Missouri Secession Cockades

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Missouri was a state full of contradictions. One of the early states to call a secession convention, Missouri's convention voted down secession. Though claiming neutrality, Missouri gave thousands of troops to both sides of the conflict. Neither fully Union nor Secessionist, Missouri had dual state governments that answered to both the Confederate and United States governments. And though ostensibly trying to stay neutral, Missouri was the scene of more bloody battles than any other state - over 1200 - except Virginia and Tennessee.

We Intend to Keep It

On March 19, 1861, Missouri's secession convention voted against secession declaring that "we have the best government in the world and intend to keep it." They further observed, "The position of Missouri in relation to the adjacent States which would continue in the Union, would necessarily expose her, if she became a member of a new confederacy, to utter destruction whenever any rupture might take place between the different republics. In a military aspect, secession and connection with a Southern confederacy is annihilation for Missouri. The true position for her to assume is that of a State whose interests are bound up in the maintenance of the Union, and whose kind feelings and strong sympathies are with the people of the Southern States with whom they are connected by ties of friendship and blood."

Unfortunately, "kind feelings" quickly gave way to "utter destruction" as Union and Secession forces battled it out across the state. In fact, a pro-Confederate government was soon formed and had its own secession convention in October. The convention declared all political ties between Missouri and the United States dissolved, citing grievances against the United States such as, "invading with hostile armies the soil of the State, attacking and making prisoners the militia while legally assembled under the State laws, forcibly occupying the State capitol, and attempting through the instrumentality of domestic traitors to usurp the State government, seizing and destroying private property, and murdering with fiendish malignity peaceable citizens, men, women, and children, together with other acts of atrocity, indicating a deep-settled hostility toward the people of Missouri."

As the conflicts raged, so did the cockades!

Phantoms of Their Own Conjuring

In November 1860, the St. Louis Democrat airily dismissed concern about both the cockades and "dis-union fever." "We would say to the good people - don't be alarmed about the military preparations down South, of which we are told. They are just about as formible and as hamerless [sic] as our Wide Awake organizations. The dis-union fever might as well evaporate in this "blue cockade" aspiration as any other way. The South is simply taking precautions against phantoms of their own conjuring, men of straw of the own manufacture, and dangers (if there are any) which they are exclusively responsible for."

"Wide Awakes" were Republican party militants - thousands of them - who organized throughout the North to supposedly keep the peace. Not surprisingly, they came into frequent belligerent contact with the pro-secession "Minute Men," also a para-military group.

A Small And Neat Rosette

The Utica Daily Observer noted in January, "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."

Along with official Federal and Confederate soldiers and semi-official military troops like the Wide Awakes and Minute Men, renegade bushwackers also made Missouri their battleground.

A disparaging description of these "border ruffians" was given in this account: "On the levee at Kansas City stood a sort of omnibus or wagon, used to convey passengers to and from Westport, upon either side of which was painted in flaming capitals the words "BORDER RUFFIANS." Standing about in groups or running in every direction, were numbers of the men who claim for themselves that gentle appellation. A description of one of these will give the reader some idea of their general characteristics. 

Brothers Pvt. Thomas Duval &
Lt. William Duval, 3rd Missouri Infantry
"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."

Twenty Cents, Wholesale Price

But everyday citizens wore cockades as well. In fact, they were even sold in the general stores. Missourian Thomas Gunn noted in his diary, "I found the little man in the hall, on my returning to dinner, with a big Union cockade on (pinned by the hands of Susy Woodward, who “would only take twenty cents for it, wholesale price,” at her store in Broadway) and in a great state of excitement. He said he had joined the “Scott Guard” — a very hard-looking crowd."

A cockade was not only a statement of a person's politics, it showed what he was willing to live and die for. In this letter to Confederate President Davis, Colonel Thompson mentions cockades as an assurance of the fidelity of his men. 

President of the Confederate States, Montgomery, Ala.:

SIR: Your favor of the 25th ultimo has been received, and I am thankful for your courtesy. I hope, and have reasonable expectations now, that Missouri will soon wheel into line into her Southern sisters, in which case I and my men will be needed here at home. I believe that this portion of Missouri (north of the Missouri River) will be the principal battle-ground between the North and South, as Saint Joseph, with its railroad connections, is the key to Kansas, New Mexico, Jefferson, and Utah, and we have already been notified that the North has determined to hold this portion of the State, even though they lose all the rest of the slavesholding States, and they will either cover it over with dollars or blood, and the choice is for us to make. I have eight companies here in a camp of instruction, by order of our governor, and can assure you that they are all Blue Cockade boys, and if our leaders are disposed to sell this territory for money, our blood will remain at your service.

Yours, most respectfully,
Colonel, Inspector of Fourth Military District.