Civil War Quilts

Although most women weren't fighting on the battlefield during the Civil War, women played a hugely important role supporting the troops and keeping things together back home.

As the men left home to fight, women struggled to keep farms going and businesses surviving, and to feed and clothe their families. It was often very difficult, especially for women on small farms who relied on everyone in the family for help.

When times were particularly tough and food especially scarce, communities in the South would sometimes create fundraising quilts. Made of donated cloth scraps and pieced together by a church group or at a community quilting bee, they were then sold at church bazaars to raise money for families who were especially hard hit.

In the North, abolitionists would hold Abolitionist Fairs, similar to crafts fairs, where women who supported the anti-slavery cause would donate quilts and other

Mary Tippee, sutler with Collis Zouaves, One hundred and fourteenth Pennsylvania.

Civil War Quilts

Mary Tippee, sutler with Collis Zouaves, One hundred and fourteenth Pennsylvania.

the bonnet brigades

When war broke out in 1861, the first Ladies' Aid societies sprang up all over the Northern states. Women organized themselves into what were sometimes called bonnet brigades, to provide soldiers going to battle with whatever supplies they might need, from bandages and food to clothes. The Ladies' Aid societies were well-organized and full of well-meaning and enthusiastic volunteers, but because they were run by individual groups of women throughout the North, their efforts weren't very well coordinated. Some troops would get far too many supplies, while others didn't get any. Sometimes the supplies would be spoiled before they reached the soldiers, and sometimes the quality of what the women made was so bad they were unusable. In order to better regulate the quality and quantity of supplies reach-ingthe troops, in 1862 the U.S. Sanitary Commission was formed to distribute all the supplies to the Union army and inspect camps and hospitals for the North. Many women volunteered to be part of the U.S. Sanitary Commission, and the Ladies'Aid societies eventually died out.

needlework to be sold to raise money for the abolitionists. Often these quilts would have anti-slavery poems and sayings embroidered on them.

One of the most common quilt patterns during the Civil War was called Jacob's Ladder, or simply Four Patch; it was a traditional quilt pattern made up of small squares sewn together to look like the steps of a ladder. This pattern later became known as the Underground Railroad, because of stories told after the war about how the quilts directed runaway slaves to the path of freedom via the Underground Railroad.

Another quilt pattern, the Log Cabin (later known as Lincoln's Log Cabin), was also rumored to provide information to slaves traveling to freedom: stories say that southern gunboat quilts

The South had its own groups of Ladies' Aid societies, made up of volunteers who banded together to support their husbands, sons, and brothers on the battlefield. At the beginning of the war, one of the things the Confederates lacked most was gunboats, and Southern Ladies'Aid societies enthusiastically supported the Confederate cause by making gunboat quilts that they sold or raffled off to raise money. By the end of1862, enough money had been raised to buy three gunboats, but by this time the Confederate navy had suffered so many defeats that it was likely that their seaports would fall to the Union. Ladies' Aid societies then turned their skills to supporting the troops, and they spent much of their energy creating clothing and bedding.

if a quilt hung in a house window or on a clothesline had a Log Cabin design with a black center square (red center squares were more common), it meant that the house was an Underground Railroad stop.

Unfortunately, historians have never found first-hand evidence of slaves or people who worked in the Underground Railroad mentioning these coded quilts. In fact, the first quilt with a Log Cabin pattern wasn't made in the United States until the Civil War was almost over, and by that time the Underground Railroad wasn't active in the same way it had been before the war began.

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