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Civil War fashion from Bentonville Battlefield re-enactors

FOUR OAKS, N.C. – Even as soldiers battled in wool flannel uniforms all year, Civil War-era ladies wore wool all year, too. At this weekend’s re-enactment of the Battle of Bentonville (http://www.nchistoricsites.org/bentonvi), Hilda Mariquez and other female re-enactors will be decked out in boots, hoops, corsets and petticoats that may be topped with nets or bonnets. They will wear natural fabrics like wool, silk or cotton, over the many layers of undergarments. They are period appropriate from head to toe, meaning no lipstick or eye shadow either.

Civilian life, medical practices and cabins of the enslaved are among the many free exhibits at the March 20-21 battle re-enactment commemorating the 145th anniversary of the Civil War’s ending (www.bentonville145.com). The battle scenes will involve 3,000 re-enactors from North Carolina, Virginia, Florida, Ohio, and along the east coast. Tickets to the battles are $10, $5 ages 7-12 (children 6 and under are admitted free). Tickets purchased online will be available at the “will call” station in the information tent.

“There were many lightweight wools, and they were said to be cooler than cotton,” Mariquez explained at Wednesday’s school tour day at the site. She was nattily attired in a chocolate brown dress under a chocolate-and-tan plaid apron that she made for the weekend. “I got interested in Civil War sewing, so I study the fashions in books and online.”

The fashions and fabrics can still be found, even a featherweight wool that Mariquez says is light enough to see through. Her green plaid bonnet brim is centered with balsam wood to help it resist moisture and retain its shape; it was made from a pattern of an original bonnet that was taken apart to become a basis for other bonnets. Styles often changed.

“They still followed the fashions of the Queen,” Mariquez says. “The fitted waist led in a triangle up to the full shoulders, and the skirt was a full bell, because they wanted to emphasize a small waistline.” She also points out that the garments were practical, as the apron was two-sided so if it got dirty it could be flipped over and still used. The corsets helped not only with keeping the waist trim waist but with holding up those many layers of clothes and preventing backaches.

These re-enactors know the many rules, such as when to use gathers and not pleats, never use a zig-zag stitch, what dyes were available, or how many colors a fabric may have to be period appropriate. When they make their clothes, they are the right fit and the right fashion for the Civil War era (www.flickr.com/photos/ncculture).

For additional information call (910) 594-0789 or (919) 807-7389. The site address is 5466 Harper House Road, Four Oaks, NC 27524.

Bentonville Battlefield, within the Division of State Historic Sites, is part on the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources, the state agency with the mission to enrich lives and communities, and the vision to harness the state’s cultural resources to build North Carolina’s social, cultural and economic future. Information on Cultural Resources is available 24/7 at http://www.ncculture.com.

Fay Mitchell
N.C. Department of Cultural Resources
Raleigh, N.C.
Phone: (919) 807-7389
Email: fay.mitchell@ncdcr.gov
Visit the website at http://www.ncculture.com; http://www.nchistoricsites.org

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