Corps Badges of Sherman's Army

    

The various army corps badges belonging to units of the Army of the Cumberland from left to right: detail from a badge belonging to the First Division, Fourth Corps , the silver acorn of the Fourteenth Corps, and a star of the Twentieth Corps that belonged to a soldier of the 28th Pennsylvania Infantry. The badge at top is a reproduction Society of the Army of the Cumberland medal which features each of the badges of the three corps in its design: the triangle, the star, and the acorn. 

    Prior to the Atlanta campaign, only the 11th and 12th Army Corps sported the popular devices known as corps badges in the western armies.  The Armies of the Cumberland and the Tennessee were first introduced to corps badges when the troops of the two eastern corps arrived near Chattanooga in the fall of 1863. As recalled by William Bakhaus of the 47th Ohio, a 15th Army Corps regiment, his comrades marched near one of Hooker's camps and started to elicit comment from the well-garbed easterners. "They had stars on their caps, on their coats, on their tents, and their wagons," he noted. "Everything seemed to be a brigadier general. We did not know at the time that the star was their corps badge."

    These distinctive emblems, usually of cloth or felt for headgear and various types of metal for wear upon a soldier's jacket, had their origins from two generals: Philip Kearny and Dan Butterfield. "General Kearny put a red patch on his division's troops," recalled General Dan Butterfield. "I had developed an idea early in the war to add a 'distinctive mark' to the army's troops, ambulances, artillery, guns, caissons, and wagons." He floated the idea to General George McClellan who declined to pursue it. 

General Daniel A. Butterfield certainly left a mark on the Civil War; a Medal of Honor recipient, he most famously served as Hooker's chief of staff through the Chancellorsville and Gettysburg campaigns. Wounded twice in action (Gaines Mill and Gettysburg), he was looked upon by many of the generals of the Army of the Potomac as a political intriguer and after throwing Meade under the bus before the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War after Gettysburg, he followed Hooker west to the Army of the Cumberland. Butterfield's other contributions to the Civil War include his ideas about corps badges described in this article as well as popularizing "Taps" to be played at the end of the army's day. A controversial and fascinating figure: one of the "great American scoundrels" like his friend and fellow New Yorker General Dan Sickles. 


    Butterfield was appointed to become General Joseph Hooker's chief of staff when Hooker was given command of the Army of the Potomac, and Butterfield found a much more favorable audience with the new commanding general. "When I was called to the Headquarters of the Army of the Potomac, I determined to put my plan and idea into effect at once and General Joseph Hooker approved it," he wrote.  "The badges or marks were chosen by me for no reason other than to have some pleasing form or shape, easily and quickly distinguished from the others and enable of aiding in the elevation of the morale and discipline of the army." Each of the seven army corps was given a shape: the First Corps a disk, the Second Corps a trefoil, the Third Corps a lozenge or diamond, the Fifth Corps a Maltese cross, the Sixth Corps a cross, the Eleventh Corps a crescent, and the Twelfth Corps a star. The color of the shape indicated the division: red for the First Division, white for the Second Division, blue for the Third Division. 

    In the spring of 1864, Major General William Tecumseh Sherman undertook a reorganization of the massive federal army that had been collected at Chattanooga the previous fall, and as part of that reorganization, corps badges were introduced in the Armies of the Cumberland, the Tennessee, and the Ohio. General Butterfield's influence was again felt in April 1864 when Major General George H. Thomas, now commanding the Army of the Cumberland, brought the General in to consult about devising a corps badge for Thomas' beloved 14th Army Corps/ "General Thomas first saw and liked the idea of our corps badges and marks. He directed General Whipple, his adjutant general, to prepare one for the 14th Corps. General Whipple had many designs of a geometrical form, but General Thomas did not seem to like them and told Whipple to send for me and consult me. I saw his forms and told him that had I commanded the 14th Corps which "stood as firm as an oak' at Chickamauga, I would give them the acorn for a badge in honor of their bravery. General Thomas said, "That is what we will do; let it be the acorn."

Unknown soldier wearing a Fourteenth Army Corps acorn badge on his coat. 

    What resulted was captured in General Orders No. 62 of the Department of the Cumberland issued April 26, 1864 in which General Thomas set out the designs of the corps badges for each of his three army corps: the Fourth Corps would be designated by a triangle, the Fourteenth Corps by an acorn, and the newly formed Twentieth Corps (a consolidation of the old Eleventh and Twelfth Corps which took place April 18, 1864) would use the old Twelfth Corps badge, a star. 

Captain Alfred E. Lee of the 82nd Ohio sports a unique corps badge which combined the crescent of his old Eleventh Corps with the star of the new Twentieth Corps. (Image courtesy of L.M. Strayer)


    Regarding the Fourteenth Army Corps badge, John Billings relayed a different story from the version provided by General Butterfield as to the badge's origins. "Tradition has it that some time before the adoption of this badge, the members of this corps called themselves Acorn Boys because when they were hemmed in at Chattanooga by Bragg, rations were so scanty that the men gladly gathered large quantities of acorns from an oak grove, roasted, and ate them," he wrote.


The various army corps badges belonging to units of the Army of the Tennessee from left to right: the "40 Rounds" cartridge box belonging to a soldier of the Second Division, Fifteenth Corps; the "A.J. Smith Cross" of the Second Division, Sixteenth Corps, and the arrow device of the Seventeenth Corps. Atop is a reproduction Society of the Army of the Tennessee medal which, like the Army of the Cumberland medal, incorporates the designs of each of its three army corps. Only a portion of the Sixteenth Corps served in Sherman's army through the Atlanta campaign but these three corps (along with the Thirteenth which stayed along the Mississippi River) constituted the bulk the army Grant used to take Vicksburg. 

    

    The corps badges assigned to the units of the Army of the Tennessee were developed a little later than those of the Army of the Cumberland. It wasn't until February 1865 when the army was on the cusp of the Carolinas campaign when the design was approved in the Fifteenth Corps. Major General John A. Logan selected the famous "40 rounds" cartridge box based on a popular story within the army about a soldier of the Fifteenth Corps meeting Hooker's Army of the Potomac veterans in the fall of 1863. As related by a soldier in the 30th Ohio, "After the Battle of Chickamauga, the Fifteenth Corps was ordered to Chattanooga from Vicksburg. The Second Division was the first to arrive at Chattanooga and passed through the Eleventh and Twelfth Corps some time after midnight so as to escape the vigilant eyes of the enemy upon Lookout Mountain. The next morning, a straggler of this division, ragged and footsore, was making his way through these two corps and in his anxiety to catch up was taking short cuts. In doing so, he attempted to cross a sentinel's beat in front of General Butterfield's headquarters but was halted by the white-gloved sentry. The general, hearing a racket outside, stepped out to see what was up and the following dialogue took place," he wrote.

    General: "Hello my man, to what regiment do you belong?"
    Soldier: "Sixth Missouri, av course."

    General: "What corps do you belong?"

    Soldier: "Fifteenth to be sure." 

    General: "Where is your badge?"
    Soldier: "Badge is it? And sure what is that?"

    General: "Do you see this sentinel with a half moon on his cap? That means the Eleventh Corps and that man over there with a star on his cap belongs to the Twelfth Corps."

    Soldier: "Oh yes, now I can see how you fellows could get back to Washington City so east on dark nights- you would take the moon and star with ye! Here is the badge of our corps," and he clapped his hand on his cartridge box. "Forty rounds in here and sixty in our haversack!"

Sergeant John A. Woodruff of Co. K of the 57th Ohio Veteran Volunteer Infantry wears a Fifteenth Army Corps badge on his vest in this end of war image. (Image courtesy of Bob Van Dorn)

    As noted in General Orders No. 10, General Logan "expected that this badge will be worn constantly by every officer and soldier in the corps. If any corps in the army has a right to take pride in its badge, the corps which had its birth under Grant and Sherman in the darker days of our struggle, the corps which will keep on struggling until the death of the rebellion."

    The A.J. Smith Cross denoting the Sixteenth Army Corps was never formally adopted, but was worn by some of the troops of that well-traveled unit. The design featured a circle with four bullets, the points being at the center. 

    The arrow denoting the Seventeenth Army Corps was developed by an Ohioan, General Manning F. Force; General Frank Blair commanding the corps issued a general order at Goldsboro, North Carolina on March 25, 1865 establishing this as the emblem of the corps. "In its swiftness, in its surety of striking where wanted, and its destructive powers when so intended, it is probably as emblematical of this corps as any design that could be adopted," the order read. 

Orderly Sergeant George W. Scott of Co. F of the 68th Ohio Veteran Volunteer Infantry wears the arrow badge denoting the Seventeenth Army Corps on his jacket. (Image courtesy of Pam Welty)


    The Army of the Ohio consisted of only one corps, the 23rd, which unofficially adopted the shield as its emblem. 

Shield emblem belonging to a soldier in the Third Division of the Twenty-Third Army Corps. 


Sources:

"Corps Badges: General Butterfield Explains How He Came to Invent Them," National Tribune, March 17, 1892, pg. 10 

"A Capital Story About the Fifteenth Corps Badge," National Tribune, May 31, 1883, pg. 7

Billings, John D. Hardtack and Coffee: The Unwritten Story of Army Life. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1993, pg. 262-265

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