Forgotten Civil War Poems

Rebecca Weir of Cambridge and Elizabeth Lorang of the University of Nebraska have uncovered and brought together a large collection of poems from the Civil War, which, until now, have only been available in microfilm or from subscription-only online resources. Weir and Lorang found the poems from two New York-based newspapers, The National Anti-Slavery Standard and the Anglo-AfricanHere is a taste of what they’ve uncovered from a post at the Almagest blog:

The poems in the edition reveal contemporary responses to a host of wartime issues and events: emancipation, African American enlistment, diplomatic relations and civilian duty amongst them. Treating love, loss, trauma, hope, despair, and politics, as well as more mundane – yet remarkably symbolic – subjects, such as the passage of time and changing seasons, the poems played a vital role in shaping how Americans experienced the war.
The edition puts to rest popular lingering myths about Civil War literature, especially poetry. In particular, Will not these days unravels the misguided notion that the Civil War produced only a handful of poems worth remembering and studying. In reality, a perhaps unknowable number of poems were written and circulated during the Civil War, and poetry was central to many people’s experience of the war.

Thanks to Megan Piette for her work on this post.

Early American Periodicals That Were "One-Hit Wonders"

Over at Past is Present, the blog of the American Antiquarian Society, Vincent Golden calls our attention to a few early American periodicals that did not make it past the first issue.  For example, I am guessing that none of you have ever heard of The Gambler’s Mirror (1845), The White Man’s Newspaper (1851), or Smith & Barrow’s Monthly Magazine (1864).

Here is Golden’s description of The White Man’s Newspaper:

Issue no. 1 is dated May 1851.  No other issue has been found of this anti-abolitionist newspaper.  In the first issue, it boasted as having $50,000 of capital backing the publication of this radical newspaper.  Apparently that was not enough as it disappeared as suddenly as it made its debut.  AAS and Harvard have the only recorded copies of the first issue.

And here are a few musical “one-hit wonders” from the 1970s for your consideration:

A Little Post Office History

With Saturday mail delivery on its way out, historian Richard John, author of Spreading the News: The American Postal System from Franklin to Morse, provides us with some Post Office history. He argues that the Post Office “is a public service with a civic mandate central to American business, society, and civic culture–not a business.”

Here is a taste of his recent piece in The New York Times:

Relatively few city dwellers go to the post office to pick up their mail, but in countless hamlets and small towns, the local post office remains a vital community center. For millions of workers, including veterans and African-Americans, a job at the post office has been a ticket to the middle class and has provided a pension and medical care to retirees. The Postal Service is the country’s second largest civilian employer, after Walmart.
Postal correspondence is far more secure than e-mail and far less vulnerable to cyberattack. By capitalizing on its expertise in scheduling and high-volume sorting, the Postal Service has the potential to become a big platform for digital commerce. It helped pioneer optical character recognition, now a widely used technology. But Congress and regulations have frustrated the post office from issuing secure e-mail addresses and expanding by providing same-day service for digital retailers, for example, while obliging it to bankroll money-losing operations like six-day delivery.

Potters Tavern Will Open to the Public

In chapter six of The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America I wrote about the revolutionary Presbyterians from Cumberland County, New Jersey who congregated at Potter’s Tavern in Bridgeton. These young patriots published The Plain Dealer, a series of essays on topics related to politics, morals, and social life in rural southern New Jersey.  The Plain Dealer was only available in the tavern and, as I argued, was part of a rural “public sphere” whose participants were influential in precipitating political resistance to the Crown in this region.

I had the chance to tour Potter’s Tavern during my research for the book, so I was glad to hear that the Cumberland County Historical Society will be opening it to visitors during July.  Here is the announcement:

Devotees of Revolutionary era New Jersey history will be happy to learn that one spot sacred to both patriotic history and the history of free speech and press, Potter’s Tavern in Bridgeton, will be open on the Fourth of July and on every Sunday afternoon for the rest of the month.
Located in what was then called Cohansey Bridge, Potter’s Tavern was a popular meeting place just before the Revolution due to its proximity to the Cumberland County Courthouse. For several months between December 1775 and February 1776, Matthew Potter posted a manuscript newspaper called The Plain Dealer at his Tavern. Although it voiced opinions pro and con the British, it is remembered as a patriotic voice against Crown rule, making the tavern keeper a hero of the Revolution. Some of the leading citizens who wrote articles included Dr. Jonathan Elmer, Dr. Lewis Howell, Richard Howell and Joseph Bloomfield. The latter two eventually became governors of the State of New Jersey.
This original 18th-century frame structure, carefully restored at its original site on the Broad Street hill facing the Courthouse, is listed on the National Register and owned and operated by the Cumberland County Historical Society. July opening hours (1-4 PM) will be staffed largely by Society volunteers. Contact and other information can be found at

The Political Affiliation of Early American Newspapers

Jeff Pasley of the University of Missouri, the author of the outstanding The Tyranny of the Printers: Newspaper Politics in the Early American Republic, has called our attention to some very useful resources for how to identify the political affiliations of early American newspapers.

I can’t tell you how many times I have a had a student working in the Early American Newspaper collection come to my office to make sense of the political slant of the paper they are reading.  I can now just direct them to Pasley’s post.  Thanks, Jeff.

Newspapers as Social Media During the American Revolution

Rag Linen discusses the powerful role that newspapers played in the coming of the American Revolution.  Here is a taste:

Considering the combined impact of traditional and social media on 21st century politics, it is difficult to imagine a time when media were more important. However, 250 years ago, newspapers were the fundamental form of media and arguably more important than any other time in history. Just as social media is helping to ignite and organize the Arab Spring, printed newspapers fanned the flames of rebellion in colonial America, provided critical correspondence during the Revolutionary War, sustained loyalty to the cause and ultimately aided in the outcome.

Through vivid eyewitness accounts, battlefield letters and official dispatches, American Revolution era newspapers were filled with raw, breaking news, full of intense action, drama and suspense. Americans maintained “Liberty or Death! Join or Die!” attitudes with blood as well as ink on their hands. It was a printer’s revolution and these frontline newspapers delivered the 18th century equivalent of Facebook and Twitter.

Mark Twain wrote “of the wide difference in interest between ‘news’ and ‘history;’ that news is history in its first and best form, its vivid and fascinating form; and that history is the pale and tranquil reflection of it.” For that, we look to contemporary newspapers to better understand events of the American Revolution, such as the Boston Massacre.

In Praise of Digital Newspapers

One of the reasons I like teaching at Messiah College is the effort of the library staff to keep up to date on digital databases.  (Thanks Beth Mark and Michael Rice!). This small college in the tiny central Pennsylvania village of Grantham is a great place to study early American history thanks to the willingness of the library to invest in collections such as Early American Imprints and Early American Newspapers.  I can’t imagine working as an early American historian at Messiah without them.

I am not alone.  Writing at The New York Times, historian Steven Mihm extolls the benefits of digitized (and searchable!) databases.

For generations, biographers have used the same methods to conduct research: they waded through the paper trail left by their subject, piecing together a life from epistolary fragments. Based on what they found, they might troll through newspapers from specific dates in the hope of finding coverage of their subject. There were no new-fangled technologies that promised to transform their research, no way of harnessing machines to reveal new layers of historical truth.

That’s all starting to change. Several campaigns to digitize newspapers — Readex’s “American Historical Newspapers” available by subscription at research universities, or the free “Chronicling America” collection available at the Library of Congress — have the potential to revolutionize biographical research. Newspapers are often described as the “first draft of history,” and thanks to these new tools, biographers can tap them in ways that an earlier generation of scholars could only have dreamed of.

The Revival of the Rattlesnake

This weekend the Messiah College History Department will be holding its annual welcome picnic.  (We will be at Lower Allen Park upper pavilion from 11:00-2:00pm on Saturday if anyone wants to stop by.  If we are not under the pavilion look for us in the field playing cricket).  In honor of the occasion, I will probably break out my “Join or Die” t-shirt.  This shirt was designed by the leadership of the 2004-2005 Messiah College History Club.  I am not sure if the “Join or Die” image of the colonial rattlesnake managed to attract new members to the club, but I thought it was clever.  (Some of my more pacifist colleagues were not particularly amused).

This year as I put on my t-shirt I will recall the very informative posts at Boston 1775 on the history of that rebellious rattlesnake.  Yesterday, J.L. Bell discussed how the image was first used to support Benjamin Franklin’s 1754 plan, first proposed publicly at the Albany Congress, to unite the colonies against the threat of the French and the Indians.

Today, Bell shows how the 1754 rattlesnake image was appropriated by American patriots during the Revolution.

What Happened to the Paperboy?

According to this article in Time, in 2008 paperboys made up 13% of newspaper deliverers vs. 70% in 1990.

Here is a taste:

The larger culture around the paperboy has changed as well. Many kids have stopped delivering papers for some of the same reasons many of them have stopped walking to school — the percentage of walkers has shrunk from nearly 50% in the late 1960s to just 16% in 2001. This is in part because of fears of stranger danger but also because families have been moving from suburbs to exurbs, which are simply too spread out for kids to cover on foot or on Schwinn Sting-Rays.

Why should we lament the passing of an entry-level, low-skilled job for America’s teens? For starters, data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that by age 27, men who worked in high school earn an average of a dollar more per hour than those who did not. Is it their early job experience that gives them a leg up, or are those kids simply more motivated? History teases suggestively: a young Benjamin Franklin delivered the Boston Gazette, Thomas Edison sold papers at the age of 12, and Warren Buffett was delivering the Washington Post long before he tried to buy it. 

Matt Lauer might be heartened to know that paperboys haven’t disappeared completely. At least one U.S. daily, the Times News, which is based near Allentown, Pa., and has roughly 14,000 subscribers, still employs an all-youth carrier force. Depending on how close together the homes are on the routes, the kids get paid 12¢ to 15¢ per delivery.

Should Historian’s Use Newspapers as Sources?

When I wrote The Way of Improvement Leads Home I did not find newspapers to be particularly helpful primary sources. I certainly thought I could learn things about the eighteenth century by reading newspapers, but because I was writing more about a private life than a public one I did not need them.

I do, however, find myself using newspapers often in my ongoing project on the Greenwich Tea Burning. In fact, I could not write about the memory of this event without them.

Over at U.S. Intellectual History, Tim Lacy challenges the idea–advanced in a Slate article by Jack Shafer–that historians do not find newspapers particularly helpful in their research. Lacy writes:

From my perch, Shafer has no idea what he is talking about. I have found newspaper reports to be valuable—if not invaluable—tools for thinking about a historical period. The value of newspapers is, of course, relative to the strength of other sources—the ones he mentions. But sometimes newspapers are the only source for some kinds of information.

John Wooden: Christian

Get Religion” is a blog that monitors the mainstream media in an attempt to show, as William Schneider has written, that “The press…just doesn’t get religion.”

Now I have no real stake in the culture wars and I usually have little patience for culture warriors trying to show “media bias.” A lot of it strikes me as the worst kind of whining. But I do have a stake in fair and honest reporting. In today’s post at “Get Religion” veteran religion writer Terry Mattingly reveals how the Los Angeles Times salute to John Wooden dances around his deep and abiding Christian faith.

Here is a taste:

So, the Los Angeles Times has published its giant salute to the life and times of John Wooden and, unless I have missed something, the bottom line is that he was an amazingly nice man of sterling integrity and a sense of honor and values that came from the American heartland.

To cut to the chase, he appears to have been “spiritual,” but not “religious” — at least not “religious” in any specific way that could be cited in a newspaper. Was he a “Christian”? The Times is totally agnostic on that issue.

Take, for example, that final essay on the essence of the man, the one that ran under the double-decker headline that proclaimed:

Remembering John Wooden: Simple principles, such as honor and family, were his guides

He always clung to his homespun roots. And even though he left UCLA, he never stopped teaching those values

Here is one crucial passage about the values that Wooden inherited from one of his few heroes in life — his father.

Wooden came by it honestly. His father, who lost his farm in the Depression, taught him a set of life principles, which the coach carried on a piece of paper: “Be true to yourself. Make each day a masterpiece. Help others. Drink deeply from good books. Make friendship a fine art. Build a shelter against a rainy day.”

The problem, of course, is that the Los Angeles Times has horribly misquoted that precious fragment of paper that Wooden carried with him at all times. At best, it could be said that the team of journalists that worked on this story edited the list — while leaving no sign to the reader that the list was edited. You can find the full quotation all over the World Wide Web, including the obituary in that bastion of Christian content, The New York Times.

“Be true to yourself. Make each day a masterpiece. Help others. Drink deeply from good books, especially the Bible. Make friendship a fine art. Build a shelter against a rainy day. Pray for guidance, count and give thanks for your blessings every day.”

Spot any crucial difference in these two lists? The edits kind of look intentional, don’t they?

Is The New York Times Anti-Catholic?

The New York Times has been leading the charge to implicate Pope Benedict in the Catholic priest abuse scandal, but veteran religion writer Kenneth Woodward thinks that a lot of their coverage is unfair. Here is a taste:

The New York Times isn’t fair. In its all-hands-on-deck drive to implicate the pope in diocesan cover-ups of abusive priests, the Times has relied on a steady stream of documents unearthed or supplied by Jeff Anderson, the nation’s most aggressive litigator on behalf of clergy-abuse victims. Fairness dictates that the Times give Anderson at least a co-byline.

After all, it was really Anderson who “broke” the story on March 25 about Fr. Lawrence Murphy and his abuse of two hundred deaf children a half-century ago in Wisconsin. Reporter Laurie Goodstein says her article emerged from her own “inquiries,” but the piece was based on Anderson documents. Indeed, in its ongoing exercise in J’accuse journalism, the Times has adopted as its own Anderson’s construal of what took place. Anderson is a persuasive fellow: back in 2002 he claimed that he had already won more than $60 million in settlements from the church. But the really big money is in Rome, which is why Anderson is trying to haul the Vatican into U.S. federal court. The Times did not mention this in its story, of course, but if the paper can show malfeasance on the part of the pope, Anderson may get his biggest payday yet.

It’s hard for a newspaper to climb in bed with a man like Anderson without making his cause its own. Does this mean that the Times is anti-Catholic? New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan thinks it is—he said so last October in response to an earlier series of stories on clergy abuse. Whatever one thinks of Dolan’s accusation, clearly the Times considers sexual abuse committed by Catholic priests more newsworthy than abuse committed by other groups. An April 13 verdict against the Boy Scouts of America, which has struggled with the child-sexual-abuse issue for a century, did not merit page-1, above-the-fold treatment but rather a single paragraph deep inside the paper. A longer April 15 story about a Brown University student credibly accused of raping another student, an incident the university did not report to the police and arguably “covered up” at the request of powerful figures in the Brown community, appeared on page 18.

No question, the Times’s worldview is secularist and secularizing, and as such it rivals the Catholic worldview. But that is not unusual with newspapers. What makes the Times unique—and what any Catholic bishop ought to understand—is that it is not just the nation’s self-appointed newspaper of record. It is, to paraphrase Chesterton, an institution with the soul of a church. And the church it most resembles in size, organization, internal culture, and international reach is the Roman Catholic Church.

Like the Church of Rome, the Times is a global organization. Even in these reduced economic times, the newspaper’s international network of news bureaus rivals the Vatican’s diplomatic corps. The difference is that Times bureau chiefs are better paid and, in most capitals, more influential. A report from a papal nuncio ends up in a Vatican dossier, but a report from a Times correspondent is published around the world, often with immediate repercussions. With the advent of the Internet, stories from the Times can become other outlets’ news in an ever-ramifying process of global cycling and recycling. That, of course, is exactly what happened with the Times piece on Fr. Murphy, the deceased Wisconsin child molester. The pope speaks twice a year urbi et orbi (to the city and to the world), but the Times does that every day.

Again like the Church of Rome, the Times exercises a powerful magisterium or teaching authority through its editorial board. There is no issue, local or global, on which these (usually anonymous) writers do not pronounce with a papal-like editorial “we.” Like the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the editorial board is there to defend received truth as well as advance the paper’s political, social, and cultural agendas. One can no more imagine a Times editorial opposing any form of abortion—to take just one of that magisterium’s articles of faith—than imagine a papal encyclical in favor.

Read Woodward’s entire piece here. It is good.