A Soldier’s Vest

Readers of this blog may be interested in seeing photographs of an unusual civilian-style summer weight vest in my possession with identified Confederate provenance. This unique item of clothing was handed down to me by my late paternal grandmother, Elizabeth Clyburn Williams of Richmond, Virginia. The vest has a standing collar with front panels and interfacing made from a white cotton pique (pronounced pea-kay) of intricate raised design. It is completely hand sewn with nine exquisitely rendered buttonholes down the left front. No buttons remain although some of the original attachment threads do. The back panel and interior lining are of coarsely woven cotton homespun. The vest is pieced on the left side interior in two places, a trait seen on many items from this period. The accompanying photographs provide additional detail. Please left click on images for enlarged views.

Accompanying this garment is a note in my grandmother’s handwriting certifying: “This vest was worn by one of Grandmother Vaughan’s brothers – during the Civil War.” Said “Grandmother Vaughan” was originally Anne Elizabeth Yancey of Mecklenburg County, Virginia. Anne Yancey had four brothers, three of whom had known Confederate service records. They are:

Edward Bozeman Yancey: Wright’s Co. Halifax (VA) Artillery. Enlisted as private at age 23 in Halifax Co. on 3/18/1862. Promoted to Ordnance Sergeant and served at Franklin Depot from Jan.-June 1863. Transferred to Ordnance Department at Petersburg on unknown date. Battery played key role in Battle of the Crater. Captured in retreat from Richmond/Petersburg and paroled at Farmville 4/21/1865. Died at South Boston, VA, 4/23/1918.

James K. Yancey: 1st Virginia Infantry. Enlisted at age 36 on 1/23/1863 in Halifax Co., VA in Company “I.” Occupation listed as shoemaker. Wounded at the Battle of Clay’s Farm [on the Howlett/Bermuda Hundred lines] on 6/16/1864. Admitted to Chimborazo Hospital No. 5 on 6/20/1864. Died of wounds 9/23/1864.

Patrick Henry Yancey: 20th Virginia Infantry. Enlisted at Clover Depot, Halifax Co., VA as a private in Company “H” [Clover Rifles] on 5/28/1861.Described as being 5’10” tall, having a light complexion, and blue eyes with light hair. He was 5 feet 9.9 inches tall. Pre-war occupation shown as clerk. Made POW on 7/11/1861 when entire company captured at the Battle of Rich Mountain, WV. Paroled on 7/17/1861 at Randolph County, WV. Reenlisted in Company H, 20th Virginia Infantry Regiment on 5/28/1862 after parole deemed invalid. Regiment disbanded October 1862. Subsequent war service undetermined. Yancey Street in South Boston, VA is named after him.

William F. Yancey: No definite Compiled Service Record found. Born 7/12/1833. Anecdotal family record indicates death by fever in Corinth, MS, date unknown.

Unfortunately, we will likely never know which of the men above owned this vest or the extent of its actual war usage. Nonetheless, it remains a splendid example of Civil War era material culture.

1vest front 2vest interior4vest piecing

5vest pocket6vest buttonholes

By Bob Williams


Bartering in the Civil War South

Faced with frequent fluctuation of commodities prices and unstable currency values,  Southern businesses out of necessity chose to barter with civilians for “operating capital” rather than shut down. The Orange County (N.C.) Factory Cotton Mill at one time refused Confederate script and would accept only wool or cotton in exchange for yarn, which poorer women did not have. Citizens needed the yarn to make socks and other garments which could be sold to earn money to purchase food. The mill later also bartered for bacon, tallow, or lard in exchange for cotton yarn. Always in short supply, raw wool was also requested by many mills from individuals.

barteringFrancis Fries, owner of the Fries Woolen Mills in Salem, N.C., offered to trade cotton yarn for corn. One citizen father writing to his soldier son informed him: “I hauled my butter…to the factory and bartered for thread and cloth…they paid fifty cents per pound in cash for the balance. They gave me one bunch of thread for ten pounds of butter, one yard of cloth for a pound of butter…they paid me thirty cents per pound of cheese, two dollars per bushel of chestnuts…”

People of Watauga County, N. C. cut hickory saplings, bundled them, and traveled to Saltville, Va. to trade wood for salt. The hickory was used to make barrel hoops. Notices desiring barter appeared in nearly all newspapers. “I will exchange fruit trees, roses, grapevines, and other nursery stock for cotton, at market prices,” advertised Thomas Carter. “The North Carolina Rail Road wants persons to deliver 100-200 cords of wood. This newspaper will pay 20 cents a pound for clean cotton and linen rags, delivered to this office.”

Another publisher posted this announcement: “For the use of the hands in our office, we desire to obtain bacon, meal, potatoes, and any other article of food which can be spared. In exchange we will give envelopes, paper, pens, ink, books, power, caps, tobacco, shoe tacks, and many other useful goods; or will pay cash as may be preferred. We want these necessities of like for the use of our employees only . . .”

There are many interesting examples of various barter mediums. One lady employed by the commissary department received tobacco in place of currency. Women working at the Arsenal in Fayetteville took home Alpaca cloth in lieu of money. A female diarist penned that she send some lard to a merchant in exchange for spun thread. The Richmond Dispatch noted that ten-penny nails were being passed in the Upper Piedmont of Virginia as equal to five cents each. Families combed old out buildings for these nails to trade. Proprietors of boarding houses and hotels sometimes demanded food instead of rent money. “Our landlords will not board except for provisions, putting board and provisions both at old prices, or what will buy them, which runs board up to $150 per month . . .”

Even the North Carolina quartermaster general was willing to barter with civilians. The state had plenty of factory-made cotton yarn but lacked wool. A notice appeared in one newspaper from H.A. Dowd, AQM, that he was prepared to exchange cotton yarn for wool at one bunch of yarn for three pounds of washed wool and one bunch for four pounds of unwashed wool. One bunch was considered equal to five pounds of factory cloth which could be made into fifteen yards. A hank was 840 yards of cotton thread, which weighed one pound. One pound of yarn cost 75 cents to one dollar and would make four pairs of socks.

Agents were appointed to make exchanges at Oxford, Tarboro, Catherine Lake, Kinston, Concord, Rockingham, Pittsboro, Asheville, Hendersonville, Louisburg, Fayetteville, Statesville, and Colerain. In 1860 according to the Agricultural Census, the state raised just over one-half million sheep with Randolph County the highest number and Carteret County the lowest. Sheep had become a necessary animal just like the mule.

00747vApproximately 80 percent of the southern cotton supply was sent to Great Britain in the decade before the war. In 1850, England bought nearly two million bales of cotton from the South. King Cotton provided four to five million jobs to them. When the South first seceded, they initially withheld cotton from England which at that time had a stockpile. After two years of Federal blockade, shipments permanently decreased and 40 percent of English mill workers lost their jobs. This became known as the cotton famine.

Antebellum North Carolina had thirty-nine cotton mills and seven woolen mills. In November of 1861 Governor Henry T. Clark asked proprietors of these cotton mills to make an exclusive contract with the state, break existing contracts with private individuals, and sell only to the government. The mills were to receive no more than a 75 percent profit. Agents roamed in and out of the state to buy wool and raw materials. It was at this point that civilians had to revert to making their own cloth if they could not afford the high prices for fabric. This homemade cloth was known as “homespun.” It could be made of only cotton, only wool, only linen, or a mixture. The “jeans” cloth known in the war era was generally a weave of both cotton and wool.

By Brenda McKean, author of  Blood and War at my Doorstep: North Carolina Civilians in the War Between the States.