Civil War General Salt Dough Ornaments! (tutorial)

Civil War General Salt Dough Ornaments! (tutorial)

Christmas is tomorrow- huzzah!

But wait- Do you find yourself needing one last gift for that hard to shop for second-cousin, but find that all the stores or closed, or that you can’t be arsed to get out of your sock-monkey onsie?* Or maybe you’ve done all your shopping but need some sort of craft to really put you in the Christmas spirit? Never fear, I have just the tutorial for you to make your very own…

Civil War General Salt Dough Ornaments!

Jolly General Jackson wishes all Rebs the Merriest of Holidays!

Jolly General Jackson wishes all Rebs the Merriest of Holidays!

If you’re like me, nothing gets you more into the spirit of the Holidays like learning about the war between the states. Did you know that Ulysses S. Grant made Christmas a national holiday 5 years after the war in an attempt to unite the North and South in spirit?** Of course, before this Christmas was still celebrated by people on both sides. Abe Lincoln received his “most famous Christmas gift” in 1864 when hottie General William Tecumseh Sherman announced the surrender of Savannah.

Dear universe, All I want for Christmas is a PBS mini series about the Civil War with Hugh Jackman playing the roll of W.T. Sherman.

So how does one immortalize a general  or two in salt dough? Easy peasy-

Step one: Make the dough. There are more recipes for salt dough on the internet than there are johnnies in the North. I ended up using a 2-1-1 ratio (2 parts flour, 1 part salt 1 part water ). Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl, then add water, stirring as you do to avoid lumps. Once it’s fairly well mixed, knead it a little with your hands on a floured counter-top . The final texture should be close to slightly sticky play-doh. If it feels too sticky, add a little bit of flour (though be sure you don’t add too much or the dough will be as tough and unpliable as Stonewall Jackson.)

Fun fact: Should you find yourself suddenly in the trenches and with rations running low, you can simply adjust the ratios to make hard-tac!

salt dough_1

Watching Ken Burns’ ‘Civil War’ helps to infuse the ornaments with a sense of historical gravitas appropriate to the holiday season.

Step Two: Get Sculpting! Using either the internet or your companion’s illustrated Generals of the Civil War books set, begin to model the faces of your favorite generals. Salt dough doesn’t lend itself to subtle details, so I recommend sticking to generals with interesting and distinctive hair/facial hair (which- Good fortune! Is roughly 95% of them)

salt dough_2 burnside

…like General Burnside.

To get the small details I used a defunct ballpoint pen. I also found it advantageous to sculpt them directly on a cookie sheet covered in foil , that way transferring them to the oven was undisasterous. Also, don’t forget to poke a hole through the top for the string to go through.

Step 3: Bake the ornaments. According to the source I used, salt dough should bake for 2 hours at 250 degrees F. Two hours?! Balderdash! I’ve got nog to drink and carols to sing. I baked mine for an hour, handled them gently afterwards and they seemed fine.

My oven is boring and disgusting, so here’s a picture of a civil war campfire recreation instead.

Step 4: Decorate! If you want your ornaments to reflect the scarcity felt by the soldiers on both sides during the lean months of winter during those cruel war years, you can pull a loose thread from your grey or blue shoddy, string it through the top and stop here.

If you, like me, wish to give the ornaments a weathered, metallic sheen- as though it were a metal earned through service rendered and passed down through the ages, start by painting the whole thing black with acrylic paint, making sure to get into all the nooks and crannies in those magnificent beards.

salt dough_3 grant

W.T. Sherman, not even salt dough can diminish your raw manliness.

 Once the black has dried , lightly brush a layer of gold acrylic paint over the top

Braxton Brag- your service to the Confederacy may have been controversial, but there's no controversy about that rockin' beard.

Braxton Brag- your service to the Confederacy may have been controversial, but there’s no controversy about how rockin’ that beard is.

Step 5: Finish it! Attach a bit of grey or blue felt, maybe a bit of lace if that’s your thing (and it should be) and your ornament is done, ready to be gifted to starving Georgians under-seige or hung on your tree, next to the hardtack and salt pork***


photo credit: Allison Buenger of the Creative Cleanse.

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
and wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”


-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, written 12/25/1863 after his son joined the Union cause.

*it is real and it is life-changing.
***”Union soldiers would use salt pork and hardtack to decorate Christmas trees.[8]

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