Women played a very important role during the American Civil War. The Government did not provide clothing and bedding for the military as they do today and it was often left up to the soldier’s family to provide for his needs. As the war went on, it became apparent that their was a desperate need for basic items.
The women were kept busy, often learning how to sew as they went because this type of menial work was usually undertaken by the slaves. A great sense of community was built while piecing and quilting each blanket around a common quilting frame, hung from hooks in the ceiling so that all the ladies could sit around it together, chatting while sewing. Many quilts were made for fundraising to buy necessary equipment for the soldiers as well as to provide bedding for the soldiers. A great deal of commemorative quilts were made after the war as well.
The soldiers quilts’ were generally made with basic fabrics and very simple block designs. Time was always an issue, as one quilt takes many hours to complete. The faster the quilts could be made, the better and as most of the quilts were made hastily and were poorly constructed, many did not survive the war. Fabric was also in short supply. Old clothing, blankets, feed sacks, old uniforms, suits, coats, pocket flaps, sleeves and pants legs were all used to make these very important quilts. Fabrics used were often solid colours or small all over patterns and were most commonly of muted colours. Sometimes they used the clothing of the men who had died fighting in the war to make quilts for the soldiers.
Many soldiers were buried wrapped in their quilts, probably to stop the spread of disease from reusing the quilts. As a result very few original American Civil War quilts have survived. By the time the war ended, it is estimated that over 250,000 quilts had been made for the soldiers.