Neither the Union nor the Confederate governments were prepared to field armies when the Civil War first began. The most obvious need was for uniforms for the tens of thousands of volunteers. President Lincoln's first call was for 75,000 volunteers. An estimated 4.5 yards of fabric were needed per uniform. that's 337,500 yards (or 191.76 miles) of fabric just for trousers and jackets. Who made those uniforms? Well, at the outset of the war, governments contracted with factories, but they couldn't work fast enough. Women stepped up, and they did made a lot more than just uniforms.
Women made the regimental flags carried into battle. The photo below
shows a detail of one such flag presented by the ladies of St. Louis to a regiment serving with the Missouri Guard. Those bears are created with silk thread, one stitch at a time. The flag flew outside the regimental commander's tent. Other regimental flags made by women were carried into battle.
Once war broke out, sewing circles that already existed to benefit the destitute immediately added filling soldiers' needs to their cause, providing shirts and socks, blankets and quilts, for the boys and men volunteering from their town or region.
"My dear friend, you are not my husband nor son; but you are the husband or son of some woman who undoubtedly loves you as I love mine. I have made these garments for you with a heart that aches for your sufferings ..." [note included in a Sanitary Commission shipment]
"My dear boy, I have knit these socks expressly for you. How do you like them? ... Write and tell me all about yourself, and how you get on in the hospitals ..." [note included in a Sanitary Commission shipment]
Women knitted socks and mittens, the latter created from a pattern developed to incorporate a trigger finger. The Western Sanitary Commission headquartered in St. Louis had, by war's end, provided 78,656 pairs of socks.
In the early stages of the war, women collected quilts and blankets. When the supply ran out, they began to make cot-sized quilts and tied comforters (15,131 comforts from the Northwestern Sanitary Commission and 40,574 blankets and comforts from the Western Sanitary Commission), along with 100,000 pillow cases.
The numbers are a bit staggering, aren't they? In an era when we buy the textiles we need for our families, it's difficult to imagine having to make literally everything a soldier might need in the field.
"She'd sat up half the night making Seamus his own mending kit--a replica of the one a teary-eyed Bridget Feeny had presented to Jack yesterday afternoon. The soldiers called them housewives, Bridget said. Making one for Seamus had given Maggie something productive to do last night, when sleep simply would not come." From Daughter of the Regiment
|Housewife (soldier's mending kit)|
|"Feed the Hungry" quilt|
The tradition of sewing for soldiers continues today. One example is Quilts of Valor, created to "cover service members and veterans touched by war with comforting and healing Quilts of Valor."
Have you ever sent a care package to a modern-day warrior? Are you part of a contemporary "needle regiment" making Quilts of Valor? God bless you.
Stephanie learned about "Civil War stitches" while researching her book Daughter of the Regiment. This fall, you'll be able to read about Civil War stitchers in her novella appearing in A Basket Brigade Christmas, a Civil War collection written with Nancy Moser and Judith Miller. Stay tuned!
An inspiring story of discovering courage and friendship through tremendous adversity. Drawing on the actual histories of women who found ways to work on the battlefront during the Civil War, this outstanding historical will attract fans of Janette Oke, Lisa Wingate, and Tamera Alexander. *Starred review* Library Journal
Based on true events, this story will capture the hearts of historical fiction fans. Publishers Weekly