During the Civil War era, most American children played with dolls that were simple and homemade. By the mid-1800s dollmakers in Europe were famous for creating wooden, porcelain, and even wax dolls with very lifelike features, and these dolls were certainly available to some American children—probably more to look at than to play with. Most children, though, played with dolls that were made by family members using supplies that were close at hand. Depending on where in the country they lived, this meant that their dolls were usually made of wood, rags, or corn husks.
Probably the most common doll made for little girls during the mid-1800s was the rag doll. These were popular in both the North and the South, and there were many different ways to make them. In the South, rag dolls were often called hankie dolls or plantation dolls (and sometimes also called church dolls, since they were made of soft cotton and wouldn't make a lot of noise if they fell on the floor during church). Rag dolls were made out of
Rag doll that was in the room where Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant.
the "silent witness" doll
One particular rag doll played a famous role in the surrender of General Robert E. Lee to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House on April 9,1865. The two generals met in a house owned by a man named Wilmer McLean. He had a
surrender, and when Lee left to tell his troops of the surrender, a Union soldier (Lieutenant Colonel Thomas W.C. Moore)picked up the rag doll and took it with him.
McLean house. Appomattox Court House, Virginia.
a soft piece of cotton fabric with cotton stuffing for its head. One variation of the rag doll was called a "sugar baby." Mothers would make a rag doll and put sugar cubes in the head portion for their young kids to suck on.
Another very common doll made by families in the Civil War was the corn husk doll. Corn was a crop grown in many parts of the country, and corn husks were plentiful. Depending on what color hair a girl wanted for her doll, she would take silk off the corn ears in the early, mid, or late season. Early-season corn held yellow silk, mid-season corn silk was reddish brown, and late-season silk was darker brown.
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