In the days of mounted medieval knights, colorful shields and crests served a vital purpose in combat by identifying combatants whose faces were hidden from view by armored visors. The heralds of the day specialized in such identification, resulting in their receiving "diplomatic immunity" from injury by either belligerent. In modern warfare, flags and banners are only carried while on parade, but the practical need for identification of individual units is still present. That is where military "patches" serve a purpose.

The modern system of using cloth patches began during the American Civil War when a Union general dressed down a subordinate, thinking that he was under his command when, in fact, he was not. To prevent further confusion on the battlefield and to instill a measure of unit pride, the Federal armies began wearing cloth designs on their forage caps. The shape and color of the design indicated the numbered corps and division.

By the time of the World Wars of this century, these pieces of cloth had moved down to the upper sleeve of the uniform tunic, just below the shoulder. They are known, in consequence, as "shoulder sleeve insignia."

The museum has several examples of these on display. They range from a simple red "keystone" of the 28th Division (Pennsylvania Army National Guard) in World War One to a United States Army Air Corps "winged star" insignia used during World War Two by the Army Air Forces.

Although many of the devices are still in use today, the modern productions are easily distinguished from their predecessors by the "merrowing" stitch along the edge, which prevents the patch from unraveling. The early designs lack this type of edging.

Come and see this piece of history and others in "Granny's Attic," the Belhaven Memorial Museum.

Belhaven Treasure #19

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Diane K. Mason, HTML Editor 1998