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  • Outstanding Provost Guard Badge – Fort Monroe

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    Outstanding Provost Guard Badge – Fort Monroe - Inventory Number: INS 334

    Historically significant badge from one of the most significant forts of the Civil War. This finely made, circular silver disc measures 1 5/8" diameter and has a cut-out center in the shape of a five-pointed star surrounded by a 1/4" engraved belt and buckle border. Beautifully inscribed along the belt border is the legend “Provost Guard - Fort Monroe” Star. The badge has a very pleasing patina. Reverse side retains the original T-bar pin / clasp and has some normal tarnishing. A similar badge appears in the Time Life book, "Echoes of Glory, Arms and Equipment of the Union".

    History of the Provost Guard During the War

    Provost Marshall troops or the Provost Guard, as they were also known, were the military police of the Union Army during the American Civil War. They had a separate chain of command from the regular and volunteer troops answering only to the Provost Marshall of each Division or Corps. While in the field they acted as the security detachment for Division and Corps Headquarters. They protected Headquarters units and provided men to guard captured Confederates on their way to the rear. They provided security against Confederate guerrillas and raiders. They were often the only law enforcement available to civilians after the Union Army arrived. It was vital that the Union Army provide men willing to be fair and honest in their dealings with the soldiers and the local civilian populace. These were the men of the Provost Guard.

    The Provost Guard was initially chosen from among the Regular United States Army because of their better discipline. The small size of the Regular Army in comparison to the State Volunteer Regiments quickly made this practice prohibitive. After the first battles of the Civil War, this practice was abandoned. The Provost Guard was formed via a variety of methods, some of them quite unorthodox. This included survivors of Regiments that had been ravaged by combat or illness being assigned to the Provost Marshall. Sometimes regiments were asked to provide a few hand picked men to flesh out the Provost Guard as a temporary measure or were occasionally hand picked by the Provost Marshall himself. On at least one occasion, the Provost Marshall asked several Volunteer regiments for their "…most notorious thieves" his reasoning being that it was best to use a thief to catch a thief. He then made it quite clear that any of his Provost Guard that he suspected of thievery would be summarily hanged. He had few problems.


    Generally, the Provost Guard were among the best troops in the Army. They were intimately familiar with military customs, courtesies and drill due to their proximity to headquarters, there were also a high proportion of veterans in their ranks. During a battle they helped to check stragglers, deserters and provided security detachments for Confederates prisoners. They were sometimes used as the Generals last reserve and turned the tide of several battles at critical moments by fierce fighting. However, they paid dearly for their reputation. After the battle of Gettysburg, the Provost Marshall found that more than half of his men lay dead on the field and at the battle of Stones River the Provost Marshall was able to muster barely thirty men.

    The men of the Provost Guard were, generally well respected by the average Union soldier. Because they were enlisted men they were able to travel among the soldiers as equals. They were often Veterans who had held the line themselves and because of this they weren't considered shirkers.

    Provost Guards were often sent home with large groups of Union troops that were going on leave or furlough to make certain they would return in a timely manner. While waiting for that leave to end, they spent much of their time acting as recruiters for the regiments that were on leave. They were at times quite successful in making good losses by recruiting fresh troops into the regiments. On several occasions, Provost troops actually returned to the Army with more men than they had left.

    The Provost Guard was not the modern Military Police, but they were the forerunners of the United States Military Police System. The presence of Provost Guard detachments with each Division and Corps helped prevent many crimes against the civilian populace and provided a way to punish those who chose to step outside the bounds of military discipline. Their effectiveness varied from unit to unit and often depended on the leadership of the Provost Marshall.

    Fort Monroe

    Fort Monroe played an important part in numerous Union initiatives: a crucial link in the Anaconda Plan’s naval blockade, the launch point for the 1862 Peninsula Campaign, logistical support for gunboat operations based out of City Point during the late-war Petersburg Campaign. Despite these military contributions, Fort Monroe only once fired at an enemy, ineffectual rounds that bounced off the ironclad CSS Virginia during the March 1862 Battle of Hampton Roads. It was a logistical hub, too — a major hospital and official point of transfer for mail sent between locations in Union and Confederate territory.

    Perhaps Fort Monroe’s greatest contribution to American history, however, came in an unlikely context; a seemingly bureaucratic decision that ultimately helped shape the tenor and tone of the Civil War.

    At the outset of the war, a number of enslaved workers had been leased to the Confederate army  to construct defensive batteries. On the night of May 23, 1861, Frank Baker, James Townsend and Shepard Mallory escaped, stole a small boat and rowed to Fort Monroe to seek asylum. The Confederates, per the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, demanded their return. The legally trained Union commander, Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler, refused; as he explained in a May 27 letter, since Virginia had seceded from the United States, that statute could not be applied. Further, since the men had been employed in an act of war against the United States, he could seize them as enemy property, or contraband of war.

    The decision was problematic, in that it tacitly recognized the sovereignty of the Confederacy by acknowledging that a U.S. law was not applicable. Moreover, no fundamental change in status was immediately achieved for the three men; they were not declared free and were put to work by the army without pay. However, the so-called Fort Monroe Doctrine set in motion an evolution in thinking that would continue through the First and Second Confiscation Acts, the Emancipation Proclamation and the establishment of the United States Colored Troops.

    Rapidly becoming known as Freedom’s Fortress, Fort Monroe was a powerful symbol for enslaved people, offering them a legitimate way to seek their own liberation. By autumn, the Grand Contraband Camp had been established nearby. The facility that would ultimately be home to more than 10,000 formerly enslaved persons quickly became a locus for education of African Americans, which had been forbidden in Virginia, ultimately  leading to the founding of Hampton University.

    Fort Monroe remained an active military post until 2011, when it was decommissioned as part of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure process and its functions transferred to nearby Fort Eustis. On November 1, 2011, President Barack Obama used his authority under the 1906 Antiquities Act to declare Fort Monroe a national monument and the 396th unit of the National Park System. In August 2015, on the anniversary of the first Africans’ arrival in Virginia, the Commonwealth donated 121 acres to the park, including many of the fort’s most important historic buildings.

    Comes housed in 6 x 8 riker display case with black velvet and descriptive card.

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    Inventory Number: INS 334