In the years before the Civil War, the manufacture of cotton was pretty simple. It was grown in the South and then shipped to the textile mills in the North and overseas. Once converted into textiles, the fabric was then sold back to the South for making clothes and products for the home. By 1860, more than 4 million forced laborers worked across the South generating two-thirds of the world’s cotton supply.
Following the Union Blockade of 1861, the export of cotton fell by more than 95% and the South faced two challenges: find a way to pay for food and munitions production and rely on their own mills to manufacture textiles. Blockades on Southern ports prevented importation of fabrics from Europe and American cities to the southern states, causing a shortage of material for clothing, bandages and even making paper.
Southerners were asked to save rags and donate clothing no longer needed so they could be made into bandages for soldiers or sent to the battlefield to be used for mending soldier’ uniforms and even making tents.
At home, drapes, sheet and other material items were used to making clothing. Raincoats were made from oil cloth or rubberized piano covers. Even shoes were in short supply. Women and children repaired old shoes with pieces of rags, carpets canvas, felts and pelts from animals. Accessories such as ladies hats, fans and handkerchiefs were also scarce and often made from just about any material available including feathers, woven grass and straw.
This exhibition has been created by the City of Manassas Citizen’s Advisory Committee on Solid Waste with the gracious help of the Manassas Museum, Library of Congress and the American Civil War Museum.