Threads of War: Clothing & Textiles of the Civil War

Through September 5, 2011

The Charleston Museum, Charleston SC

Commemorating the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War, The Charleston Museum presents Threads of War: Clothing and Textiles of the Civil War. This original exhibition offers a glimpse into the lives of those on the homefront, who battled deprivation and fear while raising their families and protecting their property, as well as the soldiers who fought on the front lines. Threads of War shows that, as the nation’s bloodiest conflict dragged on, it took its toll not only in lives lost, but on fashion, supplies, household goods, and every aspect of life. Women’s, men’s and children’s clothing, uniforms and accessories, flags, quilts and coverlets, along with period magazines, newspapers, daguerreotypes and diaries provide vivid images of 1860s Charleston and a lifestyle torn apart by war.

Threads of War includes a beautiful brown silk day dress worn by a member of the Jervey family of Charleston and a cream wool challis dress with Zouave-style jacket (a short open fronted jacket styled after the uniforms of the French Army serving in French North Africa) worn by Isabella Woodruff Holst, both with the wide hoop crinoline popular of the period. A young bride, Frances Ann Hardcastle, wore her best brown plaid silk dress for her hasty marriage to William Henley Smith of Charleston, just two days after the bombing of Fort Sumter. Wedding garments, accessories and memoir excerpts from the 1865 wedding of Louisa McCord and Augustine T. Smythe reflect the difficulties in obtaining supplies even after the war had ended. A home-made palmetto straw hat and hand-crafted turkey feather fans form an image of inventiveness while a magnificent Chinese embroidered shawl brought in through the blockade serves as a spark of determination. Men’s riding trousers made by local tailor, C. D. Carr, elegant vests from shortly before the war and the ubiquitous 19th century top hat, worn by Henry Hyrne Baker of Charleston, portray the civilian side of men during the war.

An intricate woven coverlet made on Towles Plantation, Wadmalaw Island is one of the few slave-made artifacts that survived from those difficult years. A magnificent Star of Bethlehem quilt that was buried for safekeeping and a flowery chintz-appliquéd quilt made by friends of the Dibble family after they evacuated to Orangeburg during the war, are examples of women’s artistry and skill.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              
Uniforms in the exhibition include a custom-tailored coat of fine wool, sea island cotton and silk linings worn by Captain Warren R. Marshall of Charleston. He purchased it from Charleston tailor Charles D. Carr who maintained a shop at 30 Broad Street. Flags typically provided a rallying point for the troops. On display will be a woolen Confederate battle flag from the 5th South Carolina Cavalry / Butler’s Brigade and an elegant embroidered blue silk flag from the Calhoun Artillery with palmetto tree and gold crescent.

Click here for more info.

Thank you to the Charleston Museum & the Textile Society of America for this information!

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