Tag Archives: Civil War

Alexandria in a time of war: From Mansion House to Camp Distribution

Alexandria was a lively town during the Civil War, so it’s no wonder PBS draws from the city’s history for its new drama Mercy Street. The series, inspired by real people and events, turns the lens from the battlefield and focuses instead on the Mansion House, a luxury hotel turned Union hospital. It follows the life of Mary Phinney Von Olnhausen, an inexperienced but capable nurse who is constantly faced with the challenges of working in an overburdened, chaotic war hospital.

So, what are the reasons Civil War era Alexandria is such an interesting setting? When Virginia officially left the Union on May 23, 1861, it was a city at once in Confederate territory and adjacent to the Union Capital. President Lincoln, needing Alexandria to shield Washington DC from Confederate forces, immediately sent Federal troops to occupy it—its proximity to the Potomac River and railroad also made it perfect for supply shipments.

View from Potomac 1863

View of Alexandria from Potomac 1863

The influx of thousands of Union soldiers only a day after Virginia’s secession vote may not have come as a total surprise to Alexandria’s inhabitants, but it wasn’t greeted with unanimous enthusiasm either. Henry B. Whittington, a Confederate sympathizer, wrote in his diary, “This is a sad day for Alexandria, and whatever may be the issue of this contest, this unprecedented move upon the part of a Republican President will ever linger in the minds of citizens while memory lasts.”

From the Alexandria Gazette, May 13, 1862

Alexandria quickly morphed from a quaint mercantile town into a “labyrinth of wharves, quartermaster storehouses, commissaries, marshalling yards, and railroad shops. . .Churches, public buildings and abandoned mansions were converted into hospitals, prisons and headquarters.” (George Kundahl, Alexandria Goes to War) And as the war progressed, its demographics changed—many of its citizens … read more »

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An Unexpected Survivor of the Day: The Daily Dispatch April 3, 1865/The Puzzle of Issue No. 77

Daily Dispatch mastheadDispatch full page

To review, here’s a newspaper roll call of the five daily newspapers (there were also weekly papers – four of them religious) in Richmond in late March at the close of the Civil War: the Richmond Examiner, Enquirer, Whig, Sentinel and (leaving no doubt about its frequency) the Daily Dispatch.

They publish in the war years (the Sentinel beginning in 1863) despite a “decrease in advertising, the shortage of ink and paper, the strike of printers, the loss of skilled workman by conscription, and…a depreciation of the currency, causing prices to rise to unprecedented levels,” as Lester Cappon writes in his introduction to Virginia Newspapers 1835-1935, a ready reference at the Project.

There’s no work around or compromise with fire, however, and the destruction of much of the city center April 3 (a Monday) one hundred and fifty years ago – marked with much ceremony here in Richmond over the weekend – left only the Whig capable of printing a narrative of the chaos accompanying the city’s surrender. And only after the approval, announced in an editor’s note, of the occupying Federal commander.

Given our task as preservers of Virginia’s newspaper heritage, we’re also interested readers. This includes the present day 21st century descendent of the Daily Dispatch, The Richmond Times-Dispatch.  Especially when they reproduce the past in such compelling fashion as they did in last Saturday’s edition.

New Dispatch

Something on page 2 caught our eye:

 

New Dispatch 1What’s that again?  April 1, the last issue of the Daily Dispatch?  What then of the April 3rd issue we have in hand and read in preparation for the blog the Friday previous?   Bear in mind, if you’re an archivist, this advances the tingling onset of mystery and intrigue.  Already we brooded with some … read more »

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Richmond, April 1865. The History Forecast: Fateful Lightning, Terrible and Swift.

map

On Monday, April 3, the city burns.  The following day Lincoln walks the still smoking ruins and the capital faces occupation by the Federal Army.  April 9, about 90 miles west, Lee surrenders his force.  And on the 14th of the month, the President is assassinated.

But on March 30, the beguiling calm of routine jurisprudence prevails in city court. The Examiner reports:

court1Only four days later, as the planned warehouse fires move beyond anything resembling a plan, the “presiding” Mayor Mayo sits within a carriage heading east to the Union lines, a note of capitulation on his person.

Anarchy, a massive munitions explosion its overture, plays out in the daylight, a wretched, sour bacchanalia no court can address.

The Examiner office yields to the inferno and has a share of black space on the map above.  The Daily Dispatch and the Enquirer were consumed too.  The winds favored the Whig.  It’s their map.

ruins1read more »

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Richmond panned by press! — Restauranteurs “swindlers and knaves” say soldiers — One dollar twenty-five cent outrage!

The Family Budget was a hand-written camp newspaper by Edward Budget, Confederate soldier in Hampton’s Legion which was formed after South Carolina seceded.  The Library of Virginia holds this issue from July of 1861 in which Budget describes camp life on a rainy day, the arrival of artillery from Tredegar Iron Works, and criticizes Richmond at length for taking advantage of soldiers, and of being too “Yankee,” among other offenses.  The text is transcribed below.

 

 

 

 

 

Family Budget

July 14th, 1861

Camp Manning

We had hoped to have been able to chronicle in this issue an account of the presentation by Pres. Davis of a flag to Hampton Legion as the Legion were informed several days ago that said presentation would take place on the afternoon of Saturday the 13th […]; this however we are unable to do, not through any fault of our reporters but simply because the presentation did not take place, owing to the fact that the Executive was on that day too unwell to come out to Camp.  The presentation will probably take place tomorrow at any rate in time for us to give an account of it in our next. The [stand] of colors is a present from Carolina ladies.

Yesterday two six-pound rifle cannons arrived for the artillery and received a hearty welcome; these pieces were cast in the Tredegar Works Richmond and are beautiful specimens of workmanship.

Judging from appearances we would think that some important military movement was on foot in the neighborhood of Yorktown this morning.  There were […] about fifty or sixty feet long passed here on the rail road on their way to said place yesterday, a number of gun carriages, [timber chests], etc. and the day before several heavy pieces of artillery all … read more »

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Newspaper Accounts on the Death of Lincoln

With the renewed interest in President Abraham Lincoln due to Steven Spielberg’s latest movie, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at newspaper coverage of the assassination and the ensuing manhunt. In the spirit of full disclosure, much of Lincoln was filmed in Richmond, Virginia and I was an extra in the film, playing a Radical Republican. See photo below.

Photo of Silver Persinger in costume as a 19th Century Congressman.

I played Republican #17 in Spielberg's "Lincoln."

To my surprise, our collection has very few Virginia newspapers from the period just after the war. Many newspapers we have from that time seemed to have stopped publishing in March 1865 as a result of worsening conditions in wartime Virginia. It is helpful to know a few dates concerning the end of the war: Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox on April 9, 1865; Lincoln was assassinated on Friday evening of April 14, 1865 and died the following day at 7:22 AM.

I was able to find several papers from the days following the assassination that have interesting information I have never come across before. I thought it would be beneficial to simply transcribe some of these accounts to satisfy public curiosity.

Over the next several days, we will feature extracts of articles from the newspapers published shortly after Lincoln’s assassination.

Masthead of The Alexandria Gazette

From The Alexandria Gazette, April 21, 1865

On page 1, appeared the following:

OFFICIAL
WAR DEPARTMENT, WASHINGTON CITY, April 20, 1865,

One Hundred Thousand Dollars Reward.
The murderer of our late beloved President, Abraham Lincoln, is still at large !!!
FIFTY THOUSAND DOLLARS REWARD will be paid by the Department for his apprehension, in addition to any reward offered by Municipal authorities or State Executives.
TWENTY-FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS REWARD will be paid for the apprehension of G. A. ATZEROT, sometimes called “Port Tobacco,” one of Booth’s accomplices!
TWENTY-FIVE … read more »

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Conserving to Preserve or “Ironing Newspapers”

Original condition of the May 13, 1862 issue of The New York Tribune we recently received, showing tattered edges, large tears, and old tape repairs

One of the things that I do with the Newspaper Project is mending newspapers.  Last week I repaired an issue of The New York Tribune, a 12-page newspaper from New York City dated May 13, 1862 that was recently donated to the Library.  Although it is not a Virginia newspaper, it still contains relevant information about the conduct of the war in Virginia.  Many of the articles are simply reprinted dispatches from Union Generals.  The articles on the front page describe the capture and occupation of Norfolk, Virginia.  The map depicts Union and Confederate positions just southeast of Williamsburg, Virginia.

Another interesting feature of the paper is a 4 page section listing of properties that were going to be auctioned off in order to pay off assessments.  This was a public notice that the properties could be redeemed if the owner paid the amount due with a penalty of 14% interest per year within a 2 year period.

Below are before and after photographs of reassembled pages.

Before and after images of page 1.

Before and after images of page 2. The dark spots on the paper are the result of tape residue left behind from a previous attempt to repair the newspaper.

Detail photographs of repairs using Filmoplast R.

How It is Done

With a few household items and one specialty item, I am able to make my repairs.  The required items are a pair of scissors, parchment paper (like what you would use to bake cookies — I also prefer the unbleached parchment paper), an electric iron, and Filmoplast R.   Another item that is helpful is a large smooth board to iron on.  I use a piece of 1/8″ cardboard that is not corrugated and I also have a piece of parchment paper taped onto the board.

Filmoplast … read more »

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