Monday, August 24, 2015

Military Cockades: Not Just Pretty Ornaments!

In both my historical novels for young readers, The Riddle of Penncroft Farm and A Buss from Lafayette, I have references to cockades. 

In Riddle, the present day protagonist, Lars, finds a black leather flower in his room at Penncroft Farm.  Here is the reference in Riddle:

I threw myself down on the window seat. My rear came down hard on something knobby. “Ouch!” I said loudly, discovering a metal hinge. Curving my fingers around the edge of the seat, I gave a hard pull. The top flew up, slamming into my nose, which started to bleed. Pinching my nostrils with one hand, I stuck my other inside the hollow base and felt a box—a box big enough to hold a will. My heart thumping, I lifted out the box and gingerly opened it. There was nothing inside but a black leather flower. Disappointment made me throw it down and growl, “Looks like I got a bloody nose for nothing.”

“Nothing, Lars? That’s the cockade of my brother, Will!” It was Geordie, lounging on my bed, buckled shoes and all. “He wore it on his hat. The color showed he sided with Washington. Why, that cockade was Will’s only uniform for a good long while.”

Here is the reference to a cockade in A Buss from Lafayette (that will be released in April, 2016):

Among the familiar characters, I saw a tall, skinny stranger who looked to be nearly eighty years of age. He was wearing a rather moth-eaten old uniform of buff and blue. His pure white hair was also in a bygone style, long—if a bit sparse in front—pulled back and tied behind with a black ribbon. He held a black tricorne decorated with a red, white and blue cockade. Even through my irritation, however, I could see that the most interesting thing about the stranger was not his antiquated clothes, his overly long hair, or his three-cornered hat with its leather flower, but his excitement.

So what is a cockade and why aren't these two cockades the same color?

Apparently the black cockade was used early in the Revolution as a way of demonstrating allegiance to the Patriot side.  As most of the American soldiers did not have uniforms, at least until later in the war,  this was sometimes the only way to identify which side they were on.  (Strangely enough, black was actually the color denoting the Hanoverian monarchy, but even if the British soldiers might have worn cockades of this color in battle, it was clear that they were British because of their real uniforms.)

The French army used white cockades on their hats, and after the French Alliance, many American soldiers added a white cockade to their black ones. This was called a "union cockade". (The French did the opposite, placing the black American cockade on their white ones.)

Here is a picture of Mark Schneider, who expertly portrays Lafayette at Williamsburg and Yorktown, wearing such a "union cockade".

Will was invalided out of the Patriot forces because of an injury at Brandywine. Therefore, by the time the French Alliance was announced, he was no longer fighting for George Washington.  (Of course, he was fighting in another way by then.) Therefore, his cockade was black.

So why would an elderly Revolutionary War veteran wear a red, white, and blue cockade?  Well, he had just attended a huge celebration in Boston honoring Lafayette.

Apparently, Lafayette himself devised this red, white, and blue cockade during the French Revolution.

Here is what Heather Sheen had to say in her blog,

"Red, white and blue were the patriotic colors of both France and America by 1825. So this was a perfect fashion choice for an American patriot to wear in honor of a heroic Frenchman!"

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