A Legacy of Quilts From the Civil War
~ surviving quilts, a source of pride and remembrance ~
We are fortunate to have a few of the quilts made for Civil War fundraising still intact. Needless to say most quilts made for soldiers did not survive the horrors of such a long, grueling war. Soldier's quilts were usually made with basic fabric and simple block patterns. Some had names of the makers inscribed as well as encouraging slogans written on with permanent ink. One made in 1865, and apparently never used, had signature blocks around a flag. Each block was signed and patriotic messages were written above and below the flag. A surviving nine patch quilt dated 1863 has a name and date in each center as well as a Sanitary Commission stamp in the corner. These give us an idea of what these quilts might have been like.
Letters and diaries of the times indicate that many quilts had inspiring words on them to encourage the soldier when he received it. Soldiers sometimes wrote and thanked the quilter for the quilt. A few marriages were even said to have come from the exchange of letters that ensued.
After the Civil War precious family quilts began to appear. Some had been buried to keep enemy soldiers from stealing them. Often silver and other valuables had been wrapped in the quilt. Because of the progress of the war more often it was Confederate quilts that had to be protected in this way. Quilt researchers suspect that there might not have been quite so many of these quilts as people claim but letters and diaries show that a number of quilts were hidden and others spirited away. A few of these quilts were eventually returned to the original owner after the war.
Today it's hard to realize what an important part women had in the Civil War not only in providing clothing and bedding but also in nursing and other volunteer work. The government was not prepared to provide much of what is now automatically provided for the military. As a result ordinary citizens were far more involved than they are in modern times. The experience of taking such an important part in the war effort might well have built the confidence among women that propelled them to push for their right to vote and other entitlements that we take for granted now.
© 2001 Judy Anne Johnson Breneman (Do not reproduce this article without permission from the author)
Reference: "Quilts From the Civil War" by Barbara Brackman
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