Looking at Civil War newspapers: The “official” notices

A research trend of late is to dive into Civil War era newspapers.  The concept is very valid, as the “at the moment” accounts offer a viewpoint which is hard to capture with after-action reports and post-war letters.

That in mind, taking a lead from the Memphis Commercial Appeal’s Civil War-Era Memory weekly page, I browsed through the Library of Congress’s holdings for that newspaper.

Memphis?  Yes, an occupied city at that time.  But the paper went “into exile” for the rest of the war.  The Library of Congress page describes the paper’s Civil War history:

Editor Benjamin Dill and his wife, America “Carolina,” and printer John R. McClanahan became part of American newspaper lore when they refused to be censored or silenced during the Union occupation of Memphis.  Dill and McClanahan moved their paper 100 miles south in June 1862, to Grenada, Mississippi.  Soon dubbed the “Moving Appeal,” the newspaper moved by wagon and flatcar, trying to stay ahead of Union armies.  The Memphis Daily Appeal was published in Jackson and Meridian, Mississippi, Atlanta, and Montgomery, Alabama. Union troops finally captured the newspaper in Columbus, Georgia, in April 1865, after nearly three years of pursuit.  The troops wrecked the type and equipment and silenced the “Voice of the Confederacy,” as its admirers called it. The paper’s main printing press, however, avoided capture, remaining hidden in Macon, Georgia. Six months later, the Civil War ended and the Appeal’s staff returned to Memphis to begin the paper anew.

Here’s the edition published on October 14, 1862:

You can zoom in on the original with LOC’s online holdings.  Much of the page is filled with reports from Kentucky and other theaters.  Several articles are lifted, and attributed, directly from other newspapers.  There’s a column or so with even more opinions about the Emancipation Proclamation.  And another column reprints the Confederate Military Exception Act.    But since I am a “trained” reader, my read started on the left side.  After the masthead, there are a series of “official” notices and general orders.

Not unlike today, the papers ran public notices.  Of course now days those are on some back page in get-the-magnifying-glass font.  But here on October 14, 1862 was General Order No. 13 from General Lloyd Tilghman calling for all absent soldiers to return to their regiments.   Several more orders follow this one, from other commands, repeating the same call – return to your units. Interesting, these orders ran a few copy-inches from the Military Exemption Act notice.  These notices were, to some regards, the primary sources for the current event.  (We tend to forget that even current events have a primary source beyond today’s newspaper article … even if that is some YouTube video.)

What was the mechanism to get general orders into the newspapers?  Was there a beat reporter setting at the Army HQ waiting for a press release?  Of course not! The Army, and Confederate Government, sent those to the paper in order to have copies made.  While I cannot find the paperwork for General Order No. 3, there are several such receipts in the Citizens Files of McClanahan and Dill.  Here’s one from the previous month’s worth of notices:

Close to $700 of copies made.  Other receipts are strictly for running advertizements for the Confederacy.  Arguably a more “authenticated” receipt is in the file covering copies made in March 1863:

There’s a copy of what was printed on top of the record of transaction.

Other receipts in the Citizens Files include inquiries posted to the paper.  These are typically requests for goods or services.  In particular, since the Memphis Appeal ran out of Georgia, the requests were for iron or iron production.  Not unlike advertisements or notices of open contracts run in papers today.

Perhaps this is more of the “how the sausage was made” than most would be worried about.  However there’s a significant amount of money flowing into those newspapers.  No money… no newspaper.  Also goes to demonstrate how the print found its way onto the front page of the paper.


4 thoughts on “Looking at Civil War newspapers: The “official” notices

  1. Craig, years ago as I started amassing primary source material for my Brandy Station manuscript, I noted with distress there was very little available data on one officer, in particular. Why distressed? Simple. I have been hard on this officer’s abysmal performance during the battle, so tough in fact that I felt guilty in not giving him an opportunity to properly explain his bizarre inertia. Then I got a tip: The Memphis Commercial Appeal retained letters written by this officer!

    And I now have those letters, and although his explanations have not changed my mind a scintilla about his poor performance–he should have been shot after the battle–at least this officer can now offer his position for unbiased historians to consider. And on point with your post, we have a newspaper to thank and appreciate for its contributions to historical memory. Who was this officer? You can probably guess…

    And by the way, I am still looking for additional primary source material on the 86th Regiment, New York Volunteer Infantry, the “Steuben Rangers.” There is very little extant first-person data on this extraordinarily fine regiment–one which took serious casualties at Brandy Station (and then later at Gettysburg).. Perhaps another visit to upstate New York newspaper archives is in order..

    Thanks for your coverage of this very fruitful topic..

    Clark B. Hall

    In a recent New Yorker profile, J.K Rowling’s book agent wrote, “She takes a lot of time in getting it right and then hands in a book that doesn’t need much editing.”

    That objective resonates..

  2. Thanks for the research you’ve done. His is a compelling story of the period, it deserves further development in a public media, a film? John Reid McClanahan was my great great uncle.

  3. A revise of first reply: John Reid McClanahan was my great great uncle.Thanks for the research you’ve done. His is a compelling story of the period, it deserves further development in a public media, a film?
    Preston McClanahan

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