Quilts a platform for telling stories

2013-05-04T20:15:00Z 2013-05-04T23:54:05Z Quilts a platform for telling storiesTamara Browning The (Springfield) State Journal-Register nwitimes.com

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. | Two days after the Confederate States of America formed in the 1860s, Sarah Ann Massie married William Bateman. The newlyweds settled on William's 100-acre farm in Illinois' Morgan County, and by the time the Civil War ended, Sarah had given birth to two children.

According to a statement accompanying a quilt Sarah made that's part of a new exhibit, their farm "was located between Franklin and Waverly, Illinois. The women of both communities worked to support the war efforts. In addition to using their sewing skills, farm women helped feed the soldiers."

Sarah's hand-appliqued and quilted cotton quilt, titled "Rose of Sharon Variation Quilt" and made around 1862, is part of the exhibit "Civil War Quilters: Loyal Hearts of Illinois" at the Illinois State Museum, Spring and Edwards streets. The quilts help provide examples of the work Illinois women did to support soldiers during the Civil War (1861-65).

Open through Sept. 8 in the museum's second floor art gallery, the exhibition shows period, handmade quilts and other objects that help reveal Illinois women's accounts. It also includes Civil War military uniforms, weapons and supplies, providing more visual context to the stories.

The exhibition offers a good way for people to understand what it was like being a woman in Illinois during the Civil War, said Angela Goebel-Bain, the exhibition's curator.

Because the museum has a strong quilt collection, Goebel-Bain saw the exhibition as an opportunity "to really look at the women of Illinois and what they were doing during the war and what their experiences were, using the quilts as a platform.

"We were talking about doing a quilt exhibit, but given that we were during this five-year period commemorating the Civil War, I noticed that (there) were no exhibits around the state, that I am aware of, that really focused on the roles of Illinois women in small communities and the big cities," Goebel-Bain said. "Living museums sites sometimes do. Re-enactors will talk about women's roles, but not in an interpretive way using real artifacts and in a gallery space."

Illinois women rallied

History supports the exhibition's statement: "In the days following the April 1861 Confederate bombardment of Fort Sumter, loyal men from all over Illinois rushed to join the Union army."

However, it's also pointed out the women of Illinois organized with equal vigor to support the soldiers, even though they braced for changes in family and community life because of the war.

Although Sarah Traylor lived in an isolated rural community, she had access to fine fabrics and the latest styles because her husband, Joel, owned a general store in Montgomery County.

The challis material in the quilt has cotton warp and wool weft. As a log-cabin quilt, it used a new piecing method that emerged around the time of the Civil War, according to an accompanying statement.

"They were frequently raffled at sanitary fairs to raise money for the Union army and to provide relief for soldiers' families," the statement said about the quilt. "Because Abraham Lincoln grew up in a log cabin, this quilt style became a symbol of loyalty to him as leader of the Union."

Clothing support

Illinois women made more than quilts. The United States government wasn't prepared to outfit an army at the outset of the Civil War, according to the exhibition.

"Men arrived at military camp in their clothes from home. They often lived and drilled in these clothes until they were issued uniforms as they left for the front," the statement said.

Because the government procured uniforms in several ways, women formed sewing circles, volunteering their time to create uniforms and hospital supplies. Consequently, the uniforms were not as uniform as they might have been under different circumstances.

"Uniform fabric and finished uniforms came from many different contractors, so there were a variety of fabrics and dye lots that comprised the Union's blue," according to the statement.

Among parts of the Union uniform displayed:

• Union Army Uniform Shirt circa 1862. A woman in a local sewing circle likely made this hand-stitched shirt without a sewing machine. Stains on the shirt are from an unknown source, but it was probably soiled during the war.

• Union Army Forage Cap circa 1862. "Second Lt. James Ballou from White Hall, Illinois, wore this cap. He mustered into the 61st Illinois U.S. Infantry in March 1862 just in time to fight the Battle of Shiloh on April 6-7," a statement said. "His cap has a bullet hole on the side, and he died on April 21, presumably in an army hospital in St. Louis."

Food support

Wounded soldiers traveling on a northbound train nightly through Decatur during evacuation from southern hospitals had the benefit of suppers provided them by the Decatur Ladies Aid Society's Basket Brigades.

The Basket Brigades fed more than 1,200 wounded and sick Union soldiers since the Battle of Fort Donelson in 1862 — another way women helped the Union soldiers fighting the war.

"In the first days of the 'Basket Brigade,' the women of Decatur raided their pantries for food so they could serve the initial trainloads of wounded soldiers," an accompanying statement said. "Over the course of time, they systemized their food preparation and delivery efforts with schedules of who would provide the basics and who would bring the extra 'dainties' each night.

"A well-filled basket was the cost of entry to this nightly spectacle. While the women developed their routine, it was a new and touching experience for the trainloads of soldiers each night."

The Centralia station telegraphed the number of troops stopping in Decatur at 5 p.m. nightly for nearly nine months. Local women organized supper, bringing baskets of fried chicken, pickled peaches, pound cake and other "dainties." Every night, up to 30 Decatur-area women waited on the train platform to feed the soldiers.

"For many men, this was the first home-cooked food they had eaten since leaving their family homes months or years before," an accompanying statement said.

In a video at the exhibition, Linda Schneider portrays a woman named Jane Martin Johns, giving reflections about the Basket Brigades.

"We women took it upon ourselves to see that no man who had been wounded in battle or who had lost his health in the service of our country should pass hungry through our city," Schneider said in the video.

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