Among the many well made uniform buttons of the United States military and government services, the 3-piece General Staff eagles are undoubtedly some of the finest. They are often highly detailed, of heavy gilt, and even hand or jeweler chased. Unique to these, and arguably the most ornate, are the “applied eagle” devices. Even more exquisite in die work and structure, these variations surely represent a peak in their elegance.
The buttons are of a 3-piece design, rich in gilt, and of extremely fine die work. A separate, stamped eagle is affixed to the convex face, making it in fact, a 4-piece button as follows:
1.The button back including the shank.
2. The convex field of lines and stars.
3. The annular ring holding the button together.
4. The applied eagle device; riveted or soldered.
This design, that of a separately applied, stamped eagle becomes a common device in the post Civil War Army, and is seen in a variety of uniform applications. While much of the field gear remains spartan and utilitarian in nature, the dress uniforms become imitative of the European styles of the era. We find the stamped applied eagles affixed to fatigue caps, plumed shako helmets, and sashed sword belt plates, in addition to uniform buttons. Post Civil war America has now become a world power with military, industrial and economic might, and we see her military joining the ranks of the worlds professional armies and begin to adapt the latest in martial trappings and regalia. And while many of the uniform buttons of this era, including officer’s buttons, are crude and of lesser quality, there is clearly a market for the higher end finery represented by these furnishings.
Currently there are 7 different examples of these applied eagle staff buttons available for this article, all very well made and easily identifiable by the separate eagle. The backmarks are as follows;
H.V. ALLIEN /LONDON AND NEW YORK
JOHN G. HAAS / LANCASTER PA
T. W. & W. / PARIS
S. J. & CO / LONDON
THOMAS N. DALE & CO / NEW YORK
SCHUYLER H. & G / NEW YORK (Button courtesy of Michael Cunningham , PhD.)
HEIBERGER / WASHINGTON (no available button. Please assist !!!)
Most of these buttons are with post war backmarks, and were manufactured and used during the Indian Wars and later. However, there is evidence of one, that could have been used during the Civil War . Although it is not the purpose of this brief article to prove or disprove this, it is credible to mention specifically, the THOMAS N. DALE / NEW YORK button. Recoveries of these buttons have been made by relic hunters in areas of known Civil War activity and encampments. The button below was recovered by Norbert Spangler, a Virginia Civil War enthusiast and collector, some “twenty years ago at New Kent Court House”, Virginia. Reports of other applied eagle “letter” button recoveries are also verifiable to areas of specific Civil War events, thus lending more credibility to their service during the war. In addition, there are Civil War period Union Army uniforms, complete with these staff buttons, one of which to be the subject of a “Featured Uniform” article to come at a later date. Such evidence, although not conclusive, provides us endless opportunities for speculation, discourse, and of course, further study.
It was the intention of this article to provide a photographic display of these buttons, and suggest a broad perspective regarding their use. As stated previously, the cited buttons are the ones known to me. It would be most rewarding to solicit responses indicating others are out there. Please………feel free to communicate and share any related information, supportive or critical, as that is the purpose of this website.
Special thanks to assistance rendered; William Leigh, Bob Edmondson, and Harry Ridgeway. Their vast experience and keen insight was instrumental in providing a fair and interesting presentation of the subject matter.
W. M. (Bill) Stafford