Betty Foote, a Baltimore antiques dealer, held up a Civil War-era picture that was once used to demonstrate how to sew the latest in head coverings.

"In 1863 -- that was a really bad year for the war -- and here they are, showing you how to make a hood to go to the opera with, a 'Spanish Opera Hood,' " she said.

She held up another picture, this one instructing homemakers of long ago how to sew a watch pocket. "Guys are dying right and left out there in one of the bloodiest battles ever, and they're telling you how to make a watch pocket," Foote said.

Foote and her vintage fashion tips were part of the general scene at this weekend's Great American Civil War Book, Paper and Image Fair in Fairfax, one of the premiere shows of its kind in the country, according to several of the 50 dealers present.

Organized by Civil War hobbyist Chuck Batson, the fair mostly offered original manuscripts, documents and books. "We specialize in Civil War software, if you will, as opposed to the hardware -- the guns and swords," Batson said.

The fair was held at the Elks Lodge on Arlington Boulevard, and almost 500 collectors and historians had shown up by the end of the day.

Larry Paul, an Army colonel, came from Fort Bragg, N.C., looking for items relating to Union Gen. James Birdseye McPherson.

Paul feels an affinity with McPherson. For one thing, he and the general grew up in the same area of Ohio, around Fremont. They also share a birthday -- Nov. 14.

Also present at the fair was Dan Weinberg, proprietor of the Abraham Lincoln Bookshop in Chicago. Among the manuscripts and documents he brought were a U.S. Military Academy diploma signed by Robert E. Lee when he was superintendent at West Point, which sold for $5,000, and an 1841 courthouse demurrer signed by lawyer Abraham Lincoln ("He was trying to get a plea squashed").

Weinberg pulled out other letters, including one from a man who hoped to become a government contractor. He had included samples of wool cloth, and the promise that he could produce sky-blue federal Army coats for only $9.82 each.

"This was the most human war, it really was," said Weinberg, feeling the cloth. "It was a political war, but also a human war because it tore asunder so many families. And we're still feeling the effects of it."

Barry Smith, a juvenile court counselor and dealer from Greensboro, N.C., turned up at the show, looking to buy and sell.

By noon, he had already purchased a military document attesting that a sergeant named Jenkin Perry had died of typhoid fever ($40); some Confederate railroad tickets ($25 each), and an eight-page letter about the siege of Charleston ("I paid $400, but it's worth much more than that").

He hoped to sell an assortment of items, including receipts for Civil War-era clothing ($5 each).

Henry Deeks, a dealer and history-lover from Cambridge, Mass., picked up a browned photograph of a bearded man and gazed at it. "To say that this is a 'moment in time' is a little funky, a little cliche-ish, but you know what I mean."

Everywhere were small mementos, including a frayed blue ribbon of a Gettysburg veteran from 1893 ($75).

Dealers presided over battle maps, old magazines and stacks of books, such "A Little Boy in Confederate Mobile," "Chancellorsville," "Fiasco at Fredericksburg."

Michael Aikey of Albany purchased a history of the 76th regiment of New York volunteers.

Union Gen. George Gordon Meade's bookplate was still glued to the inside cover, with a crest and motto: "Toujours Prest" (always ready).

The going price: $105.