February 28, 2013

February is Almost Over!

Out of all of the months, February always seems like the longest. The days fly by but each day is dreary. In December, we are enchanted by the snow flurries. In January, we are excited for the big snows. But by February, little buds protruding from the dirty slush of old snow make us wish spring would just force its way in.  

Devil's Den Gettysburg

Unfortunately for us this year, we didn't have any grand snows. The kind where there's nothing that can be done but taking a shovel to your drive way and drinking a cup of hot cocoa to assuage your raw fingers.  It snowed a lot but typically just an inch which melted and was replaced by another inch the next day. On days it didn't snow, it was too cold to go outside for any length of time.

But I am positive this time that spring is finally coming. The claustrophobic blanket of snow and ice is dripping, giving way to the beautiful colors of spring and I can't be more excited.    

I hope everyone is as excited as I am. I have lots of things planned for this year and can't wait to get back outside. I find that the stagnation of the season always leads to stagnation of the mind. I always walk out into spring feeling rusty and sore from disuse but enthusiasm usually counteracts it. 

February 26, 2013

The Civil War in American Art: Book Review

I’m so excited. I get to review Eleanor Jones Harvey’s The Civil War in American Art by Yale University Press.  If you like history and art, it is well worth looking into. 

As a Civil War aficionado, one tends to find much of the same information in many books.  The Civil War and American Art deals with many popular Civil War topics but does so from so refreshing an angle that even the most devoted Civil War reader will learn something new. Art is a reflection of society and this book reflects an honesty from a society so deeply ingrained in modern imagination that many people ignore what the society, itself created.    

Harvey seamlessly melds the art into the context of the day using excerpts from literature and first person accounts. The book does not only cover the war years but also includes the years leading to war as well as the decade after to place Civil War era art into its proper context. 

Harvey discusses well-known symbolism in pre-Civil War and Civil War literature and art such as the use of comets and meteors at the start of the war.  Shortly before the war, a meteor was seen by many from New York to Delaware. Many took it as an omen that John Brown, the radical abolitionist known as the “Meteor of War’s” prediction was coming true. On the gallows for his organization of a slave uprising, he wrote a note stating, “I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood.” It was striking symbolism used by artists and writers at the time who felt that their lives were about to change.      

Not excluding photography, Harvey introduces the rather unprecedented work of famous wartime photographers such as Mathew Brady, Alexander Gardner, Timothy O’Sullivan and George S. Cook giving an in-depth look into the medium of photography as it was. In a time when almost everyone has a camera in their pocket, it is difficult to imagine just how shocking the images of war were to the people of the 1860s. From only ever seeing paintings and etchings of gallant soldiers fighting artistic battles to the sudden shift of seeing lifeless, mangled bodies piled like meat really brought the true cost of war home to people. 

This book is a very interesting read with stunning photographs. It gives a very in-depth look into the art and literature of the time, allowing the reader a better-rounded view on the culture of the people that created it. 

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for reviewing purposes but that in no way affected the content of my review.

February 23, 2013

I Don't Like Spam

Recently my blog has been overcome with spam messages and I can't stand it!

In the past 2 weeks I've had over 20,000 spam comments sent to my blog. Most of them were caught by the spam blockers but a few have managed to get published. What's worse is that in order to delete this mass bulk of spam, I had to get rid of some legitimate comments from readers. 

So I've enabled word verification as much as I didn't want to. I very much dislike word verification because it is  difficult for people with reading or hearing impairments. I also think it's silly to make people jump through hoops to leave a comment. I'm not going to just block all comments that contain links because I like to see what my readers are up to and I'm sure other readers do too. Spam is just so frustrating.   

On many popular blogs, spammers will be met with comments from other readers asking questions like "Do you really think people are going to click on your advertisement?" It's nice that readers defend their favorite blogs but few people understand how spam works.

Spam comments aren't like junk mail, where the point is to get a name out to as many people as possible. The point of spam comments is to get a link to the spammer's website on as many other websites as possible because search engines show websites that have a lot of links out in the Internet first in search results.

I just wanted to let everyone know what was going on and why there have been changes and some comments have been removed. Unfortunately, this problem isn't just affecting my blog. Bloggers on blogspot and wordpress have been reporting a surge in spam this month.

February 19, 2013

The Supersizers Go...

Book of Household Management, 1861
I know I am routinely behind on all things television and movie related but I can't help but point out this interesting series for historical foodies called "The Supersizers Go." It's a BBC series from 2007 in which the hosts spend time eating in ways of the past.  I was introduced to the series through another blog that I can't for the life of me find right now. (If it's you, leave a comment. :) )

Everyone into history has at least wondered what would happen if we ate like our forefathers for an extended period of time. Would we be healthy? Would it taste good? Would we gain weight? Would we lose weight? Would our teeth fall out?

This is a great series because it answers those questions and you don't even have to be the human guinea pig.

During the series the "supersizers" go: Elizabethan, Regency, Restoration, Victorian,WWII, and the 1970s. Even though some things in the series are a bit (or a lot) questionable, it's still a very fun watch. If you like the series, they've also made a second called "The Supersizers Eat," but I have yet to get around to that one.   

The good thing about being so behind on TV is that the series is so old, you can find it all online.

February 13, 2013

"Too Much Reading...in your Shelter Low Tents:" What Were They Reading During the Civil War?

"It has been a pretty busy week to me. Busy not with my military labors, but with self-imposed labors and pleasures. I have read two stories...The fact is, I sit in my tent and read most of the day, except when I am occupied with my camp duties duties, which only occupy me two or three hours a day." -Mason Whiting Tyler in a letter to his mother dated January 31, 1864

 One of the best ways to reconnect with the past is to partake in the same entertainment as they did. Of course the favorite reading material of soldiers was letters, but what else were the people of the 1860s reading? Before TVs, radios, iPods, and computers, books and magazines were the most inexpensive and widespread form of entertainment.

Books were more than just personal entertainment. It was popular in the 1860s to read books aloud as well as lend and borrow books with friends. Many books were published in serial form in weekly newspapers to create anticipation akin to modern weekly TV shows. Unlike today, when people are just happy their children are reading, in the past parents would chastise their children for reading garbage books.
It's difficult to find out just what was popular during the war years. It is very easy to assume that the writers from the time period that we consider influential today would be the same ones that the people of the 1860s considered influential or popular. However, many of the most popular books at the time are virtually unheard of to us today. Some of the big names we associate with the Civil War Era, such as Walt Whitman, did not get their acclaim until after the war. Other problems include authors using pen names which are unfamiliar to us today and varying titles. Below are some examples of popular books and stories of the time. 


-"Great Expectations" by Charles Dickens. This was being serialized in Harper's Weekly, the most popular newspaper of the time.

-"Incidents and Life as a Slave Girl" by Linda Brent (Harriet Ann Jacobs.) Parts of the book was published in the New-York Tribune.

-"Hand-book for Active Service" by Egbert Viele. This book was advertised in the The Charleston Mercury as a book that needed to be read by every soldier who wished to be an officer.  


-"Les Miserables" by Victor Hugo. This book was first available in The US in June of 1862.

- "History of the Conquest of Mexico" and "History of the Reign of Ferdinand and Isabella," by William Hickling Prescott. These two books were mentioned in a soldier's letter from July 7, 1862.


-"A Biography of Stonewall Jackson" by John Esten Cooke. This book was published in the South and was banned in the Union Army. Cooke served as a volunteer aide for J.E.B. Stuart during the war.

-"Darkness and Daylight" and "Marian Grey" by Mary Jane Holmes, a bestselling author from the time period. She was only second in book sales to Harriet Beecher Stowe.

-"Beyond the Lines or a Yankee Prisoner Loose in Dixie," by John James Gear. This book was mentioned by a soldier in the 13th Ohio and is likewise about an Ohioan.   


-"Wives and Daughters" by Elizabeth Gaskell. This was serialized in the British Cornhill Magazine from 1864-1865. An interesting fact is that Gaskell died before the book was finished, it was finished by another author.

 - "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" by Mark Twain. It was published as "Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog" in The Saturday Press. In some later editions the name Smiley was changed to Greenly. 

All War Years

-Harper's Weekly

-Leslie's Weekly, (Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper) Published in New York.

-The Spectator (British)

-The Illustrated London News and The Journal of Commerce. Both mentioned by Confederate nurse, Kate Cumming. 

-The Bible. Frequently mentioned in letters home frequently with details about passages read.

-Vanity Fair- An American magazine published between the years 1859 and 1863.

-Godey's Magazine The southern soldier who sent Godey's home to his beau was a popular man. It was infrequent that copies of this very popular magazine made it through the blockade.   

-The New York Sunday Mercury

 "I have been reading pretty much all day on 'Military Law and Courts-Martial.' Too much reading out here stretched on your back in your shelter low tents is not the best thing in the world to take. It is rather too apt to produce headaches,etc." - Mason Whiting Tyler in a letter to his brother, November 13, 1863

Popular Authors of the Time

- Charles Dickens. "The Old Curiosity Shop" was mentioned by Mason Whiting Tyler of the 37th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry in his biography and letters along with "The Last Days of Pompeii," "Les Miserables," "Charles O'Malley," and "History of the War in the Peninsula."
- William Shakespeare
- Alexander Dumas
- Henry David Thoreau
- William Cowper
- Maria Susanna Cummins Her 1854 book, "The Lamplighter" was extremely popular. 
- Lord Tennyson
- Edgar Allan Poe
- Ralph Waldo Emerson 
- Alexander Pope
- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
-James Fenimore Cooper. He was popular with younger people.  

- William Makepeace Thackeray, his books The History of Pendennis and Vanity Fair were mentioned by Mary Boykin Chestnut in her diary. She also mentions George William Curtis' "The Potiphar Papers."  
-Erastus Beadle who published a large array of "dime novels" which were popular in the military due to their cheapness.   

This list is intended to be a starting point from where you can do your own research. Reading the literature that was popular during the war years, gives us a lot of information about 1860s culture. When reading, think about what these primary sources say about the people who read them. What did they value? What did they consider entertaining? What did they consider horrid? Many people may think there's little to learn from the books or fiction of the time but these sources are just as important as diaries, letters and journals.   


February 5, 2013

Potato Leek Soup Recipe

"I am doing very well though, on bread & coffee -- now & then a little potato soup -- think my health is as good as ever it was -- though I am working very closely, hoping to get a respite for a few days that I may come to my own sweet nest for a few days of this rapidly passing winter. If you have not sent my eatables &c, let them rest until I write again."  

- Jedediah  Hotchkiss in a letter to his wife, Sara, December 21, 1862.

This is a good soup for letting simmer all day over a fire in camp. The potato is really the main ingredient to this soup and in the past, would probably have just been referred to as potato soup. The leek, just like the onion would only be adding more flavor to the main ingredient. It's simple but very flavorful and could be used as a base for more complex soups.

To make this soup even simpler and more period appropriate you can avoid using leeks altogether and just add a second onion or try and find some "wild leeks" or "ramps," (Allium tricoccum.) Leeks, while called for in some period recipes, never became as popular in the U.S. as they were in Europe.  


Potato Leek Soup Recipe:


- 3 Leeks (white and light green parts only), thinly sliced
- 1 Onion
- 3 Tablespoons Butter
- 6 Potatoes, peeled and sliced
- 4 Cups of Vegetable broth
- 1 Cup Heavy Cream
- White Pepper and Salt to taste


Put a large soup pot on medium to high heat. Add the butter and sauté the leeks and onions until they start to brown. Add the broth and the potatoes and cook on medium heat until the potatoes are soft in the middle. Mash the potatoes in the pot with a wooden spoon. Remove pot from heat and add the cream, salt and pepper. 

In modern times, a cold version of this soup is known as vichyssoise and is largely attributed to french recipes in the 1860s. In 1917, Louis Diat, a chef at the NY Ritz-Carlton claimed to have reintroduced the soup which was based on the soups his mother and grandmother used to make.

February 1, 2013

1859 Sewn and Embroidered Reticule Pattern

This is a very labor intensive sewn reticule from Arthur's Home Magazine, from 1859. The instructions recommend velvet fabric, embroidered with red roses and white Fleurs-de-lis separated by gold flat braid. Each of the roses contains 5 gold beads.    

The instructions give an alternative pattern of gold flat braid on purple velvet with embroidered red roses and green shamrocks. 

It is a nice pattern because the purse is a little more substantial than a crocheted or knit bag and it is of a pretty decent size, especially for those of us accustomed to modern purses. In the mid-1800s, a reticule only held a few coins and a handkerchief, although a sewing machine company in 1862 advertised that they has a machine "so light and portable (weighing less than one pound) that it can be conveniently carried in the pocket or reticule."

Add caption
The top of the fabric is 5 inches at the top, 9 1/2 on the bottom and 7 1/2 inches long. The pattern recommends leaving the velvet 1 inch longer all around. This purse should be stiffened with a stiff muslin or buckram and lined with silk. This could be sewn plain, without embroidery. If you plain to embroider, do so before you cut out the fabric to save a lot of frustration from frayed edges.

As fabric is easily damaged, many original metal purse fasteners can be found online or at antique shops. If you do your research into what kind of styles and fasteners were available, you may even be able to find some modern bags with clasps at thrift stores that can be repurposed. But make sure you really research, you don't save any money if you end up buying something you can't use. 

Purse closing example from the Met.
Screw closing example from the Met.
Another Example.

For some purse  inspiration, check out this awesome Pinterest board by Muriel.

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