Virginia Secession Cockades

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The state that saw the first battle of the Civil War, the state that gave both the Union and Confederate armies her leading generals, the state that saw the official end to the war - that state almost didn't secede from the Union. In fact, Virginia voted against secession on April 4. That was in spite of the deep concerns Virginians had about the future of the United States under the new President Lincoln.

Virginia's Concerns

Virginia had been the site of terrorist John Brown's raid, thus giving Virginians grave fears about Northern abolitionists' threats to end slavery. Furthermore, though he had first promised to evacuate the fort, Lincoln's federal forces continued at Fort Sumter in South Carolina and even temporarily held their ground against firing South Carolinian troops. This gave Virginians serious worries about the federal government's willingness to protect Southern states' right under the Constitution.

But in spite of all these concerns, Virginia still voted against secession on April 4. However, on April 17 Virginia became the eighth state to secede and join the Confederacy. What changed their minds?This:

War Department, Washington, April 15, 1861.
To His Excellency the Governor of Virginia:

Sir - Under the act of Congress for calling forth "militia to execute the laws of the Union, suppress insurrections, repel invasions, etc.," approved February 28, 1795, I have the honor to request your Excellency to cause to be immediately detached from the militia of your State the quota designated in the table below, to serve as infantry or rifleman for the period of three months, unless sooner discharged.

Your Excellency will please communicate to me the time, at or about, which your quota will be expected at its rendezvous, as it will be met as soon as practicable by an officer to muster it into the service and pay of the United States. 
— Simon Cameron, Secretary of War.

Private David C. Colbert, C Company,
46th Virginia Infantry Regiment

Virginia Secedes

Upon receipt of this demand for troops to put down the "insurrection" in South Carolina, Virginia's Governor Letcher and the reconvened Secession Convention promptly replied:

Executive Department, Richmond, Va., April 15, 1861.
Hon. Simon Cameron, Secretary of War:

Sir - I have received your telegram of the 15th, the genuineness of which I doubted. Since that time I have received your communications mailed the same day, in which I am requested to detach from the militia of the State of Virginia "the quota assigned in a table," which you append, "to serve as infantry or rifleman for the period of three months, unless sooner discharged."

In reply to this communication, I have only to say that the militia of Virginia will not be furnished to the powers at Washington for any such use or purpose as they have in view. Your object is to subjugate the Southern States, and a requisition made upon me for such an object - an object, in my judgment, not within the purview of the Constitution or the act of 1795 - will not be complied with. You have chosen to inaugurate civil war, and, having done so, we will meet it in a spirit as determined as the administration has exhibited toward the South.

— Respectfully, John Letcher

Virginia's Cockades

Naturally history is not as cut and dried as the preceding short paragraphs sound. Tensions between the pro-secession and pro-union factions raged in Virginia, starting even before Lincoln was elected in November 1860. And as tensions appeared, so did the cockades!

The Richmond Dispatch worried in November, "Some of our young gentlemen have mounted the blue cockade and the Virginia button, while others sport the red, white and blue rosettes. We hope they will not come in collision during these exciting times."

John Cochran in Richmond wrote to his mother on December 11, "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."

Apparently there were some humorous looking cockades as well. The Mississippian reported jokingly, "The Blue Cockade.—Cockades were numerous on the streets yesterday. They are blazing out in every part of the city, are rapidly on the increase and come out in some cases 'under difficulties.' We saw a few immense rosettes of blue baize, as big as small sized cabbages, fluttering around.—Petersburg Express 1st." 

Many secession cockades were blue but some Virginians added a twist to theirs - blue with yellow streamers. "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 appear in relief the arms of Virginia, with the name of the State and its motto encircling it. Its motto is 'Sic Semper Tyrannis.'"