Saturday, August 1, 2020

The Civil War Uniform Question

Fence Rail wool quilt attributed to 
Louisa Thomas Bunten (1851-1934)
Crawford, Lewis County, West Virginia
Photo from the Quilt Index & the West Virginia project

According to the family history:
"This comfort was made by Louisa Thomas Bunten, wife of Lieut. Watson Morgan Bunten, Company 1, 40th Regiment, Illinois volunteers, United States Army. The Buntens were married in 1870. Lieut Bunten had been wounded in the Battles of Pittsburg Landing and Missionary Ridge and had been discharged from the army on March 3, 1864. The comfort was made by Louisa Thomas Bunten and friends about 1875 from Lieut. Bunten's Civil War uniforms."

Like many families, the Buntens passed down a story that their wool quilt was a souvenir of the Civil War, stitched from uniforms. A similar story accompanied the fan quilt below to a documentation  day at the Indiana Project.

Elizabeth Trogdon, Paris, Illinois

Family thought it might have been made 1865-1885
but fan designs of heavy wools tend to have been a fad after 1890 or so.

Log cabin with family story that it was stitched in 1865
from blue and gray uniforms of sons who fought on both sides.
Illinois State Museum

CORRECTION: Textile historian Lynne Bassett writes that she and Smithsonian textile curator Madelyn Shaw examined the log cabin above quite closely before they included it on their exhibition on Civil War quilts.  "The fabrics in the quilts ARE consistent with those used in Civil War uniforms."

Typical short Confederate jacket of butternut dyed wools

Eleven years ago I did a post on the topic. 
I haven't changed my mind although we continue to see purported Civil War uniform quilts.
CORRECTION & ADDITION: What we need to do is find quilts with actual wools and combination fabrics that are consistent with the family history.

Another log cabin with some beautiful blue wools
and a Civil War uniform story

The topic came up again in our QuiltHistorySouth Facebook group. Lynn Lancaster Gorges with husband Will Gorges runs Battleground Antiques in New Bern, North Carolina. She wrote about the mythical uniform quilt:
"Will and I have never seen one in our many years of specializing in CW uniforms."

The Gorgeses are experts. I'm sticking with them.  CORRECTION: But maybe I am too skeptical.
Here's their shop:

That combination of blue and gray seems to trigger
some very imaginative tales.


Lady Locust said...

Isn’t it amazing what folks come up with? Love the quilts though.

sue s said...

So what made the blue and gray so popular? Good dyes?

Barbara Brackman said...

Sue--you mean why are there so many pieces of blue and gray wools in quilts about 1900? What do men wear. Blue, gray, black and brown. They are the fabrics the woolen mills made and what was in the scrapbag.

sue s said...

Barbara I guess that should have been obvious! I get used to looking at the beautiful quilts and forget about the 'normal' ones.