White Paper: The Civil War and the Formation of the Modern Newspaper

Printing Press

In the second and final installment of this White Paper, our guest writer, Jill O’Neill, has wrapped a narrative around the mid-century development of newspapers and the industry. In addition, she has captured the trials and tribulations of the Press during wartime and beyond.

In the years just before the Civil War, those businessmen establishing, and operating newspapers were beginning to feel their strength and their influence. The presence of a newspaper, whether one publishing for a large, urban environment or in smaller rural town, represented that community’s sense of stability. The newspaper served as a collective’s voice — expressing a cycle of partisan ideas, beliefs, points of pride, even outrage.

For New York’s community in the mid-nineteenth century, Frank Leslie’s Weekly had covered the 1856 presidential election, decried the harm to citizens from the sale of swill milk in 1858, and had breathlessly drawn attention to the murder of one of its citizens, wealthy dentist, Harvey Burdell. In November of 1859, it was covering the trial of John Brown for incitement of slaves to revolt, treason and murder.

Even more dominant in that community was The New York Herald. In 1860, The New York Herald had both a national as well as international readership. It had arguably the best-news gathering operation of its day and at the onset of the American Civil War, its reach of 77,000 subscribers was such that Herald reporters were frequently granted priority access to sources and to news-breaking events. More humble news publications found it hard to compete and would simply note at the head of particular columns, “From the Herald,” as indicative of the content’s reliability. The newspaper industry was entering its Golden Age.

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Collections Used in Preparing This White Paper

Accessible Archives provides diverse primary source materials reflecting broad views across American history and culture have been assembled into comprehensive databases. The following collections were utilized in composing this white paper.

African American Newspapers:

This collection of African American newspapers contains a wealth of information about cultural life and history during the 19th and early 20th century and is rich with first-hand reports of the major events and issues of the day. The collection also provides a great number of early biographies, vital statistics, essays and editorials, poetry and prose, and advertisements all of which embody the African-American experience. These newspapers are included: The Christian Recorder, Weekly Advocate/The Colored American, Frederick Douglass’ Paper, Freedom’s Journal, The National Era, The North Star, Provincial Freeman, The Freedmen’s Record, and The Negro Business League Herald.

Frank Leslie’s Weekly:

Founded in 1855 as Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, and later changed to Frank Leslie’s Weekly, or Leslie’s Weekly, continued publication until 1922; it was an American illustrated literary and news publication, and one of several started by publisher and illustrator Frank Leslie. Frank Leslie’s Weekly followed a tested and proven formula of carefully combining elements of war, politics, art, science, travel and exploration, literature and the fine arts in each issue, enhanced with between 16 and 32 illustrations.

The Civil War Collection, Part I: A Newspaper Perspective:

A Newspaper Perspective contains major articles gleaned from over 2,500 issues of The New York Herald, The Charleston Mercury and the Richmond Enquirer, published between November 1, 1860 and April 15, 1865. Coverage begins with the events preceding the outbreak of war at Fort Sumter, continues through the surrender at Appomattox and concludes with the assassination and funeral of Abraham Lincoln.

The Civil War Collection, Part IV: A Midwestern Perspective

Part IV of Accessible Archives’ Civil War Collection consists of seven newspapers published in Indiana between the years of 1855 and 1869 – News of the Day, The Old Post Union/The Vincennes Times, Stars & Stripes, Vincennes Courant, Vincennes Gazette, The Vincennes Times, and Vincennes Western Sun. These items provide pre-and post-Civil War information, in addition to coverage of the Civil War itself.

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