Supplying troops was a challenge for both the Union and the Confederacy during the American Civil War. Women on the home front rose to the challenge. They devoted their limited spare time and considerable skills to making much-needed items for soldiers. This small-scale war production was especially critical to the Confederacy, which lacked the factory infrastructure to mass-produce supplies.
Eastman Johnson’s painting Knitting for the Soldiers captures how women of all ages dedicated their spare time to knitting stockings and other clothing items for soldiers. Manufactured stockings were widely available, but they were poor quality. Soldiers complained that they wore out too quickly. Handmade knitted stockings were prized by the troops.
Another item in high demand was clean, rolled bandages. Women and girls used bandage rollers like the one pictured to speed up the process of producing this hospital necessity.
Soldiers did not appreciate every item produced at home. In the early days of the Civil War, women produced thousands of havelocks, or hat covers with flaps to protect soldiers’ necks from sunburn. Havelocks were very popular with British soldiers in India, but American soldiers saw little value in them and often tore them up for bandages or rags.