One of the most attractive insignia items utilized during the Civil War period was the enlisted man’s brass “Eagle” cap and hat ornament, often called the “Jeff Davis” eagle or Hardee Hat pin. This device, initially prescribed in the 1851 Army Regulations, was intended to be a metallic rendering of the Arms of the United States, to wit: “the escutcheon on the breast of an American eagle, displayed, proper, holding in his dexter talon an olive branch, and in his sinister a bundle of thirteen arrows . . . and in his beak a scroll, inscribed with this motto: “E PLURIBUS UNUM . . . over the head of the eagle, which appears above the escutcheon, a glory breaking through with a cloud, proper, and surrounding thirteen stars, forming a constellation, argent, on an azure field.”
The pin was to be made of “yellow metal,” sometimes called “pressed brass.” Its original purpose was to serve as a pompom eagle on the Model 1851 shako cap. However, in 1858, when the tall, black felt Hardee hat replaced the shako as the standard headgear for the U. S. Army, other uses were found for the brass eagle device. The 1858 dress regulations stipulated that for mounted services the brim of the hat was to be “looped up on the right side, and fastened with an eagle attached to the side of the hat.” For infantry and artillery, hats were required to be looped and pinned on the left side. However, during the war, as the army changed from Scott’s to Hardee’s tactics, many infantrymen turned up the hat’s right side in order to better facilitate the new “Shoulder Arms” position.
While the reproduction eagle hat pins offered today have two long brass wires soldered on the reverse for attachment purposes, the original devices were constructed quite differently. Specifically, soldered to the reverse of the brass eagle near the top and middle were two wire loops, which were “pegged” by means of a leather thong to the side of the hat. Below these loops, at the bottom of the eagle, was a small hook of brass or iron wire. The purpose of this hook was to engage an “eye,” either of black metal or looped thread that had been sewn to the underside of the hat’s brim. Thus, the hat brim could be turned up or down “at will,” without altering the insignia’s position on the hat. And it made the hat much more utilitarian in blocking the rain and sun.
How much field service did the Hardee hat pin actually see? In the famous Iron Brigade at least, even as late as January 1864, one of it’s regiment’s was receiving “hats, together with bugles, eagles, cord and tassels, and feather,” but it is unlikely that the eagle devices saw much use after that time, except on dress parade. As a matter of information, there are as many as a dozen different die variations of the eagle hat pin, and while on most stampings the eagle faces to the left, right facing eagles have also been noted. Additionally, photos of the period show that soldiers sometimes exercised creative license and wore these pins on other headgear including forage caps. While not typical, it did happen. C’est le guerre!
by Bob Williams