I’ve been intrigued by Civil War re-enactors ever since reading Tony Horwitz’s Confederates in the Attic, a great page-turning account of joining a group of hard-core re-enactors on their travels to the battlefields of Gettysburg, Appomattox and other historic sites of the Civil War. So I walked over to the Statehouse today to see the 1st Ohio Light Artillery, Battery A’s re-enactment of a Civil War encampment.
I couldn’t have timed my arrival any better. Just as I walked up, a group of soldiers fired a cannon! As I walked by the tents, I saw samples of Civil War currency, examples of bullets that were used in different Civil War battles, and typical items that a soldier would have carried with him in his rucksack. One re-enactor was playing a period guitar, while a few more were teaching a group of teenagers how to march and line up for a drill.
But best of all was the Ladies Soldiers’ Aid Society and civilian camp. While one lady was rolling bandages, another was playing hoops and other period games with children. One elegant hoop-skirted lady wearing a pocket watch in a clever little crocheted holder explained the cloth items that ladies made for Civil War soldiers. Woolen squares were cut out to become potholders for soldiers to use while cooking. Suspenders and stocking caps were also ready for sewing. When I asked what a group of curious little balls of long fabric strips were, she said they were intended to keep children occupied during church services; they unrolled the ball to find a surprise inside. She also showed me a reproduction hussif, or housewife, a cloth sewing kit that soldiers carried into battle that contained needles, thread and a thimble for mending uniforms.
Before long, I started thinking about my well-worn, much-looked-at copy of the March/April 2009 special issue of PieceWork devoted to textiles for historical re-enactment. One article provided instructions for making a Civil War-era sontag, a knitted shawl that ladies wore to keep warm; another presented original instructions and modern interpretations for knitting Union and Confederate socks. Both are on my list of projects to knit. Now, I think I’ve found the inspiration I need to get started. I’m thinking about donning a long dress and a bonnet, carrying a reticule to hold my Union socks and knitting needles, and joining the Ladies Soldiers’ Aid Society to support the 1st Ohio Light Artillery, Battery A!