Click Here to Download:

The Schuylkill Arsenal in Philadelphia was the first and, during the war, one of the largest public enterprises operated by the army. In the summer of 1861 its workforce was expanded from the few hundred needed to uniform the regular army to about five thousand. These included cutters (skilled men who worked at the arsenal cutting out the uniform pieces from the cloth) and seamstresses (who did the plain sewing, usually as outworkers). Made from blue, red, and checked fabrics consistent with those found in extant Union Zouave uniforms bearing the Schuylkill Arsenal marking, this quilt depicting Zouaves was probably made for a soldier returning from the war.

Beginning with his capture near Fredericksburg, Virginia, on May 5, 1864, during the deadly Battle of the Wilderness, Lieutenant William Henry Shelton of the 1st Regiment New York Light Artillery wore this shell jacket across ten months of imprisonments and escapes in Georgia and South Carolina. He journeyed through rivers and snow—slaves and sympathetic Southerners supplied food and shelter—before finally arriving at the 2nd Ohio Heavy Artillery’s outpost in Loudon, Tennessee. The jacket has been preserved in the same condition it was in at the end of the war, coated in grime and missing many of its brass buttons. Shelton later moved to New York City, where he worked as a writer and artist. He detailed his adventures for The Century magazine in 1890, depicting himself wearing the jacket in his accompanying illustrations.

Luck and/or ingenuity saved many heirlooms that were packed up and buried or hidden to keep them from both enemy and friendly troops. Quilts, coverlets, and carpets were particularly at risk, as they served soldiers for bedding, overcoats, tents, and saddle blankets. One Union woman anxiously observed the fighting in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley in July 1861 as it seesawed back and forth across her town. After a few days of flying rumors and passing soldiers, she and her neighbor packed a few boxes of silver and other goods, which they buried. Each kept a carpetbag with a few essentials at hand, “so as to fly at a moment’s notice.” The Poyner family in Kentucky buried their most precious appliqué quilts in expectation of Union depredations. They were lucky—their belongings survived intact.

Vermont farmers Rachel and Rowland Robinson were devout Quakers and abolitionists who sheltered and employed runaway slaves and refused to purchase goods made with slave labor. For people of conscience, supporting “free labor” meant finding sources of cotton, sugar, and molasses, for example, that were not grown or processed using enslaved workers. The Robinsons’ friend, New York merchant Joseph Beale, offered his customers free labor goods, including “a good supply of calicoes.” Rachel’s dress is made of a wool/silk blend, lined with calico. She wears a similar, if not the same dress in the photograph. Its conservative style, reflecting fashion of about 1820, and free labor materials embody this family’s Quaker ideals. “Free labor” could describe cotton from many parts of the world, including the West Indies. A group of about 200 African-Americans who had been farming in Michigan and Canada emigrated to Haiti in October 1861, in order to establish their own cotton farms. An 1861 article in the Leavenworth (KS) Daily Times newspaper quoted one colonist as saying they hoped to “help put an end to this Southern cotton.” The article continued, “They all seem to believe that the fate of slavery hangs on the cotton plant and they intend to have a hand in settling it.”

Vermont farmers Rachel and Rowland Robinson were devout Quakers and abolitionists who sheltered and employed runaway slaves and refused to purchase goods made with slave labor. For people of conscience, supporting “free labor” meant finding sources of cotton, sugar, and molasses, for example, that were not grown or processed using enslaved workers. The Robinsons’ friend, New York merchant Joseph Beale, offered his customers free labor goods, including “a good supply of calicoes.” Rachel’s dress is made of a wool/silk blend, lined with calico. She wears a similar, if not the same dress in the photograph. Its conservative style, reflecting fashion of about 1820, and free labor materials embody this family’s Quaker ideals. “Free labor” could describe cotton from many parts of the world, including the West Indies. A group of about 200 African-Americans who had been farming in Michigan and Canada emigrated to Haiti in October 1861, in order to establish their own cotton farms. An 1861 article in the Leavenworth (KS) Daily Times newspaper quoted one colonist as saying they hoped to “help put an end to this Southern cotton.” The article continued, “They all seem to believe that the fate of slavery hangs on the cotton plant and they intend to have a hand in settling it.”

Addison Blair Martz enlisted as a private in Company B, 10th Virginia Infantry, on April 18, 1861, two days before Robert E. Lee resigned his commission in the U.S. Army to follow Virginia into the Confederacy. The quilt made for Addison by his grandmother, Esther Blair Matthews, illustrates a sense of local attachment: Esther chose for the 23 quilt blocks the wildflowers and garden favorites native to his Virginia home. In the center column she placed another block, labeled “Tree of Liberty – United States” depicting a large tree with 30 apples (The Union had 30 states from 1848-1851.) Esther Mathews was born in 1776, at the beginning of the American Revolution, and perhaps like many of her generation felt a loyalty to the Union as well as to her state—judging from the number of apples in the tree, she may even have made the quilt in response to the crisis of 1850, and given it to him during another secession crisis.

Northern women’s organized wartime efforts included knitting and sewing items for troops. Homefront and battlefield converge in this genre painting, which portrays women taking active interest in wartime developments within the domestic realm. With her knitting project in the immediate foreground, a fashionable young woman sits in the parlor of her middle class home reading a front-page article in The New York Times on General Ulysses S. Grant’s movements. Her husband, a wounded Union infantry captain on leave, sits beside her. His bandages, and his grave and anxious expression, are reminders of the war’s physical and emotional consequences. Though an imaginary scene, the newspaper’s specificity lends realism; the legible volume number notionally depicts an everyday moment taking place in 1863 or 1864.

Women in the South had no central organization similar to the U.S. Sanitary Commission and, instead, associated in smaller groups, often dispersed due to rural isolation. Many of these groups held fairs to support their cause. Women in Alabama formed Gunboat Societies and held events to raise funds to build gunboats to fight the blockade. Martha Jane Hatter of Greensboro, a widow who had two sons fighting for the Confederacy, is believed to be the maker of two beautiful quilts that were auctioned for the benefit of the gunboat fund. This quilt was auctioned four times, as the first three purchasers returned it to be auctioned again, so that it would earn yet more for the cause. The total of over $865.00 received (the final auction price not being known) was designated to go both towards the $80,000 cost of a gunboat, and for a fund to support the families of “absent soldiers.”

Soldiers on the battlefield followed their regimental flags, making color bearers the highly visible and critically important targets of an opposing force. First Lieutenant Kiliaen Van Rensselaer IV of the 39th Regiment New York State Veteran Volunteers was proud to have rescued this massive painted silk banner during the Battle of Sutherland’s Station in Virginia on April 2, 1865, when its wounded bearer could no longer carry it. Writing to his to family in Rye, New York, the next day, Van Rensselaer said, “We were away from any one, the rest retreating in disorder.… I seized the colors, told them to follow, they did, and we doubled quick across the opening, through shot and shell, I would turn around, towards the enemy, and wave the colors in defiance…. I bore the colors off safe, and I received the thanks of every one.”

As the Civil War dragged on, Union and Confederate alike suffered cumulative death tolls from wounds and (more often) disease in the hundreds of thousands, and nearly every family mourned the loss of a soldier. Nineteenth-century American society valued the public marks of mourning, high among them the donning of appropriate apparel by the bereaved. Mourning fabrics of every quality and price were available. In the North, several manufacturers specialized in mourning prints, and many firms produced medium quality black woolens. Finer quality dull silks or mixed silk and wool goods, however, such as poplins or bareges, were imported from European makers.

The left arm of First Lieutenant Abram P. Haring’s frock coat still bears the black crape mourning band that general orders required Union officers to wear for six months following President Abraham Lincoln’s death as an appropriate public symbol of their collective grief. In late March 1865 Haring had arrived home in New York City on sick leave—he was shot in the underjaw while fighting with the 132nd New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment in the Battle of Southwest Creek—and Lincoln was assassinated two weeks later. Haring likely joined an estimated 11,000 soldiers in the funeral procession through New York City’s crowded streets on April 25, when all mourners in attendance wore mourning bands.

Lucinda Ward Honstain of Brooklyn commemorated the Civil War and chronicled post-war life in her remarkably detailed quilt. Along with the American eagle and the Stars and Stripes, the appliquéd and embroidered blocks depicted soldiers and sailors (her husband, John, was a major in the 132nd New York Infantry), their home and farm animals, and a wagon of her brother’s dry goods business. She also depicted African-Americans. Lucinda could probably remember back to the time when her own family owned slaves. When she was seven years old, New York passed a manumission law; census records indicate that the Ward family slaves remained in the neighborhood after they were freed. The blocks include, in the third row, a black man addressing a white man on horseback, saying “Master I am Free.” Other African-Americans—a boot-black and an ice cream vendor—are shown at work. Next to the ice cream vendor is a block labeled “Jeff Davis & Daughter,” showing Confederate President Jefferson Davis with a woman holding an American flag—thus giving the quilt its name, the “Reconciliation Quilt.”

Creative: Tronvig Group