A Subtle Witness

In 1862, Union Gen. Philip Kearny designed badges for the men of his division to wear. The red diamonds became known as the “Kearny Patch,” and soon the entire corps wore them. When Gen. Joe Hooker took command of the Army of the Potomac in early 1863, he instituted badges for all corps. Each corps had a different shape for their badge—a circle for the I Corps, trefoil (clover leaf or club) for the II, diamond for the III, Maltese cross for the V, Greek cross for the VI, crescent moon for the XI, and star for the XII. In addition, each division within the corps had a different color—red for the 1st division, white for the 2nd, and blue for the 3rd. So, by looking at a soldier’s kepi (hat), one could tell which corps and which division he belonged to.

Soldiers were proud of their corps badges, and on the Union regimental monuments at Gettysburg you will notice crosses, trefoils, and all the various shapes. Most areas of the battlefield have only one corps badge present (Cemetery Ridge, for example, has only trefoils on the monuments), but a drive through the Wheatfield area will show the III Corps diamond, the II Corps trefoil, and the V Corps Maltese cross, all mingled together.

The monuments stand as silent sentinels now, and the fields and woods lie peaceful with only rainwater, not blood, making the ground soggy.  But pause a moment and ponder just what it means that you see more than only III Corps diamonds around you. The variety in the corps badge shapes bears a subtle witness to the chaotic battle and the desperation with which the Union generals threw every unit they could find into the fighting there on July 2nd.

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