Tennessee Secession Cockades

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Like a number of other Southern states, Tennessee couldn't decide whether or not to secede. In fact, a referendum in February 1861 voted down the idea of secession. But like the other states which eventually joined the Confederacy, the tipping point was the Fort Sumter conflict and Lincoln's call for troops. Tennessee's Governor Harris truculently declared, "Tennessee will not furnish a single man for purposes of coercion but 50,000 if necessary for the defense of our rights and those of our Southern brothers." On May 6, 1861, the state legislature voted for a Declaration of Independence from the Union, and a state referendum later approved it.

Conflicts and Cockades

As the battle over secession raged in the state, it was visible in the cockades that were worn. One source observed:

Sergeant James Otey Gloster,
Co. G, TN 13th Volunteer Infantry,
wearing a cockade
According to the "Avalanche," the news that South Carolina had withdrawn from the Union, created intense excitement in Memphis on Friday. That paper says some of the oldest and most responsible citizens joined the "boys with the blue cockade," and sported that insignia of Southern Independence; indeed, says the "Avalanche," the streets were filled with men wearing cockades. The "Avalanche" says:

During the forenoon a salute was fired in honor of South Carolina. The guns, as their thunders reverberated through the forests of Arkansas seemed to awaken a whole people to a lively appreciation of the wrongs that have for years been heaped upon them.

The enthusiasm took different shapes during the day. We saw a man kicked from a Main street store for denouncing South Carolina. A little boy, who is descended from the "right stock,” cried lustily for the home of Calhoun, was taken in charge by a number of ''the boys with the blue cockade," loaded down with presents, and sent home to his parents in a carriage procured for that purpose.

Another man complained grumpily about the wearing of cockades in Nashville.
Thomas McCullough,
Memphis Light Guard, Co A, 154th TN Infantry.
Collection of Ron Field.

"One day," said he, "I was waited on by a party of leading Nashville citizens, who remarked: 'Captain May, we know very well that you are with us in sentiment; but, as you come from the North, others, less intimate with you, desire some special assurance.' I replied: 'Gentlemen, by education, by instinct, and by association, I am a Southern man. But, gentlemen, when you fire upon that small bit of bunting known as the American flag, you can count me, by Heaven, as your persistent and uncompromising foe!' The committee intimated to me that the next train for the North started in one hour! You may stake your existence, sir, that the subscriber came away on that train. Confound a country, anyhow, where a man must wear a Secession cockade upon each coat-tail to keep himself from being kicked as an Abolitionist!"

Apparently both black and white folks were sporting cockades during this time. A newspaper reported the following:

Tennessee Darkies and the Blue Cockade. - The Bolivar (Tenn.) Southerner of the 14th instant says: "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."

Badges for Porkers

However, there were some entertaining incidents involving cockades too. This account tells of how a cockade mysteriously appeared on a pig's tail one day! 

Bacon and “Blue Cockades.” – The appearance of here and there an individual with a blue cockade upon his hat has attracted some attention and comment in town during the last few days, and yesterday resulted in the perpetration of a scandalous joke at the expense of the wearers. Walking down one of our principal thoroughfares we noticed that a full tushed and stalwart porker, who perused the gutter in pursuit of pabulum, was the subject of curious observations, and that several of the observers were indulging in pretty severe smiles. Local items being scarce, and business generally dull, we approached the group as unconcernedly us possible, but prepared for the worst. As the rear of lord bacon hove in sight, we detected the joke at once, and indulged our risibilities. Thereby hangs a tale – that is to say, porker had a tail, and entailed upon that tail, was a blue cockade, constructed after the most improved style, and as the stately porcine delved in the gutter, unconscious that he was the representative of a sentiment, his continuation waved majestically, and the blue cockade fluttered fiercely in the breeze.

Blue cockades will multiply frequently hereabouts in the future.