All the little pieced blocks were made from my scrap bins, the 2.5 in. and 1.5 in. ones in particular. Because I have had so many Civil War and pre-Civil War reproduction fabrics in other quilts, I was able to use the scraps from them in this one.
I named this quilt Arlington. It came to me when I was sewing down the binding.
Sometime in the early 1990s, we took a family trip to Washington, D.C. We did all the usual tourist things, of course--the Smithsonian museums, Mt. Vernon, even a trip to a theme park in Williamsburg, VA. One afternoon we went to Arlington.
Before it was the National Cemetery, it was a home. Arlington House, which still stands, was built by George Washington Parke Custis (sometimes called G.W.). When Martha Washington married George, she was a widow with two children. G.W.'s father was Martha's son Jack. When Jack died young, George and Martha Washington adopted G.W. and his sister Nelly and raised them.
G.W. and his wife had only one child who lived to grow up; their daughter, Mary. Mary married a dashing young army engineer named Robert E. Lee. Six of the seven Lee children were born at Arlington. They spent many summers there with their grandparents.
A few years before the Civil War, G.W. died. The Lees stayed at Arlington while Col. Lee settled the estate. They were here when Lee wrote to President Lincoln, refusing his offer to lead the Union armies and resigning his commission.
As the shooting war began, Col. Lee and his sons left to join Virginia troops. The women stayed on for a time, but eventually left as well. None of them ever returned to live there.
United States troops took over Arlington. Eventually they were commanded by Gen. Montgomery Meigs. He started having troops buried there, as a way to punish Lee for his disloyalty. This was the start of the National Cemetery.
The house itself is imposing on the outside, and beautiful but more homey on the inside. The Custis and Lee families were by all accounts close and happy.
The beautiful cotton fabrics made in the antebellum years, which my quilt imitates, and historic Arlington house have more in common than just the time period in which they were made. Both came about because of slavery. Slaves planted, cultivated, and picked the cotton on Deep South plantations, which was sold to the Northern mills to be woven and printed. Arlington was not just a house, but a plantation itself (although not of cotton). The leisure of the owners was bought by the work of generations of slaves.
And this is the triumph of all those soldiers, buried beneath the white tombstones in their ordered rows. The men and boys that fought for the North in the Civil War not only saved the Union. They ended forever the institution of American slavery.
When I touch this quilt, I will remember that visit to Arlington. I will remember the sunshine coming in through the windows of the house, the lovely period interiors, the hoop skirts of the interpreters, the amazing view across the Potomac.
I will also remember the sacrifice of those soldiers, who died so the nation might live, and whose victory meant freedom for thousands then, and millions yet unborn.
|Union Soldiers at Arlington House during the Civil War|