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Newspaper Reporting the Civil War


reporter Alfred Waud
The primary way for the public to get news of campaigns, battles and other events during the Civil War was through newspapers. Newspaper companies printed stories sent to them from reporters who accompanied the armies or from letters sent to them by soldiers. A reporter with the army was called a correspondent and it was his job to stay close to headquarters and get reports from the officers in command or one of their staff. Correspondents wrote their stories based on a number of sources and sometimes added opinions on how they thought things were going, opinions that were not always favorable to the commanding generals. Once the story was written, it was transmitted to the newspaper office or a central news agency by telegraph. If the telegraph was not available, then it had to be transported by courier. Most of the correspondents with the Army of the Potomac worked for newspapers in New York, Boston, Chicago, and other major northern cities, or for a news "bureau" or agency that employed many different reporters and sold their stories to newspaper companies. The stories they submitted were the first news the public received of a battle. Southern correspondents did not have the luxuries that Northern correspondents did and only a few ever accompanied the Confederate armies in the field. Many Southern reporters remained in Richmond where they got information from the Confederate War Department offices and then wrote their stories.

There were thousands of newspapers in business throughout the country, and some of the smaller newspapers relied on the larger papers to get the story to its readers. Newspaper companies that had a large circulation could afford to employ artists to illustrate the battles and draw portraits of officers for the paper. One of the more famous battlefield artists was Alfred R. Waud, the man seated on the boulder in the photo above. This photograph of Mr. Waud at work was taken near Devil's Den at Gettysburg soon after the battle.

Battle at Devil's Den
Devil's Den by Alfred R. Waud
Battles and Leaders
This scene of the fighting at Devil's Den was drawn by an Waud who was a special artist for Harper's Weekly, a New York-based newspaper. Mr. Waud followed the Union Army during its most crucial campaigns, including Gettysburg. He sketched this scene after visiting Devil's Den on July 5 or 6, 1863 and interviews with several veterans of the battle. The name Devil's Den was given to this area long before the battle. The large rocks and smooth boulders were pushed into this location thousands of years ago by massive glaciers in North America. Local legend had it that a small cave or den within the rocky area was the "devil's home", thus giving it the name which is now famous. Devil's Den is adjacent to Plum Run and is just west of Big Round Top. The fighting which swept around the den on July 2nd was very bloody and so many men were killed in this area that the soldiers renamed it "The Slaughter Pen".

Alfred Waud was one of several correspondents and artists who traveled with the army and made true to life sketches to document battles and campaigns. Edwin Forbes, James E. Taylor, and Theodore Davis were some of the other artists. Each man was sponsored by a newspaper or news service, eager to supply the American public with the latest illustrated news from the front.

Illustrating the War

Artillery forward!
Battles and Leaders
After the close of the Civil War, many war veterans were eager to write about their experiences, stories that were submitted to newspapers and journals. These became so popular that almost every large newspaper in the country was soon featuring articles and stories of the war written by former officers and even the soldiers in the ranks. In the 1880's, a number of magazines and journals sprung up, dedicated solely for the purpose of printing soldier memoirs and accounts. Some of these magazines, such as the Century Magazine in New York, added fine illustrations and drawings to enhance the drama and help the reader understand what the writer was describing. The drawing at left is by Walton Taber, an artist who drew illustrations for Century Magazine and a handful of newspapers. The magazine later published a four volume set containing some of the better articles written by former Civil War officers, entitled Battles and Leaders of the Civil War. Mr. Taber's drawings appear throughout the set and help illustrate the fascinating stories. Tabor used his imagination and pen and ink to make drawings like this one to illustrate a battle scene, but he also made drawings based on battlefield photographs taken during the war. Taber was one of over forty artists and illustrators who worked for Century Magazine during its existence.

Soldier Artists

Charles Reed, who had served as a member of the 9th Massachusetts Battery, was also an illustrator. Reed drew for fun during the war, highlighting his experiences as a bugler with the battery, drawing the battles he was in, and sketching the places he had been. Reed was employed as an artist after the war and provided illustrations for one of the best books ever written about soldier life called Hardtack and Coffee, or the Unwritten Story of Army Life, written by John Billings and published in 1887. Reed's southern counterpart was Allen C. Redwood, who served in the 55th Virginia Infantry. Trained as an artist before the war broke out, Redwood sketched scenes of camp life that he sent home to illustrate his life as a soldier. A serious wound to his elbow at Gettysburg nearly cost him his artistic career, but he recovered. After the war, Redwood settled in Baltimore and then moved to New York where he drew and painted realistic portraits of Confederate soldier life based on his experiences in the 55th Virginia. Many of Redwood's paintings are on display in the Virginia Historical Society in Richmond.

It's hard to imagine today, but in the 1860's, newspapers and book publishers used artists and their drawings to illustrate publications. Photography was still in its infancy at that time and the process to transfer photographs to newsprint had not yet been developed. These old sketches and illustrations are as much relics of the Civil War period as are the old bullets and rusting canteens of that era.

Many of America's finest illustrators and artists worked for 19th Century newspapers before they became well known for their art.

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National Park Service
Gettysburg National Military Park
97 Taneytown Road
Gettysburg, PA 17325