a disunion cockade worn by the Missouri Minute Men. It is a small and neat rosette of blue ribbons, with a silver star in the center and three pieces of ribbon pending therefrom. The pendant ribbons are two blue and one white. They are about 4 inches long, and on the white ribbon is printed, "Missouri Minute Men" - The letter says they are becoming the prevailing style in St Louis, generally worn on the hat.

- Utica Daily Observer, Jan 16, 1860


"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.

- McKean, Brenda Chambers, Blood And War At My Doorstep, VolumeI: North Carolina Civilians in the War Between the States,


The Dayton Empires says, in respect to wearing badges in the common schools of that city:“If one class of children are allowed to wear Abolition emblems, the other have the same right to wear Democratic emblems, and we hope they will exercise it, if they feel disposed.”The “Abolition emblems,” mark it well, are the eagle buttons, the tri color, and the stars and stripes. The “Democratic emblems,” are “copperheads” and “butternuts”. Commercial.

- Dayton Daily Empire. 23 April 1863


South Carolina is Arming.-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 States 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 diameter, 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 prepare to mount the blue cockade.

- Baton Rouge, LA Daily Advocate, October 22, 1860


A meeting has been held in Memphis preparatory to the organization of an association of Minute Men. The Avalanche says:

The meeting being called to order, J. M. Crews, Esq. was called to the Chair, and S. House appointed as Secretary. The meeting having been addressed by Mr. Haskell, of South Carolina, on motion, a committee of five was appointed by the Chairman, to procure a suitable hall for the meeting on Wednesday evening, for the purpose of adopting a Constitution and electing officers - the Committee being invested with executive powers, the President of the meeting to be Chairman of the Committee.

Committee. - Thos. H. Logwood. R. E. Chew, T. F. Tobin. W. L. Cooper, H. S. Park.

Moved and seconded that the roll for membership be opened this evening, and many of all parties enrolled their names.
On motion, the blue cockade was adopted as a badge.
Moved and seconded that the proceedings of this meeting be published in all the city papers.
The Committee to meet at the office of Dr. B. M. Lebby, on Monroe street, this evening at 4 o'clock.
On motion, the meeting adjourned by giving three hearty cheers for the Minute Men and the South.

- Daily Nashville Patriot. (Nashville, Tenn.), 02 Nov. 1860. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.


We have observed, for a few days past, a number of blue cockades, surmounted by metalic five-pointed stars, worn on the hats or coats, of many of our citizens. The cockade is the badge common to the citizens of the Southern States. The star is peculiar to Texians. The combination of the two emblems seems particularly appropriate to the times. Doubtless this badge will be adopted through Texas by those favoring resistance by State action to the principles of the Black Republican party.

- Indianola [TX] Courier, November 24, 1860


“Blue cockades are not uncommon here. I have been wearing one for nearly two months and so help me God I intend if necessary to make the declaration implied by it good even with my hearts blood.”

- John H. Cochran to His Mother, December 11, 1860, Cochran Family Letters, 1860-1861, Civil War Collections, Special Collections, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, Virginia.

World War I & II

Patriotic cockades were still occasionally worn during the world wars. They were typically made of red, white and blue striped ribbon. Textiles were rationed during World War II so people began switching to celluloid, metal and other non-textile options for patriotic badges. The picture below shows both ribbon and celluloid cockades from the era.