Collectible Civil War Era Newspapers
“History is never more fascinating than when it’s read from the day it was first reported.”
Records of a Nation in Turmoil
In the 1860s, Americans’ interest in the Civil War, and its collateral effects, caused a spike in demand for news reports. These were days of heightened concern, and newspapers were one of the few resources that people were able to rely upon for war news.
Aside from specific war news, Civil War newspapers also reported on citizens’ reactions to how the war was shaping the American economy and politics, and opinions about slavery.
Reading an authentic Civil War newspaper and holding the original print paper between your fingers will transport you to the frontlines of battle, and provide a glimpse into the psyche of Civil War-era citizens, politicians, and soldiers.
Original Civil War newspapers are genuine pieces of American history a collector or anyone interested in American history must have.
Harper’s Weekly was one of the most popular newspapers during the Civil War. Although its base was in New York, its moderate stance on slavery (pre-war) was seen as a way not to upset the newspaper’s Southern readership. However, once the Civil War began, President Lincoln and the Union received Harper’s complete loyalty and support.
As the war went on, the many illustrations and prints from Thomas Nast and Winslow Homer provided a vivid visual account of the battlefields, the people, and the bloodshed—”I’m hoping next week’s edition will show scenes of the battle of Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. I’ve read all about it, now I want to see it!” – A Harper’s Weekly reader in 1861. Another Harper’s reader noted, “I look forward to the end of the month and seeing just what transpired at Charleston.”
The illustrations and prints from Harper’s Weekly remain striking in both their detail and artistry. We have several noteworthy issues of Harper’s Weekly in our inventory.
Civil War People & Generals
The Southern States’ call for secession from the Union grew louder after the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860. A disagreement between President Lincoln and Confederate leader Jefferson Davis over control of Fort Sumter led to overwhelming demand for war. Many men began enlisting for military service shortly after the battle of Fort Sumter.
Our vast inventory of genuine, historic Civil War newspapers highlight the efforts of military heroes from the North and the South that we have all come to know, including Ulysses S. Grant, George McClellan, Robert E. Lee, George Meade, “Stonewall” Jackson, William T. Sherman, and more.
Significant Civil War Battles & Events
Southern Illustrated News
The Southern Illustrated News was to the Confederacy what Harper’s Weekly was to the Union. Based in Richmond, Virginia, Southern Illustrated News had a rather ornate masthead and its front pages regularly featured portraits of notable Confederate figures, such as Robert E. Lee, “Stonewall” Jackson, and John S. Mosby. Southern Illustrated remains one of the most sought-after Civil War-era titles in the collecting hobby to date. Visit our Southern Illustrated Pinterest board to view several interesting portraits.
Reporting the Civil War
Before the start of the war, there were 3,725 newspapers in the United States. American newspapers accounted for one-third of all newspapers printed in the world. Most of them were weeklies. At the time, standards for what constituted sound, thorough, and responsible journalism did not exist on the eve of the war, according to Ford Risley, a Civil War journalism expert and head of the Department of Journalism at Penn State University.
Newspapers printed news dispatches, editorials, illustrations, maps, and various other tidbits, such as President Lincoln’s famous letter to Mrs. Bixley “…to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.” At times, the dispatches were entirely hearsay and wildly inaccurate, such as this series of short reports from the Daily Journal of Wilmington, NC or this report from the New York Tribune stating that Stonewall Jackson was “Dead Again.”
Reporters were a diverse group. Some had previous experience, but many reporters were lawyers, teachers, clerks, bookkeepers, and ministers. Their levels of education ranged from Ivy-league educated to only basic schooling.
Civil War reporters faced many difficulties, among them uncooperative and unreliable sources, difficulties with dispatching reports back to their newspapers, and even death. One correspondent closed a story with “Your readers must pardon a short letter. No man can write in a happy vein or style while minnie [sic] balls are flying uncomfortably close to his head.” Needless to say, conditions for Civil War reporters were not safe or ideal. More on how reporters lived and worked can be found here.
Unique Printing and Reporting Conditions
After the Union won the Battle of Memphis in June 1862, the Memphis Daily took to the road and became known as the Moving Appeal. During just a four-year period, this newspaper published in nine different cities.
A truly one-of-a-kind newspaper was “printed on board Steamer Des Moines” on blue-lined ledger paper in 1864. This issue also contains a letter written by a soldier to his wife. Letters from soldier correspondence frequently contained glorified accounts of battlefield glory meant to inspire confidence in the readers back home. Occasionally, letters from soldiers had reliable news and insights.
Much more can be said regarding newspapers from the Civil War, but for now, please enjoy the Rare Newspapers dedicated page dedicated to original and historic issues from this era:
While the remainder of the newspaper seems to overwhelming contradict an editorial comment made by a contributor for the Southern Sentinel (Louisiana) in the issue of October 24, 1863, one can certainly appreciate his honest approach to reporting. I dare to say this could not be printed in most current-day newspapers with any degree of integrity. Please enjoy:
While Christmas is certainly a time when many who would not normally do so reflect on the spiritual, historic newspapers reveal a time when the lines between the spiritual and the physical were not nearly so distinct. Religion, while largely stripped from the currently public square, was part and parcel of daily conversation in the not to distant past. An example would be the following report of the importance of religion in the lives of Civil War soldiers found in the Hammond Gazette (Point Lookout, MD) of September 22, 1863. My Christmas wish is that we would regain our previous understanding of the role of true religion in everyday life, minus the driving harsh conditions of the past. Please enjoy.
The “Hammond Gazette” hospital newspaper from the Civil War, dated August 25, 1863, has an interesting front page item concerning the “Gray Beard Brigade” (see below) and why they are inclined to stand & fight. And also a likely reason why one of their elderly members joined the army.
The tragedies of the Civil War touched many facets of life, from the pain & hardships of the soldiers to dealing with the loss of loved ones. The war affected the love lives of many as well, as evidenced by this letter found in the “Hammond Gazette” hospital newspaper from Point Lookout, Maryland, September 15, 1863.
“Four score and seven years ago…”
150 years ago this month, President Abraham Lincoln delivered what we now consider to be one of the greatest speeches of all time. Interestingly enough, since 5 different manuscripts exist, there is some disagreement amongst historians concerning what he actually said. Might original newspapers of the day with eye witness accounts provide the answer? If the speech had been long we probably wouldn’t have a high degree of confidence in the newspaper reporters’ accounts, but the brevity of the speech certainly increases the probability of an accurate transcription. Original reports may not have the definitive answer to this question, but they certainly provide reasonable evidence regarding what was actually spoken. Once again, “History is never more fascinating than when it is read from the day it was first reported.“
Today’s journey took me to Washington, D.C. via the Daily National Intelligencer (November 4, 1863). There I found an article advertising a new theatre tragedy at Ford’s Theatre entitled “The Robbers” written by a German author. What is most intriguing is find that a cast member that they are applauding is the son of Junius Brutus Booth, John Wilkes Booth “…probably as good an interpreter of its interpreter of its many intricate and difficult portions as could be desired… Mr. Booth will, as a matter of course, appear as Claude Melnotte, a character which he is admirably suited to sustain, both by personal and mental gifts… those desirous of witnessing the honest and sincere efforts of an aspiring young actor in all of the best acting tragedies should make their arrangements accordingly.”
It is hard to image his following appearance on April 14, 1865…
Last week we explored: “What were those living 150 years ago reading about in the newspapers during the last week of August (1863)” . The response was very positive. We hope you enjoyed the trip back in time. Today we thought we’d look ahead into the past by assembling a similar, by longer chronological list of authentic newspapers from the entire month of September, 1863. Similar to last week, the following link will take you to authentic newspapers that were held by those whose loved ones were fighting to realize their greatest convictions – whether it was to set slaves free, preserve state’s rights over federal dominance, to protect house and home, or another noble cause. The issues have been arranged in chronological order. Enjoy your visit back to this incredibly formative time in American history: Authentic Newspapers (September, 1863)
What were those living 150 years ago reading about in the newspapers during the last week of August? The following link will take you to authentic newspapers that were held by those whose loved ones were fighting to realize their greatest convictions – whether it was to set slaves free, preserve state’s rights over federal dominance, to protect house and home, or another noble cause. The issues have been arranged in chronological order. Enjoy your visit back to this incredibly formative time in American history: Authentic Newspapers (8/24/1863 – 8/31/1863)
Today I traveled back 150 years to the battlefields of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, through the means of the reports of the Confederate broadside newspaper, the Daily Dispatch — Extra dated July 5, 1863. The headlines read “LATEST FROM THE NORTH” and “GREAT BATTLE AT GETTYSBURG”. “The Yankees claim not to be defeated and to have captured 6,0oo prisoners — The Confederates hold the field — Yankee Generals Reynolds and Paul killed — Heavy Loss of the Federals — The grand battle expected Friday, &c., &c.”. This broadside carries in great detail the battles of Wednesday, July 1st, and Thursday, July 2nd.
As we know, this was the bloodiest battle (non-single day) in the Civil War with the loss of over 51,000 lives and is known as the war’s turning point.