During the Civil War years, women in both the North and South fought alongside their men, although not on the battlefields. The weapon of choice for women was the knitting needle.
Both armies had difficulty providing their soldiers with enough socks. It was reported that each soldier wore out one pair of socks per week. Soldiers were often forced to go barefoot, suffering with blistered, swollen, infected feet, from wearing their boots without socks. Machine-made socks, although widely available, wore out quickly and were considered inferior to the handmade article.
So the call went out throughout the country: the soldiers needed socks. Aid societies organized sock drives, sock patterns were distributed, and women knitted enthusiastically and incessantly. Some women made hundreds of pairs; those who were able to knit in the dark would work late into the night. Mary Chesnut wrote in her diary in the summer of 1861, “I do not know when I have seen a woman without knitting in her hand.”
It was difficult to obtain enough quality yarn. Wool was undoubtedly the best fiber available, but especially in the South toward the end of the war, it became increasingly hard to get, and women made use of cotton yarn, which was considered only just better than nothing.
Nevertheless, socks were collected by the hundreds and sent to military camps and hospitals. Many women included notes of Christian instruction, encouragement, and jokes along with the packages of socks, which must have lifted the spirits of many soldiers. The practice sometimes led to further correspondence, and even offers of marriage.