Saturday, June 23, 2018

A Patchwork Balloon

Union Balloon used for enemy reconnaissance
From Harper's Weekly in 1861.
Both sides used balloons for observation during the first years of the Civil War.

A colorful story tells us of the Confederate balloon Gazelle. In his 1886 memoir Confederate General James Longstreet recalled a time in 1862 when:
"longing for the balloons that poverty denied us, a genius arose for the occasion and suggested that we send out and gather together all the silk dresses in the Confederacy and make a balloon...soon we had a great patchwork ship of many and varied hues."
John C. Stiles writing in 1919 in the magazine Confederate Veteran mentioned the balloon "made of ladies' silk dresses called The Lady Davis."

Longstreet's tale of a balloon pieced of women's donated dresses, "the last silk dress in the Confederacy" became a legend of generosity from the women of Richmond, in particular. But like most colorful stories the truth is a little more gray.

Union balloon Intrepid

Edward P. Alexander (1835-1910) wrote his memoir about 1900. 
Alexander flew the Gazelle.

In 1989 a previously unpublished memoir by the balloon's pilot Southern General Edward Porter Alexander appeared with a more likely story:
"Dr. Edward Cheves of Savannah conceived the idea of making a uncle of my friends...He was wealthy & he was a very remarkable & skillful mechanic & chemist & engineer. He bought up all the silk to be found in Sav.[annah] and Charleston ...& at last completed a very excellent balloon & brought it on to Richmond...." Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander 
Alexander is actually referring to  Langdon A. Cheves (1814-1863). At least two museums have fragments of Cheves's patchwork silk balloon. 

NASM 2006-24070.

The Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum has two pieces---
plaid and print. Both are about 13" wide. I lightened up their photo to see the pattern.

Richmond's American Civil War Museum
has a framed piece with the same fabrics.

The silk yardage was probably pieced in strips and treated with a sealing varnish.
The Gazelle must have been a pretty sight as it floated over Virginia in the summer of 1862.

Capture of the Teaser on the James River from Harper's Weekly

The Gazelle was captured by the USS Maratanza while being transported aboard the CSA Teaser in July, 1862. The balloon was given to the Chief Aeronaut of the Union Army Thaddeus Lowe, who apparently cut it into souvenir pieces.

Professor Lowe in His Balloon from the Brady Studios

Thaddeus Lowe (1832-1913)

After the war Lowe moved to Pasadena, California and after his death his family donated these fragments. I've also seen a reference that members of the U.S. Congress were given pieces during the war.

There must be more pieces of the silk balloon somewhere.

Read more:

From the Altadena Historical Society

Lowe's balloons seem to have been made of cotton or linen.
I wonder why Cheves chose silk.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Progress: Antebellum Album Blocks 1-5

Charlene's Blocks 1-5

Lots of stitchers keeping up with the monthly Antebellum Album blocks.

You'd better catch up this week because #6 is up a week from today.


Here are some sets....




Marie Helene
Notice the toile or chintz scene in the center of each.


Saturday, June 16, 2018

Which Woolsey? A Sanitary Fair CDV

A rather mysterious photograph from the Metropolitan
Sanitary Fair in Manhattan in spring, 1864.
I've been looking closely at some of the Sanitary Fair photos
of women from the Civil War lately.

Some think it may be Union nurses and the women may well have served in military hospitals.
But this is not a nursing costume.

Jane E. Schultz, who has published two books on women's work in the Civil War, thinks
they might be wearing bakers' tocques. She wonders if they are well-known hospital workers Katharine Wormeley, Eliza Woolsey and Georgeanna Woolsey.  The captions from her Women at the Front.

The Library of Congress captions the headwear as regional costume from Normandy, France.

"Costume of ladies at the Normandy stand, Metropolitan Fair, April 1864 / Gurney & Son.
Portrait of a woman in a traditional costume from Normandy, France
Published 1864 April"

Me, I think that may be the most accurate description.

The Fair had a refreshment booth in which women in
similar hats and aprons sold "confectionery," probably baked goods.

I liked that idea so much I named a print in my fabric line
Metropolitan Fair "Girls of Normandy."

"En Normandie"
They do indeed have a traditional white head gear in Normandy.

I assumed (because we make dozens of assumptions every time we think about a historical image) that the Fair organizers had invited several young women from Normandy to run the booth. I realize now that would have been pretty expensive for a fundraising fair. Those are not French women at the Fair but rather New Yorkers dressed up in costumes to sell cake.

Jane Schultz thought the group of three might include some Woolsey sisters. The Woolseys were a wealthy New York family with well-earned reputations for hospital and Sanitary Commission work. 
Six of the seven sisters:

The family resemblance is so strong that it's hard to determine who is who, but Georgeanna is my
favorite Woolsey and I think the photo of the single woman is Georgy.

She would be a perfect vendeuse at the fair; every one knew of her; she was quite pretty
and---based on her letters---quite amusing. (That's why she's my favorite.)

That might be Georgy again in the center of the triple portrait
although she is not wearing the same neckwear.
But of course it could be Jane, Harriet or Eliza.
The women on the sides?

Katherine P. Wormeley (1830-1908)

I doubt any of them are Rhode Islander Katherine Wormeley as she has a longer face. This photo in Civil Ware era attire would seem to be a picture of her when she was in her 30s.

Katherine worked with the Woolseys in Civil War hospitals.

I've mentioned that next year's Block of the Month here will focus on hospitals and hospital workers, so I'm reading a lot about the topic. I would have said I'm reading about hospitals and nurses till I read Schultz's book in which she uses the broader term. Hospital workers.

Read Volume 1 of the Woolsey letters here:
Letters of a Family During the War for the Union, 1861-1865

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Washington Street Studio Repro Prints

A reproduction of a Prussian blue plaid, ca 1850.
Washington Street Studio from P&B by Nancy Kirk

The good news is you should be able to find some new collections of Civil War era reproduction prints in your quilt shop. The current fabric business is certainly going through a period of change with lines disappearing and reorganizing but there are still some accurate repro prints arriving.

Repro of a sprigged madder calico

I noticed that P&B has a couple of new mid-century collections and I also noticed that the company is owned by a larger converter named General Fabrics Company of Rhode Island. A few months ago General Fabrics was bought by another converter Brand & Oppenheimer Company. (Converter is the trade name for the company that designs the fabric and puts the print, finish etc. on the goods.) The P&B repro fabric arm is called Washington Street Studios.

The industry gossip is hard to interpret --- and kind of a bummer, as we used to say before anybody was really printing fabric for quilters.

Repro of a neat stripe in California gold and madder colors from
Red Rooster

Last year P&B's Red Rooster division was doing some good
reproduction prints but they've closed Red Rooster in 2018.

The Bad News:

This chart updated to May 17th indicates that cotton selling for about 87 cents a pound a month ago has increased 6% in five months.  I'd expect more shake-ups from companies that use millions of pounds annually---
World cotton trade = 38 billion pounds per year.

Mourning the last bolts in an earlier trade war.
(Cartoon From the Napoleonic Wars ca 1804)

Here are some links to P&B current collections: by Nancy Kirk

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Patriotic Headdress

A headdress shown in Godey's Lady's Book in 1861

Several New Yorkers wearing similar headdresses in 1864.
The theme lately is CDVs sold at Sanitary Fairs.

These women were photographed at the Albany Relief Bazaar, a fundraiser in early 1864. A penciled notation indicates they were members of an Irish Social History organization. Behind them are a pair of battle flags from the Irish Brigade. The CDV photo is by S. J. Thompson & Co. Albany

The page from Godey's.
No feathers in Albany.

But lots of these patriotic caps.

The United States Booth with attendants in costume of white shirtwaists, banners and headdresses.

Catherine Gansevoort (1838–1918)

Among the organizers of the Albany Fair was Kate Gansevoort, daughter of a wealthy Albany politician. She invited her cousin Herman Melville to visit the Fair and he did. He was enough of a celebrity that several Sanitary Fair committees asked for his autograph to be raffled.

As at other Sanitary Commission fundraising fairs Albany had a quilting frame set up. The Holland Booth celebrated Dutch families of the early settlers. 
"The ladies ...revive the glorious old customs of the past, by offering the visitor a pipe, and inviting him to sit down at a quilting, where the material is stitched on a frame, which is supported on the tops of chairs, and surrounded by a merry group of quiltcrs, plying the needle and chatting as of old....

I think these women are demonstrating the lost art at New York City's
Metropolitan Fair.

It's amusing to see how nostalgic people could get over quilting in 1864.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

MINOR Error in Pattern #5

Block 5 Antebellum Album
Cross & Crown
by Susan V.
The signature is from her family member.

You may have noticed that you cut too many 4-1/2" squares for the Cross and Crown block. I've updated the blog post and the PDF's at Etsy but the first versions had a counting error.

The pattern used to say that  you needed 4 light C squares (cut 4-1/2")
That is too many. You only need 1.
I fixed it everywhere I think.

This is right.

Block 5 Marlyne
Hers is the reverse so you need 4 light squares and 1 dark.

Nancy alerted me to the error. Sorry for any extra squares. It was not a plot to make you use more fabric.

And it's a good excuse to show you some finished Block 5's.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

A Collecting Coup: Annie Bell

Anyone interested in women in the Civil War has seen this photograph,
which is usually labeled as a nurse feeding a patient.

Lately, she has been identified as Annie Bell, matron
at a Nashville Union hospital in 1864.

Collector Chris Foard specializes in items connected to Civil War nurses. A nurse himself, he's written about finding the above letter with the CDV photo in a packet of ephemera and letters.

The letter is from Annie Bell to her mother dated February 15, 1864. 
"I send you a picture, one of the persons you will perhaps recognize. Two weeks ago, some of the Sanitary Commission people came to see me & asked that I would allow an artist to take a hospital scene, that they wanted such a one to sell at the fair at Cleavland.... I consented—and now there is quite a rage for the picture, Mrs Harris declares she must have some to sell in Phila, & Huntingdon, but I said they must not go any where where I am known. It makes me laugh to think of becoming saleable—and folk’s making money out of me."

Foard's find explains the circumstances behind this photo and probably several similar pictures of hospitals and soldiers. The Sanitary Commission sent photographers, duplicated the carte-de-visites and sold them at the various Sanitary Fairs in 1864. Bell mentioned the Cleveland event, the Northern Ohio Sanitary Fair from February 22nd through March 10th. The inscription above indicates the photographs were also sold in Chicago at the Great North Western Sanitary Fair and as Bell mentions perhaps Philadelphia's Great Central Fair. The "Huntingdon" reference....?

Booth selling photographs in Philadelphia

CDVs were a popular item at Sanitary fairs, including photographs of Union Generals
and General Grant's daughter Nellie as "The Old Lady Who Lived in a Shoe."

Three nurses. 
"Hospital at No 9, Summer '63'"
Note the handwriting is the same as
on Bell's photo above.
The woman in the center looks like Anne Bell, same hair,
same dress.
Same day?

Our plans for next year's BOM include a focus on hospital workers (I was going to say nurses) but hospital workers better describes the role of women in Civil War hospitals. Annie Bell will definitely be one of the characters in the series.