Kentucky Secession Cockades

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Both the United States and Confederate States presidents were born in Kentucky, but she remained officially neutral through most of 1861.

Kentucky was a strategic state in terms of geography, politics and produce. Bounded by the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, and home to a growing railroad system, Kentucky was becoming a serious exporter of produce such as tobacco, corn and wheat. Famous politicians from Henry Clay to John C. Breckinridge, Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis hailed from the state.

President Lincoln felt that Kentucky was highly important to the Union. In September 1861 he wrote, "I think to lose Kentucky is nearly the same as to lose the whole game. Kentucky gone, we cannot hold Missouri, nor Maryland. These all against us, and the job on our hands is too large for us. We would as well consent to separation at once, including the surrender of this capitol."

For much of 1861, the state would remain officially neutral but both the Union and the Confederacy placed military camps just over the Kentucky border. By fall, they both had camps within Kentucky and regiments for both sides were recruited from the state.

After an statewide election, Kentucky's General Assembly became overwhelmingly pro-Union and finally voted to remain in the Union in September 1861. Throughout the war, cockades and badges were seen favoring both sides of the conflict.

Kentucky Union Cockade

Which Side?

While the debate raged throughout the state, Lizzie Hardin found herself in a quandary. The blue secession cockade was part of her conclusion. "Thus, at first, it was hard at first to decide which side had the most of justice and reason. Why, I asked, can we not wait for an overt act upon the part of Lincoln? What are we suffering that we have not suffered for twenty years? I do not know that I could enumerate all the arguments which first convinced me that South Carolina was right. I think it was more a mere statement of facts than arguments….At the end of two or three weeks I donned the blue cockade."

The pro-Union Vincennes Gazette in Indiana humorously noted in February that, "In some parts of Kentucky it is said that men ride on horseback with Union badges mounted upon the heads of their horses and Disunion cockades tied to their tails. The horses occasionally kick up, however, on account of the affront to their hinder extremities."

Made By The Ladies

"Kentucky Union" is on the streamer
Kentuckian Sam Watkins mentioned cockades in his account of the war. "Reader mine, did you live in that stormy period? In the year of our Lord eighteen hundred and sixty-one, do you remember those stirring times? Do you recollect in that year, for the first time in your life, of hearing Dixie and the Bonnie Blue Flag? Fort Sumter was fired upon from Charleston by troops under General Beauregard, and Major Anderson, of the Federal army, surrendered. The die was cast; war was declared; Lincoln called for troops from Tennessee and all the Southern states, but Tennessee, loyal to her Southern sister states, passed the ordinance of secession, and enlisted under the Stars and Bars. From that day on, every person, almost, was eager for the war, and we were all afraid it would be over and we not be in the fight. Companies were made up, regiments organized; left, left, left, was heard from morning till night. By the right flank, file left, march, were familiar sounds. Everywhere could be seen Southern cockades made by the ladies and our sweethearts....But we soon found out that the glory of war was at home among the ladies and not upon the field of blood and carnage of death, where our comrades were mutilated and torn by shot and shell."

A year later in 1862, he added another memory of cockades just before the Battle of Perryville. "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."

Officers, Men and Horses

The dashing Confederate officer John Hunt Morgan often raided through Kentucky and Unionists Frances Peter journaled about the men ... and their cockades. "Morgan’s command came in about 11 AM Thursday Sept 4th [1862]....When he did come they did indeed ring the church bells in a doleful way & the secesh ladies paraded about with the stars and bars in their hands & streamers of red white & red on their dresses or bonnets…. They passed along the street by Mrs Morgan’s the officers dressed in grey or black & wearing different kinds of flat hats & feathers with cockades or streamers, the men in clothes of various colors only being uniform in respect to dirt, none or very few having haversacks or blacks (indeed of both infantry and cavalry very few had knapsacks, blankets or overcoats) & armed with different kinds of guns, but decorated like their officers with cockades, streamers or little flags in their hats. The horses of both officers & men were very fine & were adorned like their riders."