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Civil War Brigade Insignia

For the first time, brigades had distinctive identifying flags for use on the battlefield. After abandoning an elaborate, but generic, flag system used early in the war, a new triangular flag was adopted for brigades. The flag would have the symbol used by parent corps on it and was color coded to indicate brigade and division number within the corps.

When General Hooker assumed command of the Army of the Potomac early in 1863, he selected General Daniel Butterfield for his Chief of Staff. General Butterfield was a firm believer in the advantage of the esprit dc corps and fertile in resources for producing it. It existed in a limited way in companies, regiments, and possibly in some few brigades. General Butterfield, believing heartily in the plan of his chief, conceived the idea of giving to each of these army corps a distinctive badge which should be worn only by the officers and men of this corps and distinguish them from all other organizations. Each corps was divided into three divisions, and each division into three brigades. Cloth badges of distinct forms were selected and furnished to each officer and soldier, to be worn conspicuously on the hat or cap. The badge selected for the First Corps was a disc, that for the Second Corps a trefoil (called by the men, "Ace of Clubs"). The Third Corps badge was a lozenge or diamond. The Fifth Corps had the Maltese cross. The Sixth Corps wore the Greek cross, the Ninth" Corps a shield, the Eleventh Corps a crescent, and the Twelfth Corps a star. The Fourth, Seventh, Eighth and Tenth corps were in other armies.

The division badges were of three colors - red, white and blue. The badge of the first division of each corps was red, that of the second division white and that of the third division blue. With these badges on the caps of the men it was possible to know at once in what division any man in the Army of the Potomac belonged. The red Maltese cross or a cap denoted that the soldier was a member of the First Division, Fifth Corps - a white trefoil that he belonged in the Second Division, Second Corps. A blue star located him in the Third Division, Twelfth Corps.

When large bodies of troops were moving it was often difficult to distinguish the commander of any given brigade from any of the mounted officers in his vicinity. A staff officer coming from a corps or division headquarters with an order for any brigade commander, would sometimes ride two or three times up and down his line before finding him. In this way valuable time was lost.

General Butterfield devised a plan by which the commander of any brigade in the army could be readily found at any time when it was light enough to distinguish a flag. He ordered that each brigade commander should be provided with a special brigade flag which should be displayed at his headquarters tent when in camp, and carried by a mounted man with him wherever he went when his command was under arms. These brigade flags were in the form of an equilateral triangle. No two brigade flags were alike, but each was made up of some combination of the three colors, red, white and blue.

The flags of the brigades in each first division had a blue border in whole or in part, with a white center on which was the corps badge in red. The first brigade, first division of any corps had a blue stripe six inches wide on the side of the triangle next the staff, but no stripes at top or bottom. The second brigade had no stripe next the staff, but a blue stripe at top and bottom. The third brigade had a blue stripe on each of the three sides of the triangle. The brigade flag of the Third Brigade, First Division, Fifth Corps had a white center on which was displayed a large red Maltese cross, and was bordered on all three sides with a blue stripe. The brigade flags of the second divisions had blue centers with white badges and red borders. The brigades of the third divisions of each corps had flags with white centers, blue badges and red borders. By means of these flags a staff officer or a general could know without asking any questions, at any time when he could see the flag, the brigade, division and corps of any troops within sight.

The order instituting corps badges in the Army of the Potomac was issued March 21, 1863, and that prescribing flags for the several brigades of this army, May 12, 1863.

" The brigades of the first division of each corps, a white triangular flag, with the symbol of the corps in red in the center. The first brigade, no other stripe or mark. The second brigade, a blue stripe, six inches wide, next the lance. The third brigade, a blue border, four and one-half inches wide, all round the flag.

The brigades of the second division of each corps, blue triangular flag; symbol of the corps in white in the center. First brigade, no other stripe or mark. Second brigade, red stripe, six inches wide, next the lance. Third brigade, red border, four and one-half inches wide, around the flag.

The brigades of the third division of each corps, white triangular flag: symbol of the corps in blue in center. First brigade, no other stripe or mark. Second brigade, red stripe, six inches wide, next the lance. Third brigade, red border, four and one-half inches wide, around the flag. "

From this order it would appear that the flags of first brigades had two colors only, with no stripes. Subsequently, it seems that an order was issued making each brigade flag a combination of the three colors, red, white and blue, and that the flags of the first brigades of each division had one stripe next the staff, second brigades two stripes, and third brigades three stripes, with colors as specified in General Order Number 53.

The head-quarters flags of the divisions and brigades were thus distinguished: First division, a red figure on a white ground; second, a white figure on a blue ground; third, a blue figure on a white flag. The flags of divisions were rectangular, of brigades triangular. The brigade flags being of the same color as those of the division, with the corps badge in the center, the number of the brigade was thus designated: First, a plain flag; second, a stripe or border next the staff; third, the same on the three sides of the flag; fourth, a sector at each of the three corners. The color of these borders was that supplementing the body of the flag and the corps badge, the Second Brigade, Third Division, thus having a white flag with a blue cross in the center and a red bar next the staff. This excellent system, which was soon adopted by nearly every corps of the Union armies West and South, was the outgrowth of a device of General Kearney during the peninsular campaign to distinguish the officers of his division, who for a time were all obliged to dress in the uniforms of enlisted men. After the death of that gallant officer at Chantilly, those who had fought under him continued to wear the badge in his memory.









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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 01:34:55 ZULU