Rambling the web

by Fred Ray on July 30, 2006 · 0 comments

It always amazes me what you can find on the web, although you do have to maintain a skeptical attitude about it.

An Army Quartermaster site has a nice article (written in 1961) about the adoption of corps badges in the Union army, and how they evolved into the shoulder patches of today.

A mistake in identification by a general early in the Civil War started the system of shoulder patches that now is common in the U. S. Army. The use of these distinctive unit emblems to identify soldiers as members of organizations with proud traditions all started when General Philip Kearny, in the summer of 1862, mistook some officers for stragglers from his own command. As described by General E. D. Townsend, Adjutant General of the United States Army in his “Anecdotes of the Civil War,” the resulting explosion was “emphasized by a few expletives.””The officers listened in silence,” recounts General Townsend, “respectfully standing in the ‘position of a soldier’ until he had finished, when one of them, raising his hand to his cap, quietly suggested that the general had possibly made a mistake, as they none of them belonged to his command. With his usual courtesy, Kearny exclaimed ‘Pardon me; I will take steps to know how to recognize my own men hereafter.'”

The result was an order that officers of his command should thereafter wear “on the front of their caps a round piece of red cloth to designate them.” Thus was born the famed “Kearny Patch.” There is some evidence that General Kearny did not actually designate the shape of the patch, for at first almost any piece of red cloth was acceptable. General Kearny even donated his own red-blanket to be cut up by his officers. Some covered their entire caps with red cloth.

Dr. Howard Lanham also has a very nice site with a lot of uniform information, including illustrations of the various badges. There is also an interesting page about the similarities of French and US Army uniforms (scroll down for the French Voltigeur). From about 1800-1870 France was considered the font of military knowledge — but this changed abruptly after their defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, after which unforms tended to look German.

Of particular interest to me is the photo of an unidentified officer with a rifleman’s cap insignia. The bugle was the traditional insignia of the rifleman, because they tended to operate in extended groups and thus used the bugle to maneuver. Lanham thinks the man might have been with the Massachusetts militia.

there were a number of foot riflemen units within state militias. Many of these units wore the trumpet insignia and the green branch color of riflemen. The above image was taken in Boston and within the prewar Massachusetts militia were four battalions of foot riflemen. One of these battalions (the Third) was mustered into federal service in 1861 for three months. It is possible that the rifle officer of our photograph was a member of one of these units. The resolution of the image does not allow us to say if the filled in area within the trumpet is the number of the unit or just a tassel. Only a few surviving examples of the insignia have a number. The image shows an officer wearing a kepi, a headgear item that did not become common until the eve of the Civil War. It is likely that the image dates to the 1858-1861 period. The riflemen trumpet insignia disappeared from use during the war. The volunteer sharpshooter regiments, focused on marksmanship, that came into being during the war picked up the green branch color of riflemen, but not the vertical trumpet insignia.

And finally, there is Civil War Mysteries, dedicated to indentifying the unknown soldiers of both sides in photos, carte de visites, and the like. I dropped an email to the owner of the image of a New York sharpshooter with a target rifle (scroll down, next to last image) to see if I could get a higher resolution image with more detail on the rifle.


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