02 February 2008 by Published in: General musings 3 comments

I spent much of the day going through reels of microfilm of old newspapers at the Ohio Historical Society today. Although OHS continues to be a whipping boy for the General Assembly whenever it needs a budget to slash, the OHS manages to struggle on, doing an excellent job with the outstanding collections it has. It has a truly impressive collection of Civil War newspapers on microfilm.

I’ve always enjoyed the accounts that can be found in newspapers. A lot of newspapers published soldier correspondence, and you can find great stuff there. Those accounts tend to be very reliable, because they were written contemporaneously and with the knowledge that the folks at home would be reading them. As just one example, today I found a letter by the colonel of the 149th Ohio Infantry, who made a stand at the stone bridge across the Monocacy River on the National Road. Brown’s letter, to his uncle, was written the day after the battle, and contains details I have never seen before anywhere else. It’s great stuff.

It’s also amusing to see some of the other stuff that can be found in those old papers. Lancaster, Ohio was William T. Sherman’s home town. The local newspaper, the Lancaster Eagle, was run by a major Copperhead sympathizer. The articles are very pro-Clement Vallandingham, and some of them contain some amazingly snarky commentary. The one that caught my eye today again had to do with Monocacy. It noted that Maj. Gen. Lew Wallace, who had been the Union commander at Monocacy, had been relieved of command of the Middle Military District. Indulging his inner snark, the author suggested that the reason why was because Wallace’s defeat at Monocacy had disturbed Henry W. Halleck’s nap time. I actually laughed out loud when I read that.

It seems that the more things change, the more they remain the same.

Scridb filter

Comments

  1. Valerie Protopapas
    Sun 03rd Feb 2008 at 2:50 pm

    There is nothing new under the sun.

  2. Mon 04th Feb 2008 at 8:51 pm

    Eric,

    Thanks for the post and I couldn’t agree more about the utility of newspapers in Civil War research and – for my own forthcoming book – I drew on more than a dozen different papers from “A to Z” – well, A to W anyway: Adams Sentinel to Wisconsin Daily State Journal.

    I don’t generally like to tout commercial services, but I’ve had good success with http://www.newspaperarchive.com

    It’s amazing, though, how many papers are putting their own archives online…recently, the NY Times made their Civil War era article PDFs available for free (they used to be #-4 each, I think) and they have a good search engine also.

    I agree with your “reliability” point in terms of soldier correspondence to the papers, but would caution on actual traditional reporting, as things could change dramatically in a few days’ time as to the “truth.” I have a collection of papers that span a wekk or so after the Battle of Wilson’s Creek…the initial reports differ substantially from reports of just a few days later…still, in my mind, that’s a story in itself.

    Keep up the great work,

    Jim Schmidt

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