When notable news breaks in today’s world, regular television and radio schedules are canceled in favor of newscasters bringing the world the latest on the event as it happens. During the Civil War, a newspaper would put out a “broadside” edition, a quickly-produced piece on a single sheet and printed on the front side only, with text limited to the event being covered. Waiting for the next day’s edition was not an option for the most competitive of newspapers.
A recent addition to our inventory is one of the best Civil War broadsides we have seen. Using type dramatically larger than found in any regular edition the broadside screams: “LATEST! The Final Blow. RICHMOND TAKEN.” The brief text provides a same-day report of the capture of the Confederate capital, with a date stamp of 11:20 noting: “…General Grant states Petersburgh has been evacuated and believe Richmond also.” And then another date stamp just ten minutes later reports: “A dispatch from E. M. Stanton announces the capture of RICHMOND by our troops under Gen. Weitzel, they having taken it about 8:15 this morning.”
The immediacy of the report along with the dramatic, graphic presentation are what excite collectors. Add to this the significance of the fall of the rebel capital and you have a terrific newspaper just perfect for display.
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:
Memorial Day – a day/weekend set aside in the United States to remember and give thanks for those who gave life and limb so we might have the freedom to enjoy what our Founding Fathers called “self evident inalienable rights” which had been bestowed on us by The Creator. In times of peace and abundance it is easy to forget the great cost that was paid by so many – that others might be free. It is with thin in mind I was struck by a March 20, 1861 issue of the Western Christian Advocate from Cincinnati, Ohio which provided details of General George Washington’s famous “Prayer at Valley Forge” (see below). The link above provides access to the full text of the article. Please enjoy (and appreciate) a blessed Memorial Day Weekend.
Today I traveled to New York City by the way of The World (NY) dated April 3, 1866. The “Proclamation by the President of the United States” was presented on the front page of the issue. “…Therefore, I, Andrew Johnson, President of the United States, do hereby proclaim and declare that the insurrection which heretofore existed in the States of Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Florida is at an end, and henceforth to be so regarded. In testimony whereof I have hereunto set my hand and cause the seal of the United States to be affixed…”. This marked the official end to the American Civil War.
This week I traveled back to New York City by the way of the Harper’s Weekly, October 7, 1865. Although this issue is filled with a variety of woodcuts [illustrations], the one that struck me the most was of the “Grounds at Andersonville, Georgia, Where are Buried Fourteen Thousand Union Soldiers Who Died in Andersonville Prison” and the accompanying article. “…The graves of the soldiers starved and poisoned and brutally murdered there are not scattered about over the innocent hill-sides of our land, but are dug under the sod that drank their blood and bore witness to the cruelty of Wirz, Winder, and the rebel authorities at Richmond, who kept these demons at their posts… James M. Moore,Assistant-Quarter-master, and his party, returned from Andersonville, where they have been engaged for a month in identifying the graves and giving honored sepulture to the fourteen thousand victims of rebel barbarity, who suffered all manner of torture and death in that notorious prison-pen…”.
This week I traveled back to July 5, 1865 by the way of The New York Times. There I found the reporting of “The Celebration Yesterday on the Great Battlefield” at Gettysburg. There they had “The Ceremonies of the Laying the Corner Stone of the Gettysburg Monument.” Many generals were on hand for this occasion with General Howard being the orator of the day. Within his speech, he included Abraham Lincoln’s infamous “Gettysburg’s Address”, which is included in the text of the article.
Also in the issue is the coverage of the Fourth of July celebration in New York City, including the “Ovation to the Returned Veterans” and “The Wounded Veterans.”
When speaking of rare & early newspapers, we often say, “History is never more fascinating than when it’s read from the day it was first reported”. However, what about those who read them fresh off the presses? While collectors can appreciate holding history in their hands, we often forget that at one time these very newspapers were greeted with eager anticipation by those who were living through the events we now call history. This image from a Frank Leslie’s Newspaper dated October 31, 1863, titled “Frank Leslie In Camp”, depicts the arrival of “the news” by horseback, with several enthusiastic soldiers gathered around reading recently published issues of this wonderful illustrated newspaper. Feel free to peruse our other Civil War era images and descriptions of this title: Frank Leslie’s Illustrated
Today I traveled to Springfield, Illinois, by the way of the Illinois State Journal of May 4, 1865, where I found they were preparing for the funeral of President Abraham Lincoln which was to occur later in the day. The editorial begins “We are without any more definite information in reference to the arrangements for the funeral of President Lincoln, to-day, than that contained in the programme published in another column…the procession will move at precisely ten o’clock, which will require that the remains be closed by eight…Work was recommenced on the tomb on the Mather Square yesterday…Not only the citizens of Springfield but of the whole state would be rejoiced to learn that the change referred to had been authorized…”. Within another article is “…From our midst, a little more than four years ago, President Lincoln was called to the highest office in the gift of the people. Yesterday all that is mortal of him returned to us wrapped in the habiliments of the grave…The emblems of mourning everywhere displayed…Illinois receives her murdered son again to her bosom, no less loving than when she sent him forth to the most distinguished honor. To-day we lay him reverently to rest…”