ORIGINAL CIVIL WAR ERA, 1862-1875, USMC, DRESS HAT EMBLEM, WITH SILVER M – We often see reproductions of this shako insignia, for sale; this example is an original, period insignia which we obtained from an old, New England collection. This front plate insignia was instituted by the burgeoning U.S. Marine Corps in the late 1850s and was designed to be placed on the front of the USMC shako. The plate has a hunting horn / bugle, with its soldered loops inserted into the front of the die-stamped, sheet brass plate and affixed via its original, small, leather thongs; in the crook of the hunting horn is a silvered letter M (for Marines), also mounted to the larger, brass shield via a single soldered loop inserted through the plate and affixed by a single leather thong. The back of the large shield also has soldered loops for attaching to the front of the shako; the shield exhibits 13 raised stars and a unique, raised, six -pointed star, at the base. The plate is accompanied by a die-stamped, sheet brass, laurel wreath with small berries; this wreath retains its original soldered, wire attachment loops, on the back. This insignia remains in excellent condition.

After the U.S. Civil War, it was decided by the 7th Commandant of the Marine Corps, Brigadier General Jacob Zeilin (1806-1880), that the Marines needed a more distinctive—more unique—insignia than the horn and “M”.  The horn and “M” was similar to the insignia used by other organizations, such as units of the U.S. Army. (https://www.hqmc.marines.mil/ousmcc/Units/Marine-Corps-Trademark-Licensing-Program/History/)

USMC – Civil War Period – The United States Marine Corps in 1861 consisted of 1,892 officers and men; about half of whom were stationed aboard U.S. Navy vessels in small ship’s detachments. There, Marines performed the same duties as generations of Marines before them; guard duty aboard ships, service as sharpshooters and in repelling boarders, the heading landing operations, and furnishing a flash of color on special occasions. Ashore, the Corps provided the guards for the principal Naval Stations and Navy Yards. At the outset of the War, Congress authorized an increase of the Corps’ strength to a total of 3,167 officers and other ranks. At no time during the Civil War did the Marines strength exceed 3,900 men, with which they had to provide detachments for a constantly expanding U.S. Navy. The U.S. Marines played a gallant role at sea, as elements of landing parties, and as members of Naval Brigades serving with the Army.

Service afloat made different demands upon equipment than service on land. The effects of coal smoke and salt water were particularly serious. The Corps supplied much of its own clothing and accouterments, that more often than not, differed from comparable U.S. Army equipment. Marines, along with sailors, served under much more rapidly changing weather conditions than soldiers; and as a result, the Corps employed distinctive warm weather clothing, and Marine Detachments on ocean going vessels were issued special gear for both foul weather and extreme cold.

Brevet Brigadier General Archibald Henderson, the “Grand Old Man of the Marine Corps,” passed away on 6 January 1859. Henderson had served aboard the USS Constitution in 1815 and since 1820 had served as the Commandant of the Corps. As Commandant, Henderson convened a board of officers to revise the Corps uniforms. One of the first acts of his successor, Col. John Harris, was to send the board’s finding to the Navy Department. Approved on 24 January 1859 and put into effect in October of that year, these regulations remained in force until 1875 with only slight modifications.