Here at ECW we often discuss different ways to present information. We also discuss what kind of information to present. It is true that most of our writers are men, and most of them dole out great pieces about “mud and blood,” as Kris White calls it. Me . . . not so much. I love to read their work, and am humbled by it, but mostly it all makes me wonder about the fellows who marched those miles, shot those guns, and got so dreadfully ill and injured. I look at the CDVs and daguerreotypes, the faces on the statues and bronze friezes, and I wonder just who they were, what they were like, what it was like in general to live at that time, in those places.
One of the things that I have always found helps me to visualize is–well, there is no other word for it–stuff. I love to hold something held by a Civil War soldier, touched by his hands, carried in his knapsack. Respectfully, I try not to do this too much, and I own a couple of pairs of those white gloves, but I still need my connections. This is where sutlers come in.
For those of you who do not knows what sutlers are in the 21st century, let me explain: traditionally, a sutler was a civilian merchant who sold provisions to the army in the field, camp, or quarters. They sold their wares from the back of a wagon or from a temporary tent, and often travelled with the army, refreshing their wares on a regular basis. Any cursory reading of a unit or regiment history will make the role of sutlers very clear, and anyone familiar with the complaints of commanders will as well. Sutlers often sold alcohol to soldiers, carried inflammatory newspapers, or charged outrageous prices for their goods, including freshly baked sweets. Commanders complained, often throwing sutlers out of camp for “unscrupulous practices.”
Re-enactors today depend on the services of sutlers to outfit themselves in their chosen roles, soldier or civilian. If one is not a re-enactor, sutlers are still great for gift shopping. After all, every Civil War buff needs at least a tin coffee cup. I will own up to shameful farbism here–I have a reproduction “Essence of Coffee” tin, which holds two K-cups of “Essence of Chai,” just in case. One never knows, after all.
The purpose of this post is to introduce one of my favorite sutlers to our readers, just in time to begin holiday shopping. South Union Mills is a small, individually owned company that produces reproduction textiles, straw hats, and knit goods. Chris Utley, the proprietor of South Union Mills, began and grew Carter & Jasper Mercantile, a much larger concern. Utley left Carter & Jasper to pursue the goal of providing more specialized supplies, many of Shaker authenticity. Mr. Utley is a self-avowed researcher, and one of his passions is the handkerchief. When I first began following his site, he offered a modest number of hand-screened full sized men’s handkerchiefs. Lately his selections have grown to include ten options, each one more amazing than the last.
The latest one is a reproduction of a silk handkerchief manufactured by the W. H. Tucker Kayess Company in London. The original is found in the American Civil War Museum, formerly the Museum of the Confederacy. It features printed portraits of prominent Southern leaders, both political and military. The reproduction is the same size as the original–36″ x 34″–so almost a square yard of lovely printed silk. It is amazing! The feel is soft, and the work is painstakingly lovely. These were sold in the South as souvenirs of the war, and one would make just as precious a purchase now as then.
I have given several of these as gifts, and no one has had anything less than proud amazement at how beautiful they are, and how authentic! My charming husband, in his incarnation as a professional Faro entrepreneur at Historic San Juan Bautista, carries a reproduction of the New Hampshire Handkerchief of Lieutenant S. Millett Thompson, of the 13th New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry. His history of the 13th is Three Years and a Day, still available at amazon in a Kindle edition.
Every handkerchief has been researched thoroughly, and each is sent with its history included. They are so lovely, and very well priced at around twenty dollars. Unusual, beautiful, and authentic–what more could one ask? I have included their website link http://stores.southunionmills.com so you can check these treasures out for yourself. They offer other things, but I am nuts about the handkerchiefs.