Category Archives: Editorials

Civil War Sampler #11: Blockade

My 11th Civil War Sampler block is Blockade.

Blockade, completed February 22, 2019

Blockade, completed February 22, 2019

The North setup a blockade of ships all around southern seaports to try to cut off the South from their important maritime trade connections (both bringing supplies in and shipping goods out, such as cotton to Europe). So having that cut off (or at least hindered, because of course there were always the blockade-runners!) caused many hardships for southerners (both civilians and soldiers).

The story in the quilt book (and also on Brackman’s blog) comes from the memoir of a woman who lived in Alabama during the Civil War and talks about what they had to do to keep shoes on their feet.

But when I thought of “the blockade,” the first thing that came to my mind was the massive seaport at Charleston, South Carolina. I later (in writing this post) found the following illustration, published in Harper’s Weekly, 1861 Sept. 21, and made available online by Library of Congress, that shows “The Blockade of Charleston:

“The Blockade of Charleston,” Harper’s Weekly, 1861 Sept. 21, made available online by Library of Congress

(Believe it or not, the ship on the left is apparently named “Vandalia,” which is also the name of a city where I previously lived. Weird.)

You can learn more about the blockade at Charleston specifically in the Charleston Post and Courier‘s “Charleston at War: Charleston harbor key blockade target” (2011 Feb 5) and the South Carolina Encyclopedia‘s article about blockade-running. (After skimming through the latter article, I suppose that I should start thinking of Wilmington, North Carolina, first in these situations: “Charleston was the second-most-active port in the Confederacy (Wilmington, North Carolina, was first).”)

Anyhow, getting back to my quilt square. I had a heck of a time picking colors for this one. I’m not typically great with the symbolism thing. (I also like poetry to rhyme and/or at least make really good logical sense—if I like it at all.) And so the first thing that came to my mind with this block and all its…sort of…nested…layers of triangles…was to recreate the image of, I guess, an island, surrounded by water: so, green and flowery in the center, something resembling sand outside of that, and blues around the outside for the water.

Here are some of the fabrics I considered:

Fabric stash musics for Blockade

Fabric stash musics for Blockade

When I couldn’t find anything in my stash that did this the way I wanted (finding a green I liked with any blue I had was especially problematic), I guess I got a little symbolically whimsical, and I am pleasantly surprised at the results. (I was really afraid this thing was going to turn out horrible and full of clash!)

Let’s look at that square again:

Blockade, completed Feb 22, 2019

Blockade, completed Feb 22, 2019

The red did a good job of representing all kinds of things, especially the “heart” of the southerners and also the little puffs look like cotton (and a little like hearts in some cases); also could be blood and fighting and suffering.

Then, the blue with the little…leaves?…well, I thought those could sort of look like the sails of ships, the Union blockade ships, and hey the Union uniforms were blue, too! And with a print like that, I try to be particular about which way the design is pointed, like in this case, I wanted all the sails “pointing up.” Although, it probably would have been better for the southerners if I’d turned some of them upside-down (although I am a Yankee, so…).

The red cotton puffs are sort of doing battle with the blue leaf-sail-ships both out in the ocean (the outer-most triangles) and also (figuratively) on the in-land as folks struggle to get the goods they need, to figure out how or if they can send their crops out to trade, etc.

And then, less symbolically, we have all the different variations of tan in between, as the “sandy” beach bits. The innermost brown/tan with the flowers on it looked like something that would be more in-land (like crops or flowers or what-have-y0u—-this is where I really wanted a green like grass but nothing looked good). And then the other two light tans- the one with the very pale dots was more like sand to me, and the one with the reedy leaves I thought kind of looked like the reeds or seaweed or plants you might find on or near the beach. (This coming from someone who has lived in the Midwest their entire life and only been to the ocean about a dozen times, so…)

The only other thing that jumps to mind about this block was…”Holy triangles, Batman!” This thing has 24 triangles in it, of various sizes. There was a lot of staring at the thing, trying to figure the best direction to iron each seam and also which piece(s) to attach next.


My “supervisor” judging my triangle seams, when he wasn’t walking on them, or stalking a bug in the lights.

See you next time!

Note: This post was actually composed in March 2019, much closer (than usual) to the time when the block was created – I didn’t want to forget all my thoughts when doing this one, which had a lot more “thoughts” than the others! But I kept it in draft until the posts for the earlier blocks were done as well.

Civil War Sampler #10: Yankee Puzzle

My Civil War Sampler Block 10 is Yankee Puzzle:

Yankee Puzzle, completed February 11, 2019

Yankee Puzzle, completed February 11, 2019

Both the Yankee Puzzle story on Barbara Brackman’s blog and the one in the book (which is what I’ve been using) center on Lincoln’s struggle concerning union and slavery. Nothing in the text particularly inspired anything with regards to colors or patterns, so I just browsed my stash for what looked good at the time. I went with another pink and green combination (the first was in Block 6, Port and Starboard) – this time with a theme of roses!

(Perhaps I should have read ahead, seeing as Block 14 is actually called “Rosebud,” but that’s a story for another time! And have I read ahead through the entire book even now? Of course not!)

Detail of center, Yankee Puzzle

Detail of center, Yankee Puzzle

Only tangentially related: The book story includes a quotation from a letter Lincoln wrote to Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune (for publication, of course). I know little about Horace Greeley but that he was a big deal at the time…but every time I see his name, it makes me think of Andrew Greeley, an author (and Catholic priest) who wrote one of the first books I ever really loved: Irish Gold, which I read for the first time my senior year of high school. I was first attracted to this series by way of the fourth book’s cover graphic (this links to image only, not description, because spoiler alert!), which I saw while browsing the bookshelves at the local Wal-Mart: it featured a young couple holding hands while strolling through a cemetery — which, of course, spoke to me.

Civil War Sampler #9: Peace and Plenty

My Civil War Sampler Block 9 is Peace and Plenty:

Peace and Plenty, completed November 3, 2018

Peace and Plenty, completed November 3, 2018

There isn’t actually a story about Peace and Plenty on Barbara Brackman’s blog. She says that the book (which is what I’ve been using) contains 10 patterns that weren’t done on the blog and that she therefore has to write new stories to go with them.

Nothing in the story in the book particularly caught my imagination, so I just picked out some colors I liked for this one. More red, white, and blue, haha. This one had so many different pieces, I felt like I could “get away with” using the two lights that are the same print but in different colors. I guess I could have gone “wild” with six different colors entirely (which is how the one pictured on the blog is- there’s a picture of it but no story, on the blog), but that looked like “too much” for me. I had enough trouble choosing these six fabrics, haha.

Civil War Sampler #8: Fox and Geese

My Civil War Sampler Block 8 is Fox and Geese:

Fox and Geese, completed October 20, 2018

Fox and Geese, completed October 20, 2018

The stories about Fox and Geese on Barbara Brackman’s blog center on the siege of Fort Sumter, South Carolina, and U.S. Navy officer Gustavus Fox, who was attempting to relieve Fort Sumter with supplies but was unable to do so before the fort was surrendered to the Confederates.

For my colors, I went with orange, like a fox, and a pretty blue with what looks (to me) like cotton fluff to sort of symbolize both the sky (for the geese) and also the state of South Carolina (the blue and the cotton). The light has a light brownish flowery, viney print that I just thought went well with everything else and could maybe look like…little beaks, or feathers, or just foul-like coloration? (OK that’s a stretch.)

Incidentally, in between completing this quilt block and writing this blog post, I traveled to the Charleston, South Carolina, area on a family vacation. Here are a couple of photos I took during my visit to Fort Sumter:

Lisa at Fort Sumter, SC, June 2019, with Charleston in the distance

Lisa at Fort Sumter, SC, June 2019, with Charleston in the distance

I definitely get that Fox had quite a ways to go to try to re-supply the fort with food. It’s pretty far out in the harbor, away from the land in either direction. You can see how far away Charleston is in this photo, for instance. I guess that makes sense – if this is your harbor defense, you want the defending (presumably from ships coming in from the ocean side, foreign invaders) to start happening way out there before they get too close.

Fort Sumter's Battle Flag, photo by the author, June 2019

Fort Sumter’s Battle Flag, photo by the author, June 2019

This enormous flag flew over Fort Sumter until the fort’s surrender. It’s kind of amazing to me that we still have it at all. Here’s what the exhibit text panel said:

This 10-foot by 20-foot tattered storm flag flew over Fort Sumter during the bombardment of April 12-13, 1861. On the second day a Confederate projectile shattered the flagstaff causing members of the Federal garrison to rush onto the parade ground, amid exploding shells and burning timbers, to retrieve the fallen flag. They carried it to the ramparts where it was hastily nailed to a wooden pole and re-raised. The tiny nail holes are still visible along the flag’s left border.

If you are ever visiting that area, I highly recommend a visit to Fort Sumter, as well as nearby Fort Moultrie, both operated by the National Park Service.

Civil War Sampler #7: Strength in Union

My seventh Civil War Sampler block is Strength in Union:

Strength in Union, completed October 15, 2018

Strength in Union, completed October 15, 2018

This one is extremely straight-forward in the choice of color and pattern. It’s all very patriotic with red, white (light), and blue and tiny stars in each fabric.

There’s really not much more to tell on this one. The stories from Barbara Brackman in the book (can’t find this one on her blog?) discuss earlier secession threats (I legit just typed “threads” the first time- ah quilting) prior to the Civil War.

One such threat came as early as the 1780s, regarding the ill-fated Articles of Confederation, which gave a bit too much power to the individual states. Like, seriously, guys, are we gonna be one nation or not? I remember being assigned this long, dry book about the Philadelphia Convention as the last reading assignment for the term, in one undergrad class…and weirdly really enjoying it. Like, OK we’re not leaving here until we sort this thing out, should we just scrap the old one and start again? yes? yes? OK latch the windows, let’s do this thing… Aww yes.

During the War of 1812 (basically the LAST last battle of the American Revolution, England’s last hurrah before they REALLY gave up), there were those who thought maybe the United States shouldn’t stay united.

In the early 1830s, there was the Nullification Crisis, which again boiled down to individual states looking out for themselves and finding ways to “nullify” federal laws that harmed their own interests.

The three above are mentioned in Brackman’s book. There’s only so much room in the book, of course, but a few other things that come to mind where everybody had to do some crazy “dancing” to try to placate many individual states (or regions), with “battle lines” drawn basically North/South, included the Missouri Compromise (1820), the (failed) Wilmot Proviso (1846), and the Compromise of 1850/ Fugitive Slave Law (1850). These were all mostly about slavery, and the ones that passed tended to “keep things even” as to slave states vs. free states, particularly in the Legislative Branch. (This was very important to everyone at the time, as they failed to deal one-and-for-all with the issue of slavery—until the Civil War.)

One last thought on this…reminds me of Abraham Lincoln’s 1858 speech “A House Divided” :

“A house divided against itself cannot stand.” I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved—I do not expect the house to fall—but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other.

That first line is evidently a paraphrase from the Bible, Gospel of Mark 3:25, in which Jesus says: “If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.”

Civil War Sampler #6: Port and Starboard

My sixth Civil War Sampler block is Port and Starboard:

Port and Starboard, completed September 21, 2018

Port and Starboard, completed September 21, 2018

To be honest, there is nothing symbolic about the colors in this one. I just felt like putting pink and green together. It’s not a combo I usually gravitate towards, but at the same time I know it goes all right together, so I figured, what the hell, this is as good a time as any to try it out. 

Honestly, the only other thing I can even think to say about my particular block is that I did that thing I like to do, with the dark pink at least, where if the print has a noticeable pattern, I try to pay attention to which direction things are “going” and plan accordingly so they’re not all random and “messy” looking. So, if you look closely, you’ll see that on two of the dark pink “bow-ties” (for lack of a better term), the vines are “growing” downwards and on the other two, they “grow” up.

The stories Barbara Brackman told for Port and Starboard center around the Union capture of Port Royal Sound near Charleston, South Carolina. As usual, there is more on her blog than what she could fit in the book, and one of the additional bits is the following sentence:

The city of Beaufort was the largest town in the area of swampy island  plantations owned by the Rhetts, Barnwells, Pinckneys and Colcocks and worked by thousands of slaves.

If I wanted to get REALLY silly (and lie to you), I could say, “Oh yeah, I totally used pink in this one because of the Pinckneys.” Untrue. Didn’t even read that until I looked up Brackman’s “Port and Starboard” blog post to write this entry.

BUT, I do vaguely recall from history class(es) that the Pinckney’s were kind of a big deal in South Carolina. Ah yes, two of them (both named Charles) signed the U.S. Constitution.

Apparently, you can still visit the Charles Pinckney National Historic Site in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, a bit outside of Charleston (about 20 minutes inland from Isle of Palms) — which sounds kind of awesome and has the added bonus of being a National Park site and therefore free.

Civil War Sampler #5: Hovering Hawks

My fifth Civil War Sampler block is Hovering Hawks:

Hovering Hawks, completed August 16, 2018

Hovering Hawks, completed August 16, 2018

Barbara Brackman’s stories for Hovering Hawks focus mainly on “Jayhawks” or “Jayhawkers,” which is (apparently) a term for thief that originated during the Kansas Troubles just before the Civil War. I can see that (hawk = thief), seeing as how they both do their “snatching” — hawks of tiny creatures from the ground, thieves of…whatever stolen items.

Today I learned that the first thing you will find if you Google “Jayhawk” is a bunch of stuff about the University of Kansas, which was founded in 1865, and decided to make their mascot the “Jayhawk.” This is apparently also a common nickname for anyone from Kansas, such as people in Ohio are often called “Buckeyes,” whether they attended Ohio State or not.

But I digress… I went with a more literal color choice for the Hovering Hawks block again. I looked for earthy browns that might look like the colors of hawk feathers for the center parts, and I chose blue for the outside, like the sky. The lightest fabric also has some blue in it, which sort of ties it to the blue fabric.

Civil War Sampler: #4 Catch Me If You Can

My fourth Civil War Sampler block is Catch Me If You Can:

Catch Me If You Can, completed July 19, 2018

Catch Me If You Can, completed July 19, 2018

This is another block where I read the stories first and let that help me choose the fabrics. The stories Brackman chose to go with this block were about slavery, escape, emancipation.

I elected to go with something fairly literal to the stories. I chose fabrics with sort of “winding” patterns– zigging and zagging around in various directions, like you were trying to “lose” someone…like if you were running away from someone (or somewhere). And I think you can guess that the warm tans and chocolatey browns are meant to represent the skin tones of the African American slaves.

One of the stories Brackman mentions on the web is about a slaveholder named William Dunbar. While unrelated as far as I know, the library where I work is named after an African American poet from Dayton — Paul Laurence Dunbar — perhaps you’ve heard of him? His parents Joshua and Matilda Dunbar had both been slaves (in central Kentucky). His mother was freed with the 13th amendment; his father had escaped earlier to Canada and served in Massachusetts Regiments during the Civil War. The two didn’t marry until after the war. (Learn more from Wright State University Libraries’ Dunbar biography,  this Oxford University Press article, or the Notable Kentucky African Americans Database.)

Another of Brackman’s stories talks about “a slave in Kentucky, who accompanied her mistress across the river to Cincinnati in the free state of Ohio” (and promptly made her escape). Can you imagine? Having Ohio RIGHT THERE. I grew up near the Ohio River. It’s…wide…but it’s not THAT wide.

Not surprisingly, there were a number of “stops” on the Underground Railroad that were just across the Ohio River, such as two in Ripley (Brown County) that I heard about for years but still never managed to actually visit: John Rankin House and John P. Parker House.

Despite being a “free” state, an Ohio law passed in 1804 (just one year after statehood) required all free blacks to register with the county courthouse and prove that they were in fact free. These are often called “manumission” registers; manumission meaning “freed from slavery” (in Latin, literally, “sent from hand” or released). We have some of these manumission registers at the archives where I work, such as this 1834 manumission record book from Miami County.

Speaking of manumission, someone I researched extensively in about 2012 was a slave-holder who freed his slaves. Horton Howard was, among other things, a Quaker living in North Carolina in the 1790s. He freed his slaves before moving to Ohio about 1799 or 1800. (You can read more about Horton Howard here, with the slave-holding part starting at about the third paragraph.)

Another local historical figure with whom I am reasonably familiar — but who did not do so well with the whole “manumit when you move to Ohio” thing was Col. Robert Patterson, a founder of Lexington, Kentucky, and later Dayton, Ohio. I don’t know all the details, but let’s just say that some of his servants who were enslaved in Kentucky also came to Ohio with them and continued to work for him, and there was definitely some question as to what the situation. There’s even a court case about it in the Montgomery County Records Center & Archives:

Robert Patterson slave case, 1805, Montgomery County (Ohio), Clerk of Courts, Book A1 Vol 2 page 60

Robert Patterson slave case, 1805, Montgomery County (Ohio), Clerk of Courts, Book A1 Vol 2 page 60

You can learn more about the Robert Patterson slave controversy in this 2006 Ohio Valley History journal article by Emil Pocock or this 2017 news article by Tom Eblen about the Patterson cabin on the campus of Transylvania University, which I have visited (twice), btw:

Lisa at Patterson Log Cabin, Transylvania University, Lexington, Kentucky, May 2015

Lisa at Patterson Log Cabin, Transylvania University, Lexington, Kentucky, May 2015

Just today I stumbled upon the stories of more enslaved people as a result of something a researcher mentioned. A couple traveling the Aviation Trail in pursuit of Wilbear happened to mention that their daughter volunteers at a house museum. I asked them where, and they said Dinsmore House in Burlington, Kentucky. (Never heard of it.) They said it was near the Ohio River, a little ways from Cincinnati. So I Googled it. I do love house museums. I was impressed that they have dedicated an entire page (and a long one at that) to naming all of the known slaves (21 of them) and describing what is known about each of them. Nice work, Dinsmore House!

Civil War Sampler: #3 Barbara Frietchie Star

My third Civil War Sampler block is Barbara Frietchie Star:

Barbara Frietchie Star, completed July 14, 2018

Barbara Frietchie Star, completed July 14, 2018

This is the first one where I read Brackman’s story first, thought about it, and then chose colors. The anecdote is about a fiery old woman named (of course) Barbara in Frederick, Maryland.

I was not totally inspired, design-wise, by anything particular to this story, so I zeroed in on the part about Maryland. I looked up what the Maryland state flag looks like. And I took color inspiration from that: red, yellow, black.

Maryland state flag (public domain image from Wikipedia)

Maryland state flag (public domain image from Wikipedia)

(Wow, there is a lot more information you can learn about the Maryland state flag on Wikipedia, which I only looked at just now…for instance, apparently, it is one of only 4 U.S. state flags to not include the color blue. Huh.)

There’s not a lot else to say about this one… I was a little afraid it might be a disaster with those two reds…and the black and yellow…because, no offense to Maryland, but that is not a bunch of colors I would have been likely to put together myself… But I think it came out okay. Here’s to harmless experiments that come out better than anticipated!

Civil War Sampler: #2 Star of the West

The second of my Civil War Sampler quilt blocks is Star of the West.

Star of the West, completed July 8, 2018

Star of the West, completed July 8, 2018

This is another block where I simply picked colors I liked. I did not make any particular effort to connect the colors or prints to the story next to the pattern in Barbara Brackman’s Civil War Sampler book.

In this case, the story in the book happened to be about John C. Fremont. I guess you could say Fremont makes a good “Star of the West,” as he briefly commanded the U.S. Army’s “Department of the West” during the Civil War. He also held high offices in California and Arizona in the mid-to-late 1800s (definitely the Wild, Wild West indeed for those far-western states!).

You can read the stories on Barbara Brackman’s Star of the West blog post.

While I don’t have a lot to say about John Fremont, this caught my eye when skimming the blog post:

Star of the West (#1128 in BlockBase) is an old block with many other names, among them Clay’s Choice and Harry’s Star. Both names, according to Ruth Finley in her 1929 book, were tributes to Henry Clay, an earlier politician who also ran unsuccessfully for President.

Now, Henry Clay, I can work with.

There’s a reason why my entry for “Political Views” on Facebook says “Whig Party” and has for years. (I’m not even joking.)

When I think of Henry Clay, a few things come to mind, and I’ll take them in chronological order.

One of them is simply that I can hardly think of Henry Clay without thinking of John C. Calhoun and Daniel Webster, because, all being important political contemporaries, they always found themselves in the same chapter of whatever K-12 American History book.

The second thing is a reminder of my time working at Dayton Metro Library. We had a few letters written by Henry Clay (at least two in the Forrer-Peirce-Wood Collection, which I processed). There was one researcher, an older gentleman from the area of Lexington, Kentucky, where Clay had lived (now a house museum) and where (if I recall correctly) the gentleman now volunteered – the man came up to visit (about 2 hours by car) and review those letters. He stands out because he had such a handsome accent; I think he was originally from Tennessee. But I digress.

Perhaps more importantly, what’s not to love about items in your local history collection that were written—and touched!—by people “famous” in the history books? I mean, sure, we all have our local heroes, but Clay appears in history textbooks nation-wide.

He came to Dayton once—Henry Clay, that is—in 1842. I suppose it could have been more than once, but the time everyone always seems to be asking about when they would ask us about “the time Henry Clay came to Dayton” was in September 1842. You can read an article that Howard Burba wrote about it in 1932. Burba called the September 29, 1842, rally “the date of the most spectacular political rally in this city’s history.” There’s also some references to a “barbecue” that I still don’t fully understand? More from The Papers of Henry Clay (note: that “Samuel Forres” in the Joseph Crane et al. letter should be Forrer – yeah, that Samuel Forrer).

And finally, the third thing is just my visit to Ashland, the estate of Henry Clay in Lexington, Kentucky, when I was there for the Midwest Archives Conference annual meeting in 2015.

Henry Clay's Ashland Estate, Lexington, Kentucky, May 2015

Henry Clay’s Ashland Estate, Lexington, Kentucky, May 2015

The house is now a museum that you can tour, and the gardens are a sort of public park. (I saw lots of people just strolling along, some even walking their dogs, on the grounds. The only part that costs money to enter is the actual house.)

Back view of Ashland Estate, Lexington, Kentucky, May 2015

Back view of Ashland Estate, Lexington, Kentucky, May 2015

I think my absolute favorite part of the entire visit was sitting in Clay’s “back yard” (for lack of a better term) on a blanket on the grass eating my lunch. The above photo is from that moment, my vantage point from my comfy spot on the ground.

If you’re interested, you can learn more about Henry Clay and his Ashland Estate (like how to visit).

Until next time! (My third block includes symbolic colors! I’m sure you can’t wait.)