Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Cassandra's Circle #4: Charlotte Wigfall's Texas Star

Cassandra's Circle, Block #4 Texas Star
By Becky Brown

Charlotte Cross Wigfall (1819-1893),
close friend of Mary Chesnut's in the first years of the War.

Brown's Hotel

Charlotte Cross Wigfall and Mary Boykin Chesnut met in Washington City in the late 1850s as wives of freshmen U.S. Senators, "messing" or boarding at Brown's Hotel. Brown's was a Southern hotel; the Willard the Northern equivalent. James Chesnut represented South Carolina and Louis Wigfall  Texas when they were U.S.Senators.

Louis Trezevant Wigfall (1816-1874)

In the first heady days of the Confederacy the women were glad to renew acquaintance in Charleston, Montgomery and then Richmond where Charlotte found the Chesnuts rooms at Richmond's crowded Spotswood Hotel. 

The Spotswood Hotel, opened just as war began, 
 survived the war, burning in 1870.

Mary loved her social life and the Spotswood must have been an exciting place as the new government planned a nation. She and Charlotte enjoyed each other's company, meeting often in the literal corridors of power where impromptu get-togethers of Cassandra's Circle were planned for their small rooms. 

Texas Star
By Pat Styring

In August, 1861 Mary accompanied the Wigfalls to a ceremony sending off a Texas regiment.

 "Mrs. Wigfall, with the 'Lone Star' flag in her carriage, called for me....Mrs. [Jefferson] Davis's landau, with her spanking bays, rolled along in front of us."
The women had much in common. Mary had no friends who were not smart, well-educated, well-read and outspoken. After hearing secessionist wives assure each other, "God is on our side," the two when alone, asked "Why?"
"Of course, He hates the Yankees, we are told." (Much giggling, I would guess.)

The Wigfalls

Yet they were also quite different. Charlotte pointed out she and Mary might be better off married to each other's husbands.
 "Mrs. Wigfall says we are mismatched. She should pair with my cool, quiet, self-poised Colonel. And her stormy petrel is but a male reflection of me."
We would not wish Louis Wigfall on anyone. Although Charlotte was sharp enough about others to keep Mary entertained she seems blind to her husband's many faults. (Any one of us would have divorced him in a New York minute.)  Louis Trezevant Wigfall was Charlotte's second cousin, a South Carolina native. A child of two cultures, she grew up in Charleston but was born in Rhode Island. They married in 1841 when she was about 22. Her New England fortune may have been the attraction.

Did Thomas Nast have Wigfall in mind when he
caricatured the Southern rebel?

Charlotte's husband was an outrageous figure, a Texas-sized fire-eater long in favor of Southern independence. He had a serious drinking problem but the Southern elite indulging in Southern hospitality rarely viewed drinking as a problem.

Wigfall had many other issues, shall we say. He was quick-tempered and violent, killing at least one man, a Thomas Bird, in a duel. He left South Carolina for Texas over dueling issues with Bird's relative Preston Brooks. Wigfall was an irresponsible narcissist, a spendthrift in the grand Southern tradition. All of Charlotte's New England dowry immediately went to pay his premarital debts. He  then habitually damned Northerners as degenerate money-grubbing hypocrites who idolized gold.

Our inspiration block: From Benoni Pearce's 1850 album
in the collection of the National Museum of American History.

Contrasts between James Chesnut and Louis Wigfall are evident in their most impressive joint feat when the pair started the Civil War in the attack on Fort Sumter. 

The tale is complicated but it begins with both families lodging in Charleston in April, 1861. The two former U.S. Senators rowed out into Charleston Harbor to confront Major Robert Anderson, commander of the Union-held fort, and demand surrender. Back at the Mills House Mary and Charlotte were terrified:
"Fort Sumter has been on fire...the sound of those guns makes regular meals impossible. None of us go to table. Tea-trays pervade the corridors going everywhere. Some of the anxious hearts lie on their beds and moan in solitary misery. Mrs. Wigfall and I solace ourselves with tea in my room."
Wigfall "is in his glory, the only thoroughly happy person I see."
Anderson surrendered after 30 hours of bombardment. 

The Mills House after the war. The hotel survived
a huge fire in 1862 and years of shelling.

A few days later British newspaper correspondent William Henry Russell interviewed Wigfall about his part in the surrender on a visit to Fort Sumter:
"I am sorry to say, our distinguished friend had just been paying his respects ... to Bacchus or Bourbon, for he was decidedly unsteady in his gait and thick in speech....he was determined I should know all about his exploit. Major Whiting desired to show me round the work, but he had no chance. 'Here is where I got in,' quoth Colonel Wigfall. 'I found a Yankee standing here by the traverse, out of the way of our shot. He was pretty well scared when he saw me...."
Chesnut and Wigfall dodged the shelling.

James Chesnut's important role at Fort Sumter was forgotten while Wigfall propelled his blundering into a reputation that lingers. James was content to refrain from mythmaking, doing his quiet duty, which was exactly what frustrated Mary about her husband.

Senator James Chesnut and Major Robert Anderson,
both photographed at the Brady Studios.

Wigfall, on the other hand, was a blowhard. During the war he was a vicious enemy of Mary Chesnut's much-admired Jefferson Davis.

Jefferson Davis before the war, Brady Studios.
Matthew Brady set out to photograph every famous American.

Texas Star by Susannah Pangelinan

 By 1863 both Chesnuts were weary of Wigfall. Mary and James quarreled late one night. 
"Wigfall was here last night. He began to hang Jeff Davis. [James] managed him beautifully...I knew it was quite late, but I had no idea of the hour."
After the guest left at 2 a.m.--- 
James: "It is all your fault...Why will you persist in looking so interested in all Wigfall is saying. Don't let him catch your eye! Look in the fire."
Mary could not resist looking interested; she was interested and probably was glad to argue with him over hanging Jeff Davis. But the Wigfalls and the Chesnuts could not keep up that fraying friendship despite her pleasure in Charlotte's company.

The Block

Texas Star by Denniele Bohannon

We think of five-pointed stars in mid-century quilts as symbols of Texas,
always an oversized American icon.


Album at Colonial Williamsburg

And maybe they were...

Album at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts

Applique to a square cut 18-1/2" or cut it larger and trim later.

Becky cut a shapelier leaf a little larger so she could fussy
cut her fabric. More pieces in the star, more fabric.

Applique to an 18-1/2" square or cut it larger and trim later.

The Patterns
One Way to print these JPGS.
·         Create or a new empty JPG file that is 8-1/2" x 11" or a word file.
·         Click on the image above.
·         Right click on it and save it to your file.
·         Print that file out 8-1/2" x 11". Note the inch square block for reference.
·         Adjust the printed page size if necessary. Do not use tools like "Fit to page."
·         Make templates.
·         Add seams when cutting fabric.
The original is based on a wreath of 10 lobes, but 8 works
better because you can cut the swag shape by folding your
template paper or fabric snowflake style. Fold a 15" 
square as shown and cut the swag.

Model makers did one or two stars, any way they wanted
and so can you.

Here's my Texas Star reduced by half to a 9" block.
I didn't have room for a star.

We are filling in the 18" squares.

Elias Boring's 1853 album, recorded in the New Jersey project, has
another one of these viney wreaths with a star in the center.

Fanny Wigfall Jones & Louise Wigfall Wright,
Charlotte's daughters

Extra Reading

Louise Wigfall Wright, A Southern Girl in '61: The War-Time Memories of a Confederate Senator's Daughter.  Louise's memoir includes many letters from her mother during the war.

A Biography of Louis Wigfall at the National Park Service website:

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Amanda Ragan Stone's Civil War

Amanda Susan Ragan Stone (1822-1892)
After the war

When the Civil War began Amanda Stone was 37 years old, wealthy head of a Louisiana plantation household. Her Brokenburn was on the Louisiana side of the Mississippi River, 30 miles northwest of Vicksburg, Mississippi.

River flooding created prime cotton growing soil 
but living on a flood plain is precarious.
Daughter Kate's last diary entry anticipates her home 
again threatened by the Mississippi.

Amanda's husband William Patrick Stone had died of a fever five years earlier at their Mississippi plantation and in 1859 Amanda bought land in Louisiana to build her Brokenburn cotton plantation, real estate worth $130,000 in the 1860 census. She also owned a personal estate of $83,000, wealth measured in slaves of whom the 1860 slave schedule lists 77.  Enslaved people were 90% of the county's population.

Amanda seems to have been a young businesswoman "in her own right," even when her husband was living. Mary Farmer Kaiser who has researched her life found she was buying land while in her twenties.

Married at 15 Amanda had her children when she was young. The 1860 census lists seven from William 20 down to another Amanda who was ten. (Her youngest girl had died in her first year, possibly of cholera at the same time as her father.) Amanda's motherless brothers Bohannon and Ashburn Ragan, the same age as her children, lived with them as did 25-year-old tutor Albert B. Newton ("wonderfully ignorant" according to daughter Kate.)

A newly built house full of young people from mother, her sisters and brothers down to the ten year old Amy was "a bright and happy home" in Kate's memory, a joyous place for a family coddled by an economic system they would hold on to tenaciously.

Sarah Katherine Stone Holmes (1841 - 1907)

Daughter Sarah Katherine, 21 years old when news of the war came, began to keep a journal  documenting family life. Kate Stone was thrilled to see older brother William join "dashing young officers in magnificent uniforms...inspired by patriotic maidens to heroic exploits." Like many Southerners she was inspired to rebellion by the Waverley tales of British novelist Walter Scott, casting her brothers and friends in what Mark Twain called a "sham absurd past that is dead, and out of charity ought to be buried."

Kate's diary has been published in several editions

The Stones were obviously fans of Scott. Brokenburn is a place name from a Scott novel.

Quiltmaking was part of the fun (although Kate wanted little to do with it.) In September during the first year of the war:
"Mamma has just finished piecing up a large quilt commenced by my Auntie oh! so many years ago."
But the good times were over. That same day young Uncle Ashburn "went to bed with cold and fever," likely the malaria that would soon kill the 18-year-old.

Silk quilt pieced over papers dated 1865,
perhaps similar to the Ragan sisters' quilt

Auntie's quilt was begun by Amanda's younger sister Laura Ragan Buckner, whose husband owned a drug store in Vicksburg. The silk quilt tells us much about the Ragan sisters' prewar life.
"This will be a lovely silk affair. Aunt Laura always has so many pretty silks and wears them such a little while that they are never soiled."
Laura was then about 30, mother of a girl named Beverly for her father, pregnant at the time, soon giving birth to a stillborn baby, malformed noted Kate sadly. She characterized Laura as a
"sensitive nervous woman," sure her formidable cook Jane was poisoning her. Laura's wartime experiences only added to her sorrows and both she and Beverly died before the war was over.

Amanda worked on several quilts in the winter of 1861-62.

Surely Kate meant hexagons with six sides rather than
octagons with eight
"Mamma has finished the silk quilt, octagons of blue and yellow satin from two of her old dresses. Sister claims it. Aunt Laura's, of purple and blue silk, is done and is exceeding pretty."
"Sister" Amanda Rebecca Stone (1852-1934)
Louisiana & Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, 
Louisiana State University Libraries

In February 1862 Amanda directed some of her agricultural workers to housework.
"Nothing to be done in the fields---too muddy.... Mamma had several of the women from the quarter sewing...They put in and finished quilting a comfort made of two of my cashmere dresses."
Hexagon quilt pieced of various wool and wool blends,
cashmeres, delaines, challis and twills

  "Mamma had Aunt Laura's silk one put in today and Sue [a slave who also worked in the kitchen] is quilting on it. I am so afraid Mamma will commence work on it herself, and if she does I shall feel in duty bound to put up my linen embroidery and help her. And I simply detest making and quilting quilts. Precious little of it have I ever done.... After quilting one rises from the chair with such a backache, headache, and bleeding pricked fingers."
"[Mamma] has had several comforts made during the bad weather, and it has been so bad."

A month later:
"Mamma finished her silk quilt. I helped three days and the begged off. Quilting is a fearsome job."
In the first months of the war Amanda's eldest son William had been "wild to be off to Virginia," fearing that fighting would be over before he had a chance to shine, according to his sister. Over the long war four of Amanda's six sons joined Confederate troops. William and James survived but Frederick Walter just 18 died of pneumonia in February, 1863 and Coleman Patrick Stone, a year older, followed 8 months later after being injured by a falling horse. Both had joined the 28th Mississippi, captained by Aunt Laura's husband Colin Beverley Buckner, which fought near Vicksburg, besieged by Union troops during that summer.

Union Flag flying over the courthouse in Vicksburg,
July, 1863

Fearing the Confederacy could not hold Vicksburg, Amanda decided to relocate to Texas. She sent her most valuable property first. Over a hundred slaves walked to Lamar County, Texas, followed months later by Amanda and Laura, their daughters and the two youngest boys. Perhaps the recently made quilts and comforts accompanied them but few of their possession made it to Texas. Trunks were lost and stolen. Laura who had never ridden a horse in her life turned around and went back to Alabama where she died the next year.

Amanda, not the type to give up, continued to Lamar County where the refugees eventually settled in Tyler at the "Bonnie Castle,"

Bonnie Castle, Tyler, Smith County, Texas, 
Now known as the Goodman-LeGrand House

The Stones found a home in this mansion in Tyler, owned by Franklin Newman Gary who let it to Southern refugees. Many of Amanda's slaves were hired out for work in Lamar County. 

Vicksburg in 1876

The family returned to Louisiana the winter after the war to a stripped house "with bare echoing rooms," all the furniture gone to the Yankees and the former slaves. Raising cotton was no longer the profitable enterprise it had been under slavery as new threats from boll weevils killed the crop. Six months later Amanda was forced to sell Brokenburn. The 1870 census found her living with her surviving boys, keeping house with no estate listed. William, wounded twice in the war, died of his wounds in 1870. That year they moved to the town of Tallulah, Louisiana.

Daughter Kate and her husband Henry Bry Holmes built
Wayside in Tallulah. Here the family gathers in the 1880s.
Amanda may be seated in a place of honor on the porch.

Wayside in the background. Ragan/Stone/Holmes family on a dock
in the Walnut or Brushy Bayou.

Amanda died in 1892 at the age of 70.

Amanda's granddaughter Amanda Julia Holmes (1877-1972)
 with her mother's book. During the WPA projects 
of the 1940s she worked as a cutter in the local sewing room.

See a preview of Brokenburn by Kate Stone Holmes here:

Mary Farmer-Kaiser, "Reconstructing Amanda Stone: Made and Remade by Marriage, War, and Memoir in Nineteenth-Century Louisiana," Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association. Vol. 56, No. 4 (Fall 2015)

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Fine Finishes

Janet Olmstead has stitched the border to her Hospital Sketches top.

Nancy Austin Swanwick

Erica Cannon did two Sprouts versions

Sara Farley's Sprouts top
 She combined pieced blocks from another project.

Deb Freese's is quilted and bound.

Becky Brown is hand quilting hers

Diana Quinn

Lisa Wagner

Gladi Porsche

See more borders here

See pictures of this year's and last year's applique BOMs at our Facebook group: