Archive for the ‘Sewing/Costume’ Category

Monday 30th [December 1861]

Cold & a heavy frost. I went to the mill. George wanted me to look over E.P. Knight’s account. He thought Knight was getting along to fast I guess. It will be all right when Mr. Henry gets home & how I want to see him. Emeline Murray spent the day here, had a nice dinner & even coffee for dinner. I made me a coarse skirt of shirting on the machine today. It worked finely. I sprinkled the jeans this morning.  All are well.  Jim set in the morning to work. John not come.

Source: Diary of Cornelia Henry in Fear in North Carolina: The Civil War Journal and Letters of the Henry Family. Clinard, Karen L. and Russell, Richard, eds. (Asheville, NC: Reminiscing Books, 2008).

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Flag fragment, containing a St. Andrews Cross, made by the ladies of Asheville for the men of the 39th Regiment, NC Troops and presented to the Regiment in May 1862.  In the collections of the NC Museum of History, Raleigh.

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Camp Pickens

Manassas Junction Va

Nov the 20th 61

W.T.M. Phifer & Wife

Dear Brother and Sister,

            As I failed to send you a letter by Hyde I now seat myself to drop you a few lines which will inform you that I am enjoying the greatest of health.  I can’t tell you how much I way.  I haven’t been waid for some time but I tell you I am just busting all the buttons off my cloths.  I can’t hardly keep them soed on as fast as they come off.  You may say I don’t put them on good but I tell you I do I am a first rate hand at this business.  I can proove that by Lizzie.  She knows I am a good hand with a needle an thread before I got a stiff finger.  Well you can tell Mary that wescut she sent me would not meet on me with the strap buckeld.  I had to loose it and let it goe, and my pants when I got them at Camp Hill I could draw then up smartly by the strap but now I have to let it goe loose.  Well I think I have said enough to sattesfy you that I am a gallpuster you may think I am joking but it is the case.

            Well Thos that Battle hasn’t come off yet but still expecting it evry day.  We still keepe fetching them in every few days.  Since Hyde left there there has bin thirty two past the Junction going to Rich, they were caught in a corn field steeling corn.  Since that there has bin seventy odd taken and some sixty or seventy odd horses and I don’t remember how many wagons.  There was 7 prisoners an forty two horses landed today.  I can’t tell when the rest will come.  Well Thos I am going to undertake to tell you something about one of our prisoners that was taken in the Manassas Battle of the 21—but I don’t know wheather I can give you much sattasfaction about it or not.  If I could see you face to face I think I could but I fear I will fail by pen and ink.  Well he was relieced on Perroll this day was a week ago and arrived at our camp tonight.  He belonged to Col. Fishers Regt he sais he was the only one that was taken from that Regt and there was but 25 taken that he saw in the hole Battle.  He said he was tending to a wounded man and his Regt. retreated an he did not know antying about it and the first thing he new there was about 600 zoaves in twenty steps of him and told him if he moved they would shoot him down.  He said when they took him they told him they loved to hang him.  He said there was two took him by the arm and one bhind him with his gun and wood stick him every once and a while with his bayonet.  He said they fled him hand and foot for two days and nites and keep him in a stable.  Then they took to washington City.  When they got there they mobed him.  They took all his money from him too his pocket knife took his pocket handerchief and cut all the buttons off his coat that I saw with my own eyes they ware every one of.  He said the Gov alowed them crackers an water to eat but he said he got plenty.  He said he had plenty of friends there.  The ladies made up $900 to feed them and was very kind to them.  Some of them would curse them but he said he had plenty of friends.  He said the ladies sent their best respects to the Southern boys.  He said 2000 men could have taken the city at that time.  He  said lots of them never stoped till they got to N.Y. and what staid was looking for us for two or three days after the rite.  He said he never saw as bad scattered set in his life, they kept coming in for a week after the Battle.  They were so bad scattered they advertised in the city where they could find their corn and Regt.  He said  they never have acknowledged of being whiped yet, except the 21 they say we rather got them there, but they say we over powered them at Leesburg and they retreated.  He said about a week after the Leesburg Battle they took out 25 men at washington out of the Potomac that washed down there.  He said they had it in the papers there that N.C. had gone back into the union an that they were taken the oath of legion at Haters as fast as they could.  He said they don this in order to keep there men in good spirits and make them go on.  Well Thos I believe I will stop this subject.  I have forgotten his name but there was 57 left when he did and said there was but 29 left there.  He said they sent all that they got in N.C. to N.Y. He is now on the hunt of his Regt. an levs to go home in a few days.  Since writing the former part of this letter I heard that there was another train of Yankeess arrived at the Junction.  I did not learn how many.  They will leave in the morning for Richmond.  The health of the Regt is improving, Fuller is well.  I hope these few lines may find you well.  So nothing more remains your absent brother as ever

T.P. Gillespie

Sources: Christopher Watford, ed. The Civil War in North Carolina: Soldiers’ and Civilians’ Letters and Diaries, 1861-1865, Volume 1. (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2003).  Original in United States Military History Institute, Carlisle Barracks, Carlisle, Pennsylvania

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The two homespun dresses featured this afternoon are plaid, and although we cannot know if they are made of cottons dyed and woven at the Alamance Cotton Mill, they are extremely similar to known examples of Alamance Plaids.  The Alamance Cotton Mill was producing high quality dyed plaids that were popular throughout the country prior to the Civil War.  Once war was declared, the mill changed its production to support the war effort and sold a vast quantity of textiles to the Confederate army. 


For more on the Alamance Mill, see this essay: http://ncmarkers.com/Markers.aspx?ct=ddl&sp=search&k=Markers&sv=G-82%20-%20ALAMANCE%20COTTON%20MILL

 The Alamance County Historical Museum has exhibits and information about the Alamance Mills too – including samples of the plaids! http://www.alamancemuseum.org/portal/History.aspx

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Homespun Dress #2

This two-piece dress is also a tri-color plaid but it is a bit fancier than the previous dress because it features additional trim at the shoulders and wrists.  The trim is a printed geometric brown and can be found on covered buttons at the box pleats on the shoulders and at the wrists as well as covering decorative arched piping at the bottom of the sleeves.  The skirt features box pleats.

 This dress was worn by Annie Eliza Basnight of Tyrell County who married William R. Spruill during the Civil War.  Homespun dresses became fashionable during the war as the blockade made access to fine fashion fabrics difficult and expensive. 

 For another homespun dress in this blog, see http://wp.me/p1qIB8-nA

 Source: North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, Museum of History, 2003.25.48.  Search the collections of the Department of Cultural Resources: http://collections.ncdcr.gov/dcr/NCDCRSearch.aspx Many thanks to Paige Meyers, Textiles Conservator, NC Museum of History for the photos!

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Homespun Dress #1

This post will focus on a homespun dress found in the NC Museum of History Collections.  This dress was worn by Elizabeth Williams of Nash County.  Elizabeth was married and widowed by 1854.  This dress reflects a frugal lady.  A simple dress red, white and blue plaid, with simple construction, the weave is reflected of the popular Alamance Plaids made in North Carolina.  Alamance plaids feature vegetable dyes, including indigo, and are billed as the first commercially dyed cottons manufactured in the South.  First available in the 1850s, the plaids became widely popular. 

The dress features a lined bodice with glass buttons and it is gathered to an inset waistband.  The skirt is also gathered to the waistband and is comprised of 4 loom widths of fabric.  The skirt also features a pocket of a different plaid and a neatly patched hole.  When museum staff were investigating the dress, they even found seeds still in the pocket! 

 Source: North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, Museum of History, 1993.137.1.  Search the collections of the Department of Cultural Resources: http://collections.ncdcr.gov/dcr/NCDCRSearch.aspxMany thanks to Paige Meyers, Textiles Conservator, NC Museum of History for the photos!


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Raleigh Register, October 9, 1861   
                                    Raleigh, Oct. 1st, 1861.
To the Immediate Friends of the Wake Guards:
I adopt this method of communicating with you, because it will be impossible for me to see many of you in person.  My object in addressing you is to let you know what supplies of clothing this company will need in order to have a complete outfit for the winter, feeling well assured, from your past liberality towards the company, that you have only to know their wants to supply them.  
The company numbers one hundred and nine non-commissioned officers and privates.—At present they are provided with everything that is necessary; but this supply will not suffice for winter.  The articles of clothing I wish to procure for each man are as follows:–One pair of pants and one jacket or round about, to be made of heavy woolen homespun, and of any color, though a dark mixed is preferred; two flannel undershirts—this fabric can also be made at home; one blanket or bed quilt; two pair of socks, either cotton or woolen; and one pair of thick shoes.  Let all these articles, as far as can be, be made at home, they will be much better; if, however, that be not possible, N.  C. Cassimere can be substituted in place of woolen homespun.  Now, the plan I propose is that each family who has a son in this company, and who is able to furnish the articles mentioned, shall communicate with me immediately, giving the name of the soldier they will furnish them for.  In this way I can ascertain such as will be supplied from home.  Also, let each family who is able and willing to furnish an additional supply for one man, write to me to this effect, and I will give the names and measures of such as cannot get supplies at home; of this latter class there will not be more than ten or fifteen.      
Cloth, for the purpose of making overcoats for the company, will be furnished from the Quartermaster’s Department, at Raleigh, and will be sent out to be made up in a few days.         
In conclusion, I would say to the friends of the company, that when this clothing is furnished, (and there will be no pressing need for it before the first of November,) they will have an ample supply for the winter, their health will, in a great measure, be secured, and, that saving the accidents of battle, they may expect to see them return safely home.     
Most respectfully, your obedient servant,                      
                                    Oscar R. Rand,                       
                                    Captain of the Wake Guards.

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Raleigh Register, September 28, 1861

Domestic Manufactures.

            This war at one and the same time illustrates the advantages of manufactures in the South, and the folly of our course in not sooner embarking in them.  Had we manufactured for ourselves, instead of enriching the villainous Yankees by allowing them to do so for us, this war, perhaps, never would have begun, or, if commenced, would have been of short duration, for, in our opinion, the Yankees are not now fighting for Sambo, but for the market, which we, by our improvident conduct, have taught them to believe was theirs by inalienable fight.—North Carolina is now the largest manufacturer of wool in the South, and but for the cloth turned out by her factories, what would have become of her troops?  They could not, if raised, have been clad.  The factories are still hard at work, and we are gratified in believing that our troops will be made as comfortable this winter as camp life will permit. 

The Petersburg Cotton Factories are, we learn, turning out large quantities of cotton shirting, sheeting and tent cloth.  This is the mode by which the Yankees are building up manufactures in the South. 

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Sept 28th Saturday [1861]

This morning we all went over again to help Miss Bena on her quilt & read the book    Mrs. Worth came over & made a little visit & hindered us some so that we did not read as much as we wished.  We got the quilt out, we read again this evening.  Jennie Lilly & Augusta Myrover came to Mrs Tillinghasts this evening.  They are going around with work for the Sinclair Company drawers, shirts, etc.  We all took some of the work.  They want it done by Tuesday morning, washed and ironed & sent to the Seminary as they want to pack them & send them off Thursday morning.  We did not quite finish the book.  It has been very cool all day.  We have had a fire all day. We have enjoyed the fire very much today.

Source: Malinda Ray Diary, Anna Sutton Sherman Papers, North Carolina State Archives.  See also David A. Ray Papers, Southern Historical Collection, UNC-Chapel Hill.

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William Dorsey Pender purchased his wife a sewing machine — isn’t that a grand purchase at wartime?!  They evidently had trouble getting it delivered but here’s his latest quote related to the machine’s arrival (from his letter posted earlier today, dated 9/22/1861:

“I am so glad you have got your machine.  I wrote to Richmond the other day about it, and received a letter today saying it had been sent through mistake to Greensborough, but would be sent on.  But in case it did not go right it should be replaced.  When you have to sew I want to know how you like [it], for I feel proud of it.  You must not let the box be destroyed for you will want it to carry the machine in when you move it.  I rather think it a handsome piece of furniture, and you never asked what it cost.” 

Other mentions of the machine so far:

August 29th 1861: I” hope you like your [sewing] machine for I really feel proud of that purchase.  Let it keep you from such constant labor with the needle as you are in the habit of.” 

September 1st 1861: “And above all how do you get on with your [sewing] machine?  You have no doubt found out by this time that I am exceedingly fond of that purchase and want you to be properly pleased.  If it does not work you must let me know. ”

September 5th 1861: “As to the machine, the money would have been spent in some other way.”

September 8th 1861: “I hope your machine is all right”

September 11th 1861: “You must get someone to inquire at High Point for your machine, and if it is not there I will write to Richmond and see if I can get upon the track of it.  As to clothes, honey, I have plenty to last me except shirts, and plenty of those for the present.”

September 14th 1861: “I am sorry about the machine.  I wrote today to Sloat—the manufacturer—to see to it and if it had been lost that I should expect another put in its place.  But I hope it was at High Point.” **

**Extra information: Sloat sewing machines were manufactured as early as 1858 in Philadelphia and there was a manufacturing facility in Richmond, which began to make percussion caps as part of the war effort in 1861.






Sources: William Hassler, ed., One of Lee’s Best Men: The Civil War Letters of General William Dorsey Pender (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1999). William Dorsey Pender papers, Southern Historical Collection, UNC-Chapel Hill. http://www.lib.unc.edu/mss/inv/p/Pender,William_Dorsey.html


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