In 1855 Secretary of War Jefferson Davis was instrumental in the creation of two regiments of cavalry. A board of officers, appointed to consider their equipment, recommended a distinctive hat for cavalry. Because this happened during Davis' tenure the hat is sometimes called the Jeff Davis hat. It also was referred to as the Hardee hat, after William Joseph Hardee, an officer of the 2nd Cavalry. In 1858 the hat was approved for the entire army, replacing the cap (shako) of 1851. The trim of the 1858 model was somewhat different from that used on the 1855 cavalry model. The hat was made of black felt and had various insignia, which were embroidered for officers and brass for enlisted men. It was looped up by an eagle on one side and decorated with ostrich feathers on the other. The side on which the hat was looped up was changed several times during the period the hat was in use. The drawing above shows the hat looped on the left as worn 1858-1861 by artillery and infantry officers. On the front of the hat was insignia of the branch of service and in some cases the regimental number and company letter. Hat cords were in the branch color for enlisted men, in mixed black and silver for company or field officers, and in gold for general officers. The hat for enlisted men was issued and for officers it was private purchase and made with a binding of black ribbed silk around with outside of the brim.
There is a general consensus based on period photographs that the hat was much less popular with the Civil War soldier than the forage cap, which was also introduced in 1858. The hat was intended as an article of dress wear and the forage cap for fatigue duties. Civil War diarist Elisha Hunt Rhodes mentions that when the 2nd Rhode Island Infantry departed for the battle of the First Manassas (Bull Run),
" Our large felt hats with a blue cord and brass eagle were left in the First Sergeant's tents."