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:
We recently came across an interesting issue of “The Daily Rocky Mountain News” from Denver, dated Oct. 4, 1864. The uniqueness was not in the reporting; it was in the newspaper itself. Rather than printed on traditional newsprint stock, this issue is printed on pink-colored tissue paper. Fortunately, although very flimsy, it is not the least bit fragile.
It was not unusual for print shops to run out of newsprint and to become inventive in finding ways to get out the day’s edition, particularly for newspapers in remote parts of the country as most paper mills were located in the Northeast. Think of the famous wallpaper issues from the Civil War. Some investigating came across the reason. One website on the history of the “Rocky Mountain News” noted that: “…When the Indian outbreak caused an embargo on traffic over the Western plains in 1864-5, he frequently ran out of white paper, and in such emergencies he printed the news on wrapping paper gathered from Denver stores…”. So this pink paper was wrapping paper. I wonder how long the need for “necessity paper” lasted. We also have two more issues with a similar date which are printed on yellow and green paper. In any case, very interesting curiosities for this fascinating hobby.
In celebration of its 20oth anniversary the American Antiquarian Society published a beautiful exhibition catalog titled “In Pursuit Of A Vision – Two Centuries of Collecting at the American Antiquarian Society”. Featured are a fascinating array of books, documents, maps & other paper ephemera, as well as several very rare & unusual newspapers we felt worthy of sharing with our collectors (with permission from the A.A.S.).
117. “Frontier Scout“, Fort Rice, Dakota Territory, June 15, 1865
Thanks to Donald McKay Frost, AAS owns a complete run of the second newspaper printed in the Dakota Territory, preceded only by a paper of the same title issued at Fort Union the previous summer. Located in south central North Dakota, Fort Rice was a 500-foot square wooden stockade erected in the summer of 1864 to protect vital transportation routes from increasingly frequent Lakota attacks. Initially it was manned by “galvanized Yankees” — former Confederate prisoners of war who had enlisted in the Union Army rather than wait indefinitely in prison camps for parole or exchange.
In order to ward off the stress of isolated frontier living, the soldiers engaged in various diversions, including theatrical performances and the publication of their own newspaper printed on a portable press. Captain E. G. Adams and Lieutenant C. H. Champney of the First United States Volunteer Infantry Regiment served as editor and publisher respectively. In this inaugural issue, Adams encouraged the troops to contribute poems, stories, and adventures. “When this is done our paper is formed, a living, speaking, embodiment of the society in which we dwell.” The last of the fifteen weekly issues appeared on October 12, 1865, shortly before Adams and Champney left the fort. Most issues were printed on sheets of ruled blue ledger paper.
I traveled today to New York City by way of The New York Times dated February 1, 1864. There I found that President Lincoln had just “Ordered, that a draft for five hundred thousand men, to serve for three years or during the war, be made on the 10th day of March next, for the military service of the Untied States, crediting and deducting therefrom so many as may have been enlisted or drafted into the service prior to the 1st day of March, and not heretofore credited.” This is signed in type: ABRAHAM LINCOLN.
Also in the issue is an article with the heading “The Death Bandage of Gen. Walker”. “…Lieutenant Drennon… brings with him, hermetically inclosed in glass, the bandage which covered the eye of Gen. William Walker, when he was shot at Truxillo, Honduras…. ‘Remnant of the bandage which encircled the brow of Gen. William Walker, who having honorably capitulated to Norvell Salmon, Commander of H.B.M. steamship of war Icarus, was treacherously surrendered to the Honduras authorities, and by the executed on the 12th September, 1860, in the town of Truxillo. Posterity will do justice to their memories. The victim will be deplored while the traitor will be execrated.’ The bandage is thick with gore, full of bullet holes, and is partially burned — the file of executioners standing so close that the discharges set fire to it…” This was to be presented to General Walker’s father who resided in Nashville, Tennessee. What an item to be presented with to remember your son…