During the Civil War, groups of women from both the North and South knitted and sewed mittens, socks, shirts, quilts and other items needed by their soldiers. My inspiration quilt was made by a group of at least seven women in and around Boston, Massachusetts. The completion date of the quilt is inscribed on the central star block: February 9, 1865. The quilt was given to James George serving in the New York Infantry. James had seen action in the battles at Gettysburg and Fredericksburg, and was captured at the Battle of the Wilderness. After six months in the infamous Andersonville Prison, James was paroled and spent time in a Washington, DC hospital recuperating before his discharge in June, 1865. He probably received the quilt while in the hospital. The quilt was treasured and passed down through several generations of James George’s family along with letters written by James on the battlefield, military documents, and a chess set carved from rat bones while James was in Andersonville Prison. James George died in 1871, his health affected by his imprisonment.
I first saw James George’s quilt in 2004, the day a descendant donated it to the New England Quilt Museum. I was drawn to the many inscriptions and ink drawings on the blocks. The inscriptions include many Bible verses, anti-slavery sentiments, and inspirational verses of poetry. Perhaps these written messages also inspired James George’s descendants to keep and treasure the quilt, even though it was worn. Many blocks are signed by the maker and some contain addresses. I have chosen to replicate the nine blocks of the quilt’s central medallion at their original size of twelve inches square. I transcribed the inscriptions on these blocks and inscribed them on the blocks of my quilt. The inscriptions on one block were unreadable due to fabric loss, so I used inscriptions from another block in the quilt.
The thirty-five blocks of the original quilt are individually quilted and bound, a technique found on many of the few surviving Civil War soldier quilts. I have made my blocks “potholder style,” an expression used by quilt historian Pam Weeks to describe this technique. The fabric used on the backs of my blocks is called “Union Forever,” from a 2012 line of prints by Marcus Fabrics which are based on my inspiration quilt.