The heart of Civil War research
I have to share with you the delight that felt as I sat reading all the newspapers from before the Civil War to after the close of the war. Let me say that I have not finished but intend to return again to my delightful research. I was struck by the daily common activities that went on at the start of the war with only a few casual remarks about certain states considering seceding from the Union. There was an advertisement of a fresh load of Negro’s coming in from Charleston that were to be for sale at the auction house. The railroads were still advertising for passengers as well as all the many steamships. Any talk of war seemed far away for many months.
Finally the war got into everyone’s face and took up the largest part of the newspaper. The railroads no longer advertised for passengers as train loads of troops came to the station every day from far parts of the country. The steamships had stopped advertising and had problems of their own being taken in the war effort. I read of one account of a Union blockade that stopped a small sloop and took it and cargo. The cargo was 10 gross(144) bright shiny gold plated Confederate uniform buttons and one pistol. The ship was taken!
Reporters for a newspaper had to feed the demands of the growing populace who had concerns about the war or had sons, husbands, or fathers involved in the war. The paper now listed columns of war information including certain battles or skirmishes and the troops killed or wounded. I could just see the reporters who would stand in the train station, paper and pen in hand, ready write down the first hand accounts of the war as told by the men who fought it. Much information was available that probably was never published in books but one soldiers story about the things that he saw. The news was too large to come in on the Telegraph and there was more than enough people who had first hand knowledge that were willing enough to share their troubles or triumphs.
The time of minor affluence was passing in the South and would not return for a long, long time. The entire population of my state of Texas was only 80,000 and I do not know if they counted slaves or not. As I sat and read the articles I could feel the story fresh from the soldiers mouth as the reporter wrote it down. It was real and it was happening nearly everywhere in the South. One interesting line in the newspaper spoke of the North as Lincolndom.
I was struck by the reality of the stories and felt like I could understand so much more about our history as I read the battle reports and statistics. Then an Extra came out. The blockade had taken Galveston after a token cannon fire and things were changing again. Many of the fortifications on the island were left as the soldiers evacuated by rail or simply marched back across the railroad bridge to the mainland. When I grew up here I never heard a word about the Civil war with the exception of a noted bias by the part of some people toward the North. They probably had a Grandfather involved in the war or perhaps the family’s home was burned and pillaged by the Union troops. That went on a lot as the Union invaded the South and the soldiers took liberties the likes of which would shock the sensibilities of reasonable people today.
A Civil War era newspaper is an interesting thing to read. Many of the small towns would send the local news to the larger newspapers or perhaps some of the small papers mailed them out to the larger papers but there was a long article about all the tiny little towns that I have driven through with the activities as well as news from New Orleans that most likely would come from Steamer. There was a long column from New York as well before the war got into full steam and then much grew silent. I noted that the news got around pretty good back then even with the primitive technology.
I finally had to stop reading and leave but I really wanted to camp there until I read them all. I promised to myself that I shall return soon and stay longer. The screen on the Microfilm reader had lots of knobs to focus, zoom, scroll, along with the motorized speed control which worked well to jump ahead or back. For a modest fee of 25 cents I could print a hardcopy but I believe that I can bring my digital camera which holds 90 pictures and just snap all the great battle summaries and information. Oh, by the way, I just happened to locate another great CW camp site and close to home too.
If I can do it, you can too! First buy or download a railroad map of your state and note the larger junctions where railroads came together near larger towns. These may have been staging areas but the newspaper should have all the old papers and perhaps you can read the microfilm. If I was not into treasure hunting I would enjoy to step into my time machine and spend a long rainy day reading these newspapers, if only to comprehend life as it was lived in my area only a scant few years before I was born. I was struck by the good life that some people lived back then and also life on the downside. One DR’s Prophylactic syrup was supposed to cure Yellow fever, Scarlet fever, and Typhoid fever. Rather remarkable I thought!