Monday, May 30, 2011

Decoration Day/Memorial Day

May 30th is Memorial Day this year.

Readying floral tributes on May 30, 1899.

May 30th was the traditional day for a century or so for what used to be called Decoration Day.

Decoration Day began shortly after the Civil War with local ceremonies decorating the graves of Civil War soldiers with spring flowers. Many of the veteran's associations and the ladies' auxiliary associations dedicated themselves to memorializing the war dead with parades, speeches and floral tributes.

The GAR (Grand Army of the Republic) was the Union Veteran's Group that did much to promote a national decoration day, North and South.

Decoration Day in New York City
May 30, 1884
French soldiers joined the Americans so French flags hang from the windows near Union Square.

Hanging a flag, 1914.
As the generation that fought the Civil War aged, the meaning of the day changed.

President William Howard Taft reviewing a parade in the teens.

When America entered World War I in 1917 the name Memorial Day came into common use and the May 30th ceremonies honored soldiers who'd fought in any American wars.

A poster from the 1930s
In 1967 the U.S. Congress changed the official date for the officially named Memorial Day to the last Monday of May. The Uniform Holidays Bill went into effect in 1971.

People in different regions celebrate the day in different ways. Many use the day to clean cemeteries, prune plants there and leave memorials to deceased friends and families. Parades and speeches honor soldiers now serving as well as veterans, and those killed in the wars.

The United Daughters of the Confederacy at Arlington National Cemetery in 1924
This photo and those above are from the Library of Congress. The postcards are from online auctions.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

22 Blockade

Blockade by Becky Brown
Symbolizing the Union's Strategy

Major General Scott as a War Hero
The Union Army's General-in-Chief was Winfield Scott, who had served with glory in the Mexican-American War about a dozen years earlier. Since then, he'd lost a Presidential election to Franklin Pierce and grown old and ill.

In the spring of 1861 Scott was 73 years old. A Virginian who had served under every President since Jefferson, Scott refused to join the Rebels as had Colonel Robert E. Lee and others.

In May, Scott realized his Army would not be fighting a 30-day War and suggested a strategy to surround the Confederacy at sea and on the Mississippi River, squeezing its economic life by occupying strategic ports. The press, always ready to lampoon "Old Fuss and Feathers," derided the blockade as the "Anaconda Plan". Scott, too old to ride a horse, was soon replaced, but his blockade tactic remained an effective Union goal.

Parthenia Antoinette Hague wrote extensively about the effects of the blockade. Her 1888 memoir A Blockaded Family: Life in Southern Alabama During the Civil War is a comprehensive account of shortages and substitutes. Here she writes about making homemade shoes as the years went by and the South was deprived of materials and manufactured goods:
"Our shoes, particularly those of women and children, were made of cloth, or knit. Some one had learned to knit slippers, and it was not long before most of the women of our settlement had a pair of slippers on the knitting needles. They were knit of our homespun thread, either cotton or wool, which was, for slippers, generally dyed a dark brown, gray, or black. When taken off the needles, the slippers or shoes were lined with cloth of suitable texture. The upper edges were bound with strips of cloth, of color to blend with the hue of the knit work. A rosette was formed of some stray bits of ribbon, or scraps of fine bits of merino or silk, and placed on the uppers of the slippers; then they were ready for the soles....
Sometimes we put on the soles ourselves by taking wornout shoes, whose soles were thought sufficiently strong to carry another pair of uppers, ripping the soles off, placing them in warm water to make them more pliable and to make it easier to pick out all the old stitches, and then in the same perforations stitching our knit slippers or cloth-made shoes."

Cutting an 8" Finished Block
Use scraps of white prints (shirtings) to echo the idea of using up the smallest pieces.

A Cut 1 medium and 1 dark square 5-1/4". Cut each into 4 triangles with 2 cuts.
You need 4 medium and 4 dark triangles.

B Cut 1 dark, 1 medium and 6 light squares 2-7/8". You might want to make the light triangles scrappy. Cut each into 2 triangles with 1 cut.

You need 2 dark, 2 medium and 12 light triangles.

Blockade (BlockBase #1212) has been redrawn from the design of that name published in the Kansas City Star in 1938.

Read A Blockaded Family: Life in Southern Alabama During the Civil War at Google Books by clicking here:

Saturday, May 21, 2011

21 Underground Railroad

Railroad by Becky Brown

Railroad can symbolize the end of the Underground Railroad, a change in the strategy of escape from slavery.

At the end of May, 1861, Union General Benjamin Butler refused to return three escaped slaves to a Confederate officer, disobeying the Federal law known as the Fugitive Slave Act, which dictated that runaways must be returned to their owners. Because Virginia was at war with the United States, Butler confiscated the slaves, declaring them contraband of war.

This Union cartoon lampooning one of the FFV's
 (First Families of Virginia) was printed on an envelope.
Printers created a variety of humorous and patriotic stationery for both sides.

The news of Butler's decision spread throughout Virginia. Within two months he reported he was sheltering and feeding hundreds of refugees called "contrabands," who sought asylum with Butler's army at Fortress Monroe.

Contrabands, Newport News, 1861, drawing by Alfred R. Waud.

Butler, an attorney from Massachusetts, had long been an anti-slavery advocate. In his report on the contraband situation in July he wrote: 
"I have, therefore, now within the peninsula, this side of Hampton Creek, nine hundred negroes, three hundred of whom are able-bodied men, thirty of whom are men substantially past hard labor, one hundred and seventy-five women, two hundred and twenty-five children under the age of ten years, and one hundred and seventy between ten and eighteen years, and many more coming in....
My duty as a humane man is very plain. I should take the same care of these men, women, and children, houseless, homeless, and unprovided for, as I would of the same number of men, women, and children, who, for their attachment to the Union, had been driven or allowed to flee from the Confederate States...."

Timothy O'Sullivan photographed refugees fording
the Rappahannock River in 1862. People continued to seek shelter with
 the Union Armies throughout the war. Many camps held thousands.

Butler's decision changed the refugees's status as well as their strategies. No longer forced to make their way alone to a Northern state, slaves poured into Union Army camps in the South. The days of the Underground Railroad were over as contrabands replaced runaways.

The Railroad block is BlockBase #1312

Cutting an 8" Finished Block

A Cut 1 medium and 1 dark  square 4-7/8". Cut each in half diagonally. You need 2 medium and 2 dark triangles.

B Cut 4 light and 4 dark squares 2-1/2".

The block, which creates a strong diagonal line across the quilt, has many published names including Railroad, Railroad Crossing and Jacob's Ladder.

Ruth Finley gave the pattern the name Railroad Crossing in 1929 in her book Old Patchwork Quilts. Here's a tattered version from about 1900. Finley also pictured a nine-patch variation she called Underground Railroad in that book.

Underground Railroad  Nine Patch block by Gloria Clark.
BlockBase #1695.

See more photographs documenting the faces of people held in slavery by clicking on this PDF from the National Humanities Center Resource Toolbox

Two humorous envelopes on the subject of Butler's decision.

In the lower cartoon the refugee running towards Fortress Monroe shouts at his former master, "Can't Come Back No How, Massa. Dis chile's CONTRABAN."

The "humor" in the dialect may not translate today but the cartoons as stationery show the effect of Butler's ruling in the popular culture.

See more of these Civil War envelopes or covers in the collection of the Library Company of Philadelphia by clicking here:

Saturday, May 14, 2011

20 New England Block

New England Block by Becky Brown

New England Block can remind us of Louisa May Alcott's and her fellow New Englanders' early enthusiasm for a War to end slavery. In May, 1861, she was a restless 28-year-old eager to contribute.

Louisa May Alcott

She lived with her family in a ramshackle house in Concord, Massachusetts, and kept in touch with an old friend Alfred Whitman, a neighbor who had moved to Kansas with his father to support the antislavery cause. Although she hated to sew, she spent April making shirts for soldiers.

Concord Massachusetts, May 19, 1861
Dear Alf

If I had not been sewing violently on patriotic blue shirts for the past month I should have written… I lay down my needle and take up my pen with great inward contentment, the first article being my abomination & the last my delight.

Of course the town is a high state of topsey turveyness, for every one is boiling over with excitement & when quiet Concord does get stirred up it is a sight to behold.
Concord 100 years ago

All the young men & boys drill with all their might, the women & girls sew & prepare for nurses, the old folks settle the fate of the Nation in groves of newspapers, & the children make the streets hideous with distracted drums & fifes. Everyone wears cockades wherever one can be stuck,

A selection of Civil War era cockades
The Union examples tend to be red white and blue.
The Confederate cockades seem to have been just one color, red, white or blue.

Louisa continued....

Flags flap over head like parti colored birds of prey, patriotic balmorals, cravats, handkerchiefs & hats are all the rig, & if we keep on at our present rate everything in heaven & earth will soon be confined to red white & blue…
Concord was not alone in it's excitement over the patriotic colors.

Diarists and letter writers North and South reported on cockades as a sign of loyalty.

The New England Block has several names. This name was assigned by a 1930s pattern company called Needlecraft Supply.The oldest name seems to be 4X Star. The original (BlockBase #1802a) was based on a grid of 5, but a slightly narrower center strip works better for an 8 inch block.

Cutting Instructions for an 8" Finished Block

A Cut 4 light and 4 medium squares 2-1/4"
B Cut 4 dark and 4 light squares 2-5/8". Cut each in half with a diagonal to make 2 triangles. You need 8 triangles of each
C Cut 4 medium and 4 light rectangles 1-1/2" x 2-1/4".
D Cut 1 medium square 1-1/2"

Click here to see a sale at Cowan's Auctions of cockades and Civil War jewelry.

If you are inclined to sew a cockade for a re-enactor you might find these pictures from an old millinery book useful. It's all in the pleating and gathering. 

This would be a good year to read Alcott's Civil War story Little Women again. Click here:

UPDATE May 24, 2011
A commenter asked about the source for the quote above
It's on page 64 of The Selected Letters of Louisa May Alcott, edited by Joel Myerson and Daniel Shealy. This is the most comprehensive volume of LMA's letters although there are other versions, including a 19th century volume avaliable to read on line

Saturday, May 7, 2011

19 Missouri Star

Missouri Star by Gloria Clark

Missouri Star can remind us of Mattie Lykins Bingham who represents well the torn loyalties of the people of Missouri. Wife of two Union sympathizers, she maintained her Confederate allegiances to her death in 1890.

Mattie about 1875.

In early May, 1861, Confederates seized arms in Kansas City and gathered near the St. Louis Arsenal intending to confiscate weapons there. Federal troops raided their camp and marched the captured Confederates through St. Louis inspiring violence from rebel bystanders. The St. Louis Riots increasing hostilities between the country residents with roots in Kentucky and Tennessee and the city dwellers, recent immigrants from Germany and Ireland. The Union armies might control the cities but no one could control Missouri's rural areas.  

Mattie, born in Kentucky in 1824, married Kansas Citian Johnston Lykins, a former missionary to the Kansas tribes, who made a good deal of money in real estate. Although her banker husband was a Unionist in a Union town, Mattie was an outspoken Southron, to use a period word.

Missouri remained a Union state. In 1863 the Federal forces governing Kansas City banished her to the country for the duration. She was suspected of spying for Confederate guerillas, particularly blamed for their deadly raid on the Union town of Lawrence, Kansas. Kansas Citians told of her waving to her husband on the shore as the riverboat took her to her exile, calling to him to take care of his laundry.

After the War Mattie returned to Kansas City and became the woman behind local campaigns to remember The Lost Cause. She organized Confederate burial grounds, an orphanage and an old soldiers' home.

A weathered angel watches over children
 at a school on the site of
Mattie's Confederate Orphanage in Kansas city.

After Lykins's death in 1878 she married former Union officer George Caleb Bingham. Bingham, a well-known artist, painted "Order Number Eleven," depicting the banishment of Southern sympathizers from their homes in 1863.

A detail of Bingham's Order Number Eleven.
Get your applique needles ready,
 we'll be doing a quilt pattern named Order Number Eleven in a few months.

Mattie left a will directing that all Bingham's paintings be sold to fund the Missouri Confederate Home. She's buried between the graves of her two husbands at Kansas City's Union Cemetery.

Missouri Star is #2154 in BlockBase and my Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns. The name was given to this star by the Nancy Cabot column of the Chicago Tribune in 1933.

Cutting an 8" Finished Block

A Cut 4 squares 2-1/2" light.
B Cut 2 squares of medium and 2 squares of dark each 3-1/4". Cut each into 4 triangles with 2 cuts. You need 4 triangles of each.

(See below of another idea for these triangles if you are working small.)
C Cut 1 square 5-1/4" light. Cut it into 4 triangles with 2 cuts. You need 4 triangles.

D Cut 2 dark squares 2-7/8". Cut each into 2 triangles with 1 diagonal cut. You need 4 triangles.

E Cut 1 medium square 3-3/8".

Another idea for the star points B if you are working small. Instead of using the measurements for B cut 8 more triangles the same size as D but fussy cut them across a stripe. (Make yourself a transparent template from one of your D pieces so you get the stripe right.)

The beneficiary of Mattie's will:
The Confederate Home of Missouri

Read more about the remarkable Mattie Lykins Bingham in my book on the Civil War on the Missouri/Kansas border: Borderland in Butternut and Blue.
Click here:

And read more about George Caleb Bingham by clicking here:

Rose Ann Findlen has published a new biography of Mattie through the Jackson County (Missouri) Historical Society. Click here to read about Missouri Star: The Life and Times of Martha A. "Mattie" (Livingston) Lykins Bingham:

Woman with a reading glass

Mattie's been in the news in Kansas City lately. A very lucky woman bought an unsigned portrait of a woman in a Missouri antique shop. It looks just like Mattie to me, and many people believe it to be a lost Bingham painting of his third wife.  

Missouri Star
by Becky Brown