brings with it utter chaos, and during the War Between the States
destruction of property in the South, both personal and public, reached
devastating proportions. Families found themselves having to abandon
their homes and seek refuge in areas they thought to be farther from
battle lines and advancing troops. Homes, churches, schools and
universities, mills, etc. were burned, sometimes entire cities and towns
were left in ashes.
Some parts of
the country saw little change in day to day activities while others saw
their towns change hands from their own troops to enemy hands many times
during the course of the war. With each occupation came new dangers.
Families had to put a lot of thought into leaving their homes because
there was a high likelihood their homes would be looted and/or burned
leaving them adrift in the world with nothing more than the possessions
they carried with them. Some families were lucky in that they had
family who could take them in on a temporary basis, others soon learned
the harsh realities of being homeless. For them refugee camps offered
refuge when all around them war raged on.
The amount of
possessions a family took with them when they left their home depended
on how much warning they had of the approaching danger, and whether or
not there was a wagon or cart and horse, mule or other animal left to
pull it. In our impression of refugees we may choose to carry only
our clothes, a haversack with a little food, and take shelter under a
tree or shebang or we may feel the scenario will support an impression
of families having refugeed with enough notice to pack the items they
considered essential to their well being.
were able to stay relatively close to home and under cover return to
their homes for various items they needed. Perhaps in the case of
Vicksburg a break in enemy shelling would afford an opportunity to go
into the home and obtain clothing, food, or some other essential item.
Some of the
items we might have taken if we had lived during the war are listed
below. While no one expects you to carry all these items, this will
allow us to discuss what a refugee with a little time to pack "might"
have taken. Your impression might incorporate different items for
Chairs were important enough to mid-Victorian women that if they'd had
time to load them and a conveyance to carry them they might well have
taken what they could. These might have consisted of:
a small rocking chair, ladder back kitchen chairs,
caned chairs, they might have even crafted log or board benches. They
might have had access to wood and canvas folding chairs or stools -
either with white cotton canvas or tapestry seats.
A table would have been of immense importance to a woman to keep from
bending over to prepare food, or to hold sewing supplies while she
worked, etc. A table could be as simple as boards laid over barrels or
saw horses, or a table from home might have been a candle stand or
center table, drop leaf table, or even a wash stand. For most of us
carrying an antique table outdoors is a little eccentric so the folding
camp tables usually suffice.
Bedding was hard to come by and once lost it was very difficult to
replace. A woman fleeing her home would have taken her feather beds if
possible. In addition to wool blankets and quilts a good reproduction
coverlet would be an excellent choice. For those who are not plagued
with allergies a straw stuffed tick or one stuffed with dried corn
shucks would be very appropriate. (See also
bedding for refugees.)
which might have found their way into a refugee camp might include a
small wooden framed looking glass, a braided, hooked, or wool rug, tin
or wooden buckets, gourd dippers, a bowl and pitcher for washing hands
and faces, a chamber pot, lighting devices etc.
candle holders, and perhaps an oil lamp would have been of use. The
railroad type lanterns are a post-war creation which is inappropriate
for an l86l-l865 impression. Oil lamps of the period used whale oil,
kerosene, etc., but oil was very scarce in the South during the war
which is a factor in our decision to use the lamps.
tumblers: Once the blockades went up dishes, glasses/tumblers,
cups, etc. were almost impossible to replace. When they could be found
at all they brought exorbitant prices. When replacements could not be
found gourds, wooden bowls, and tumblers made from cutting the tops off
bottles were the choices available. If these items could have been
carried an effort would have been made to do so. Dishes included white,
sprigged, flow blue, spatterware, spongeware, etc. Sprig ware had gone
out of fashion by l860, but some houses might have continued to use it.
Rockingham is characterized by dark brown to reddish brown to cream
mottling. It was being produced in America by l834. Flow blue or blue
willow of the era was characterized by deep blue design, and was first
produced in England and shipped to America. After l830 the lighter
blues began to appear. Mulberry, black, pink, and green were also used
for this type china.
Easy to transport without fear of breakage. Cups, plates, and utensils
were being used in many homes and some items such as trays, bowls,
canisters, etc. were painted in bright colors.
of the utmost importance because like dishes and cookware replacements
were almost impossible to find and when they were found were very
expensive. Silverware that was lost was often replaced with utensils
carved from wood. Forks of the period usually had wooden or bone
handles. Forks and knives were usually sold together while spoons were
sold separately. The blades of knives were broader than those found
today. Forks were often three-tined, but four-tined forks had begun to
appear by l860. Spoons could have been pewter, steel or coin silver.
Fiddle-back designs often turn up in antique stores at a nominal cost
and are an excellent choice.
hard to replace during the war. It was sometimes lost due to homes
being raided or burned, sometimes had to be abandoned as a refugee fled
for safety because a conveyance to carry it couldn't be found. Fabrics
were hard to find and brought extravagant prices. A woman would have
valued having her spinning wheel with her so as to be able to reproduce
fabric to replace the lost clothing.
A woman would
have gone to great lengths to pack and carry her sewing basket with
needles, pins, scissors, and other essentials. She might well have sat
in her new shelter and busily crafted clothing items to replace those
lost - either for herself and her children, or for her husband far away
on the battlefield.
useful in camp would have included a shovel (wooden D-handled is most
authentic), a hatchet or ax, a broom (round, hand-tied is most
authentic), a water bucket or barrel, dipper, etc. Once the blockades
went up and tools became irreplaceable a hammer, shovel, saw, etc. would
have been important once civilians realized the difficulty of replacing
containers to haul these possessions in might have included a wooden
barrel or keg, a trunk, cloth bags, a wicker hamper or basket (please
avoid obviously modern designs), a wooden packing crate (the equivalent
of today's cardboard box), a carpetbag, leather valise. etc. Trunks
might have had rounded tops or been flat, of leather or paper with
leather or rope handles. The first of the decorative metal trunks
appeared about l860, and these are characterized by round tops with
three wooden strips across the top.
special living history settings which allow us to truly interact with
the public items we might include in our refugee impression might also
include quills or pens, period stationery and envelopes, ink wells,
books - hard bound titles of early favorites, etc. Books were destroyed
by the thousands and for those with a love of books that was an
exceptionally hard blow.
Something most Victorians prized among their most valuable possessions
was their Bible. A Bible not only held the word of God between its
covers, but also a family's history. Bibles from the period generally
recorded births, deaths, marriages, christenings, and other events of
importance. They were valued heirlooms often having been passed down
through one or more generations, and if a conveyance could have been
found to carry this precious book chances are it would have found its
way into a refugee setting. Bibles also often held pressed flowers from
a loved one's grave, a CDV, a lock of hair or some other precious
memento which held special significance for its owner. CDV albums might
have been salvaged. Perhaps they held images of long dead loved ones -
parents, siblings, or children whose undernourished bodies simply
couldn't fight off disease. Many parents waited to bury a child until a
photographer could come to capture the image for them - these images
would not have been abandoned if it were possible to carry them.
I'm not sure how
practical it would be to reproduce these for a camp setting, but another
thing refugees carried if they could was deeds and other legal papers.
These were often the family's only claim to property after the war.
photo to below was taken by Matthew Brady in l861. It shows a Southern
family that has loaded as many of their possessions as their wagon can
carry in preparation to leaving their home for a safer area. The grave
expression on this woman's face shows the gravity of leaving her home.
Would she find adequate shelter along the way, would her home be there
if she returned? These questions plagued refugees who sometimes had no
word of the homes they'd abandoned. Please note the chairs, bedding,
and other items that can be identified in the photo.
fled in large numbers from places or events such as the burning of
Atlanta, the siege of Petersburg or Vicksburg, occupation of towns such
as Winchester or New Orleans. They sometimes encountered people who
were sympathetic to their plight and tried to help them as much as
possible, and sometimes large numbers of refugees entering a strange
town found a cool reception from the residents who might already have
been struggling to feed their families and knew supplies would not
stretch to feed so many. These groups of refugees found safety in
numbers and could comfort each other in a way that brought some measure
of relief of their circumstances so our camp setting with multiple
numbers of participants is appropriate.
It is important
to remember that refugees came from all walks of life and their
circumstances prior to the war might have varied from working class to
wealthy. Once the situation became desperate in the South these social
classes were forgotten. Women who had previously dressed in silks wore
homespun and ate peas and hominy just like the poor widow who had barely
made ends meet before the war started.
Davis wrote after the war of the hardships of Christmas in the
Confederate White House and Mrs. Robert E. Lee became a refugee like
thousands of others when her home was taken over and her grounds used as
a burial ground for Union soldiers. She and Gen. Lee were never able to
return to their home, Arlington, because these graves were just a few
feet from their front door.
We can see that
refugees' circumstances varied greatly, and so can our impression of
them. We might be extended members of one family fleeing for safety, or
neighbors from a town which found itself occupied by the enemy. A
little thought and planning can afford us an opportunity to explain the
circumstances of these people to visitors who might otherwise never know
of their plight, or that they even existed.