Quilty Pleasures – American Civil War Cot Quilts


American Civil War Cot Quilts

Years ago, when I was making dollhouse miniatures, I was working on American Civil War items for a customer’s brother. That is when I first learned about Civil War quilts, more specifically cot quilts made for the soldiers on both sides of the war. The North and the South saw many women making quilts to raise money for necessities of the military and making quilts for the soldiers themselves. With all that is going on in the United States today I am reminded of this particular time, and looking at the history of the nation; this time through quilts.

American Civil War Cot Quilts
Stamp Logo for the Sanitary Commission

The story seems to begin with the Sanitary Commission, in the North. According to the Textile Research Center:


“The U.S. Sanitary Commission was set up in 1861 by women and religious leaders from the northern states of the USA to provide support for Union (northern) soldiers during the USA Civil War (1861-1865).”

They began having fairs where many women would make quilts and donate. The quilts would be sold and the money would be used for various aspects of the North’s war effort.

A quilt from the Sanitary Commission, 1864

In the South a similar endeavor began as well. However, apparently the women of the South were more likely to live spread out from one another and were not necessarily accustomed to making quilts as it was the enslaved who were in charge of any household needlework. Quilts were made and also sold for the war efforts of the South. According to Judy Anne Breneman on patternsfromhistory.com :
“The best known confederate quilts were the “gunboat quilts” made to raffle off in order to buy desperately needed gunboats. Quilts were just one of many items made by the women to be sold or auctioned off during the fairs and festivities for the Confederate cause.”

American Cot Quilts from the Civil War
the back of a Civil War Soldier quilt from a collection at the NE Quilt Museum

The cot quilts began to be the focus of quilting efforts due to the fact that the war was obviously going to last longer than anyone thought and the soldiers on both sides were in great need of clothing and blankets, among other things. The following was a call-out from Soldiers’ Aid Society in Northern Ohio, 1863:
“Sheets and Quilts are now very much wanted. The latter should be seven feet long, four and a half feet wide and may be made of old calico or delaine, with cotton quilted firmly between, so that it will not lose its place on being washed.”

No information but likely a signed block on a soldier’s quilt

So began the making of cot quilts. They were of a good size to carry along with the soldiers’ gear and packs, and were, one can only assume, greatly appreciated not only for warmth but for the little piece of home and comfort they may have brought to the soldiers on both sides of the war. These men went years without seeing family and such an item had to have been of some comfort.

There are varying accounts of the mad dash to make quilts, coming from the North and the South. The North had more access to fabrics whereas the South had to resort to taking apart mattresses and anything else they could find in order to make the quilts. Fabric that could be bought skyrocketed in price. It has been noted by many sources that calico got as high as $25 a yard! It has also been noted through many sources that the quilt patterns themselves became very simple in order to enable the women to make them more quickly.

A blurry! modern quilt based on historic block for a soldier’s cot quilt

It appears as though only a few quilts have survived the war, which is understandable. Judy Anne Breneman stated:
“ If you add to that the fact that many soldiers were buried in their quilts you can understand why these quilts are extremely rare today. “

Close up of a block that would have been used in a soldier’s cot quilt

The American Civil War was clearly one of the most devastating and impacting events in history and in that history one can see how women came together to do what they could. I feel it is just one more incredible example of how quilts are far more than a blanket. There are many Civil War patterns on the internet. One site is Patternsfromhistory that walks you through a simple quilt; one you may well want to try! Personally I have long had a love of the Civil War prints that we have access to today. Again, another quilt on my to-do list!

Julie Rodgers

I do a little bit of everything and love all forms of creativity. I have made a living with fabric design, miniature work, commercial artwork and many other things. Most recently I designed, and make and sell, The Floss Inn which is for needleworkers. Thrilled to be here!

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