The Illinois State Museum’s new exhibition presents a fresh perspective on the Civil War by uncovering
the fascinating stories of Illinois women who rigorously supported their fathers, husbands, brothers, sons, and friends from
the home front. Civil War Quilters: Loyal Hearts of Illinois opens Feb. 3, 2013 in the second floor Art Gallery and
features quilts and other objects of the era that reveal the hidden accounts of these devoted women. Also on exhibit are
Civil War military uniforms, weapons, and supplies that provide additional visual context to the women’s stories.
The exhibition will remain open through Sept. 8, 2013.
In the days following the April 1861 Confederate bombardment on Fort Sumter, dedicated men from Illinois rushed to
join the Union Army. With vigor equal to the enlisting men, loyal women of Illinois organized to support the soldiers on
the field and in the hospital, as they braced themselves for the changes in family and community life the war would bring.
Following the Union defeat at the Battle of Bull Run in July 1861, President Lincoln issued an appeal for quilts, other
bedding, clothing, and foodstuffs for the Union troops. While Illinois women made or gathered quilts for the soldiers,
they also created highly decorated quilts for fund-raising auctions to support the war effort. Soldier’s quilts wore out
with hard use, and few have survived. However, other quilts of the era that have been carefully preserved help tell the
stories of these most trying of times. The twenty Civil War-era quilts in the exhibition provide a passage through which
to explore the lives and wartime support activities of the women who made them.
Each quilt on exhibit has its own unique story and individual attributes, even though they were collectively created in the
same time period. One is a particularly rare quilt that has recently received national attention: a Log Cabin quilt from
Anna, Illinois, that was pieced together with fabrics including scraps from both Union and Confederate uniforms. The
uniform scraps reportedly belonged to the maker’s sons who fought on both sides of the war. An album quilt on display
was made by Martha Jane Gourley (Gehlman), a close neighbor of Abraham Lincoln in Springfield. Miss Gourley’s friends
and family, whose names adorn this quilt, are from northern as well as southern states, representing the range of families who
settled the “West,” as Illinois was then considered.
In addition to the quilts, a wide variety of artifacts demonstrate the expansive range of women’s work for the war. They include agricultural equipment, household furnishings, memory pieces, and a National flag made between July 4, 1861 and July 3, 1863 and carried by the 33rd Illinois Infantry Regiment of Bloomington. Supplementing these are rarely seen period objects such as uniforms, weapons, a regimental drum, and a portable desk used in the war.
The Illinois State Museum is dedicated to inspiring people of all ages to discover and care about Illinois’ natural and cultural resources and artistic heritage. The Museum’s extensive collections and research activities provide the foundation for exhibitions and public programs that tell the story of the land, life, people, and art of Illinois. The Illinois State Museum is located at 502 S. Spring Street (the corner of Spring and Edwards Streets) in Springfield, and is open 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday, noon to 5:00 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free. Parking is available nearby, and the building is ADA accessible.