Saturday, May 3, 2014

The 48th/150th: On The Eve Of The Most Sanguinary Campaign. . .and the Symbol of a Corps.

Tuesday, May 3, 1864. . .150 years ago. It was the last quiet day. Grant's plans were set. The Union armies--east and west--were ready. But no one in blue or gray could have predicted nor have been fully prepared for the sheer savagery that was about to unfold. In the west, Sherman readied for a drive against Joe Johnston's Army of Tennessee and toward Atlanta while in the east, George Meade, with Grant looking over his shoulder, made the final preparations for a march against Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. Grant's plan was simple: to win the war, no matter the cost.

Flag of the 9th Corps
(From the Smithsonian Collections)
For the soldiers of the 48th Pennsylvania--forming part of the 1st Brigade/2nd Division/9th Army Corps--May 3, 1864, found them guarding the lines of the Orange & Alexandria Railroad near Bristoe Station. The past three years had witnessed the regiment campaigning and fighting under Burnside on North Carolina's sandy shores, under Pope at 2nd Manassas, under McClellan at South Mountain and Antietam, and under Burnside again at Fredericksburg and in both Kentucky and East Tennessee. Now, in the spring of '64, they were back with the Army of the Potomac and as members of the 9th Corps--again under the direct command of Burnside--they were viewed by many in that army as outsiders, as interlopers, and it was no real secret that army commander Meade simply did not like Burnside, who outranked him. Yet this bias against the soldiers of the 9th Corps only served to strengthen their own bonds with their corps and with one another. As testimony to this, in April 1864, Burnside had authorized for his men a corps badge--a badge of his own design and making--and a symbol of the 9th Corps that would prove to be the source of great pride to the men. The badge was designed as a shield and on it was a crossed anchor and cannon, which represented the service of the soldiers of the 9th Corps on land and on the sea. The anchor and cannon were tied together by a rope in the shape of a '9.' Few other organizations could have boasted as extensive a wartime experience as the 9th Corps, since its regiments saw action in South Carolina, North Carolina, Maryland, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi. And now, they were back in Virginia, preparing for yet another campaign. . .

General Ambrose Burnside, wearing a 9th Corps Badge

Inspired by this, the soldiers of the 48th Pennsylvania began crafting 9th Corps badges of their own, each one cut and carved and shaped out of tin, cloth, or whatever else the soldiers may have gotten their hands on. They were personalized and each one unique in their own way, and the fact that so many--if not most--of the soldiers made them speaks volumes to us about the power of regimental pride and corps identity. Since Burnside did not design and authorize the 9th Corps symbol until the spring of 1864, there is a good chance that most of these badges were crafted during the 48th's six-week stay at Annapolis, just prior to the Overland Campaign. In the bloody weeks ahead--at the sanguine struggles at the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, North Anna, Cold Harbor, and Petersburg--it is likely that some of the soldiers wore these badges as symbols of their pride in their corps and in themselves. . .and in case their bodies needed to be identified, if they fell.

Corps Badge of Sgt. Richard M. Jones, Company G, 48th Pennsylvania

Reverse of Sgt. Jones's Corps Badge

Corps Badge Most Likely Belonging to Captain Francis D. Koch, Company I, 48th Pennsylvania

Intricately-Designed Badge Belonging to Private James Conner, Company E, 48th Pennsylvania

Reverse of Conner's Badge

The artistic James Conner Also Created These 9th Corps Badges, made of Cloth (left) and Animal Bone (right)

Badge of Private Samuel Glenn, Company F, 48th Pennsylvania

Sergeant (later Major) Jacob Wagner Owned This Ceramic 9th Corps Badge

Badge Belonging To Private William Price, Company G, 48th Pennsylvania

9th Corps Badge of Private Robert D. Paden, Company F, 48th Pennsylvania

Reverse of Paden's Badge

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