An Article Contributed by BonnieBlueFlag
I came across this very interesting subject recently. It presents a side of women's involvement in the Civil War not much talked about. Petticoat Gunboats was addressed on CWT in connection with Trivia Game #40, 7.1.2006.
November 3 - 7, 1861, Port Royal, South Carolina was captured by the Union navy, which had few problems fighting against 2 poorly supplied forts and 4 privately owned ships, 3 of which were converted tugboats on loan from Georgia!(1) The women of New Orleans saw trouble headed for their port so they formed an association to raise money to construct ironclad gunboats. This became the first of many Gunboat Societies. Ironclad ships or any vessel paid for in part or whole by these societies and associations became jokingly referred to as "Petticoat Gunboats".(2)
At a meeting with President Jefferson Davis and Secretary of the Navy Stephen Mallory, the society's president Maria Gaitskell Clopton received official support for its gunboat project.(2) Men assumed supportive roles in these societies. They assisted with fund-raising, financial management and occasionally acted as intermediaries between Confederate Naval officials and the society's female leaders.(3)
After the naval battle between the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia on March 9, 1862, the building of ironclad ships for Confederate civilian defense became a cause celebre. "Petticoat Gunboat" fever struck the Confederacy(4). During the spring of that year, women in Norfolk and Richmond, Virginia / Savannah, Georgia / Mobile, Alabama / Charleston, South Carolina and many ports along the Mississippi River formed gunboat societies to raise money for the purchase of a gunboat for each of their respective cities.(5)
In 1862 the price of one gunboat was $80,000. In New Orleans, this goal was never realized for one complete boat, but the money did enable the purchase of 3 other types of vessels, the "Charleston", the "Fredericksburg" and the "Georgia".(2)
On March 20, 1862, The Richmond Daily Dispatch printed an appeal for more funds, by Edmund Ruffin:
- "Messrs. Editors: Though our men of wealth, to who you appealed are slow to second the patriotic proposal and contribution offered by Col. Blanton Duncan, I heartily respond to the call to the limit of my small means, in subscribing $500 to the proposed fund, for an iron-clad armed steamer, to be constructed on the general plans of the "Virginia". As no arrangement for management has yet been stated, and as all such shames of great expenditure for public objects, if directed by a "committees" of irresponsible individuals, are apt to be mismanaged, I require, as a condition for myself, that the fund and the expenditure shall be in the charge of the President of the Confederate States an official of his choosing, in the same manner as if resting under a law, and with an appropriation of Congress.:
- "The struggle for existence in which we are now engaged demands from the patriotism of every citizen all that he can afford to give for the public defense and safety. But, in regard to the particular object now in question--a second (or improved) "Virginia for defending the James River and Richmond--or, it amy be, for all our tide-waters and towns thereon--self-interest and private interests, and the defense of property, claim our zealous action, and all the pecuniary sacrifices involved, as much as do patriotism and public spirit. The employment of such a formidable and almost invulnerable vessel fo war, would more effectively protect Richmond, Norfolk, and all the lands on or near the tide-waters, exposed to the depredations and outrages of the enemy, would secure his private interest, even if paying one fourth or more of his expected annual income for the benefit. Edmund Ruffin"
- "P.S.--Since writing the above, I have been requested to add another offer of $100, from a friend, for which contribution, with my own, I will be responsible."(6)
On April 24, 1862, there was a meeting of the Ladies Gunboat Association--also known as the Ladies Defense Association and the Ladies' Aid and Defense Society--asserted their political purpose for such an endeavor, resloving, "[I]That as the weaker sex, being unable to[/I] [I]actively join in the defense of our country, will encourage the hearts and strengthen the hands of our husbands, brothers, fathers and friends by all means within our power."(2)[/I]
One newspaper, The Mobile Register and Advertiser, published a stirring article from a mother who offered $5.00 (which was "earned by her needle") towards such an effort. She called upon local women to also contribute for a gunboat to protect their cities. The Charleston Daily Courier of Charleston, South Carolina was not far behind in publishing a similar letter. This was followed by yet another letter 2 weeks later in the Georgia Daily Enquirer.(7)
On any given day in many cities throughout the South, there were raffles, fairs, bazaars, elaborate entertainments and solicited contributions from prominent citizens to support the Gunboat Societies for the defense of their communites from Union attacks and invasion.(5) A group of black musicians in Richmond, calling themselves the "Confederate Ethiopian Serenaders" gave the returns of one of their concerts to help pay for gunboats and munitions.(8)
No sacrifice was too great. Mary Boykin Chestnut wrote in her diary, "...Gave the girls a quantity of flannel for soldier's shirts, also a string of pearls to be raffled for at the Gunboat Fair. Mary Witherspoon has sent her silver tea pot. Our silver and gold, what are they?--when we give up to war our beloved."(7)
Numerous handmade quilts were brought to such fairs for auction. Two remarkable "gunboat" quilts were donated by Martha Jane Singleton Hatter (1815 - 1896), of Greensboro, Alabama. She made the quilts while a widow with 2 sons in the Confederate army. She presented both quilts to her minister, Reverand Joseph Johnston Hutchinso, for auction.(9)
The first quilt was sold for $100, but was returned for resale to maximize the profits on it, and sold again for $100. It sold a 3rd time for $250 in Summerfield, and a final time for an undisclosed amount, in Selma. This quilt is now owned by the First White House of the Confederacy, Montgomery, Alabama. It was a gife from Mrs. Mary Hutchinson Jones in 1982(9)
Despite their need to enlist the assistance of male supporters, the women agreed that they wanted the work and the contributions of their gunboat societies to be "particularly ours as women." They determined they would "give such ornaments of gold and articles of silver, as are our private personal property."(5)
Women articulated the purpose of such sacrifice: [I]to be able as women, to pass on a patriotic legacy to their children by ensuring the safety and survival fo historic Richmond. For should it be our sad fate to become slaves, ornaments would ill become our state of bondage: while if God in his infinite mercy shall crown our efforts with success, we will be content to wear the laural leaves of victory, and point our children to our civil and religious liberty so gloriously achieved and say, "These be thy jewels."(5)[/I]
The Richmond Gunboat Society was successful in achieving it's goal. It is estimated the members raised $30,000 towards the construction of the CSS Virginia II, which launched in Richmond on the James River June 1863.
When the CSS Virginia was sunk by its own captain to avoid capture, Southerners became disheartened and disillusioned. This event marked a change of heart for the avid gunboat advocates. When it became apparent that Mobile would be likely to fall into enemy hands in 1862, gunboat funds in that area were channeled towards medical supplies and hospitals.(2)
Capture of New Orleans, Memphis and Norfolk dampened the enthusiasm of these societies. Finally, all but 5 fo the gunboats partially paid for by women were destroyed. By 1863, the societies were no more.(5)
On April 3, 1865, the CSS Virginia II was destroyed along with other Confederate gunboats on the James River, during the invasion of Richmond.(10)
--Written by BonnieBlueFlag
- -Battle for Port Royal, Wikipedia
- -Ladies Gunboat Association Papers, Southern Women's History Collection, Museum of the Confederacy.
- -Gunboat Quilters Fund-raisers for the Confederacy by Patricia Cummings.
- -Google book search / American Philanthropy / page 74
- -Google book search / Women During the Civil War / page 201
- -Richmond Daily Dispatch (downloaded online) March 20, 1862
- -Patternsfromhistory.com / Confederate Gunboat quilt patterns: fundraising for ironclad boats.
- -The Forgotten Confederates / Angelfire.com
- -Quiltersmuse.com / Gunboat quilts of the Confederacy
- -CSS Virginia II - Wikipedia