This post is the latest in Zac Cowsert’s series “The Civil War in the Press,” which explores the interactions between soldiers and civilians, politics and the press throughout the Civil War. You can read other posts in the series here.
Captain George Washington Hulick sat comfortably in the offices of the former Clarksburg Register. His boots rested upon the editor’s desk, a cool breeze floated in the air, and from the window he could see the green hills of western Virginia and the pretty young girl in the window across the way. Capt. Hulick and the other Union officers in the room freely availed themselves of a confiscated bottle of whiskey. Comfortable and fortified, Hulick and his comrades set about writing and printing The Ohio Twenty-Second, a soldier newspaper established by the recently-recruited regiment of which Hulick was a member.
In their inaugural and only issue, dated July 12, 1861, the erstwhile printers of The Ohio Twenty-Second made their purpose and politics clear. “Our motto is: ‘Death to traitors and protection to all loyal citizens.’ It has been well said that ‘the pen is mightier than the sword.’ While we find the latter indispensable in these perilous times, we will unite with it the power of the former, and go forth to battle for ‘the Constitution, the Union, and the Enforcement of the Laws.”
For the men of the Twenty-Second Ohio Infantry, and indeed for many Union soldiers throughout the Civil War, the war could be waged by musket and pen alike, and soldier newspapers offered an avenue for Union soldiers to keep abreast with the wider war effort, opine on national politics, interact with the local civilian population, document their war deeds, and foster a sense of community and esprit among their ranks. The Ohio Twenty-Second, published briefly in Clarksburg, (West) Virginia in the summer of 1861, offers a brief window into the patriotism, politics, and daily life of Union soldier in the opening months of the Civil War
Emblematic of public expectations for a short war, the soldiers of the 22nd Ohio Infantry enlisted for a mere three months. Recruited from towns across southern Ohio—Athens, Batavia, Felicity, Portsmouth—the regiment entered western Virginia in June of 1861 with orders to secure various strategic points. In early July, the 22nd Ohio marched into Clarksburg, Virginia in Harrison County. Praised by U.S. soldiers as a “beautiful town of about 1500 inhabitants…[whose] citizens are affable in their manners, and generous and hospitable,” Clarksburg and Harrison County were divided in the Civil War. Citizens from the county enlisted in both sides’ armies, although nearly twice as many wore blue as wore gray. Still, Clarksburg was a town riven by wartime politics, and it was now garrisoned by the 22nd Ohio Infantry. And it was in Clarksburg that the Ohioans literary talents came to the fore.
The establishment of the Ohio Twenty-Second in Clarksburg mirrored the creation of many other Union soldier newspapers that popped up across the Upper South in 1861. The recipe was simple: a Union regiment entered a town, discovered the local newspaper offices had been abandoned (usually by its secessionist editor who previously fled), and subsequently “liberated” the printing press for their own use. Indeed, the Ohio Twenty-Second was one of four soldier newspapers established via the occupation of western Virginian towns in 1861. Besides the Twenty-Second, soldiers also founded or co-opted the Ohio Seventh (7th OH Inf.) in Weston, the Fairmont True Virginian (20th OH Inf.) in Clarksburg, and The American Union (U.S. forces under General Robert Patterson) in Martinsburg. The Ohio Twenty-Second was thus one of several short-lived liberation/occupation papers that appeared in 1861.
In many cases, Union soldiers reveled in their literary usurpation. Capt. Hulick and the officers of the 22nd Ohio were no different. In a sharp-tongued article, the Ohio Twenty-Second’s editors penned an article to their predecessor, the former editor of the Clarksburg Register. “Little do you think, Mr. Secessioner, while you are drilling this hot day, in the traitors’ ranks, with traitor officers and stolen arms, that your office is filled with men--old, steadfast Union men.” Noting the printing press’ type was in disarray, the officers declared “We didn’t do it—though some of the boys talk of moulding it into bullets to shoot the like of you. You left the office in dreadful condition, but we excuse you, knowing that you left in a hurry. If we knew your address, we’d send you a copy of our paper; but then we don’t know it, and the chances are that you will not know it yourself in a few days.”
The former editor of the Clarksburg Register whom the Union officers ridiculed was a twenty-seven-year-old printer named William F. Gordon. Gordon had only recently acquired the Register before the outbreak of the war, and like many editors of small papers across the South, he left his pen and picked up a musket at war’s outbreak. On May 21, 1861—less than two months before Capt. Hulick and the soldiers of the 22nd Ohio occupied his office—Gordon enlisted in the “Harrison State Guards,” Company C, 31st Virginia Infantry.
William Gordon’s subsequent military career proved an adventure. Enlisting as a private, he was promoted to sergeant in the summer of 1862. He appears to have deserted in late 1862, though records indicate he may have rejoined with Confederate cavalry later. Captured and imprisoned at Fort McHenry in 1863, Gordon was sentenced to death as a spy, likely a product of his irregular service with Confederate forces. His sentence was commuted however, and he appears to have survived the war. He apparently never returned to Clarksburg, and it’s unclear if he ever knew that his newspaper was appropriated by enemy forces.
Yet appropriate Gordon’s press the Ohio soldiers did. For George Hulick and other Union soldiers, newspapers were indispensable to the knowledge and welfare of soldiers and civilians alike. “In this age of human progress, the printing press cannot remain idle, notwithstanding wars and rumors of wars,” the Union editors declared. “To it is due the advanced state of the world in intelligence and morality. It is the Archimedean lever by which public opinion moves the world.” The lone issue of the Ohio Twenty-Second espoused fierce patriotism to the Union, provided news and entertainment to its readers, and offered advice to the regiment’s newly-minted soldiers,
Noting that “heretofore treason to the Government has been issued out to the good people of this vicinity,” the Ohio-Twenty Second reversed the Register’s politics. Warming to the region’s inhabitants, they praised Unionist sentiment in Clarksburg and the region. “The loyal citizens of Northwestern Virginia are beginning to show by their actions that they are going to assist in preserving this, the best Government on the face of the earth,” the Ohio Twenty-Second crowed. Clarksburg and western Virginians enlisted in Ohio regiments, and of course eventually distinct (West) Virginian regiments were formed for Federal service.
If the editors approvingly noted signs of loyalty among the local populace, they questioned the loyalty of civilians back home. “It is a matter of no little anxiety to us,” the Twenty-Second confessed, “to know whether or not there are enemies behind us.” Union officers castigated Northern newspaper editors who “are again taking the cause of the Tories of the Revolution…They say, yield all, give up the Constitution, Law, Government, Honor, everything for the sake of piece, to bring an end [to] this fratricidal war.” Even in the opening months of the Civil War, Union soldiers worried that Peace Democrats (often dubbed “Copperheads”) would derail the war effort.
Yet the editors of the Twenty-Second brooked no discussion of peace. “If these editors still claim as brothers the traitors with whom we war,” the editors seethed, “‘tis time their own cases were looked to, and as soldiers fighting in defense of America and her institutions and laws, we ask our friends at home to see to it the traitors there be taken care of.” These threats of violence against opposition presses were not unusual from Civil War soldiers, and indeed, Democratic Ohio presses were attacked throughout the Civil War by Union soldiers who questioned their loyalty.
Between the columns praising local Unionists and excoriating Northern Peace Democrats, the soldiers of the 22nd Ohio Infantry made their definition of loyalty clear: nothing but a full-throated, vigorous support for the war effort was acceptable.
Not all the Ohio Twenty-Second’s columns were filled with heavy rhetoric on patriotism and treason. A host of lighter fare offered readers a variety of news and entertainment, a valuable way to pass the time during the idle days of garrisoning western Virginia. Soldiers read about the recent Fourth of July celebration in Clarksburg, an entertaining love letter sent to camp, and the recent movements of troop detachments in the vicinity.
Soldiers could also stay abreast of wider war news, thanks to access to local telegraph lines (an important factor which shaped the content in Civil War soldier newspapers). With instantaneous communication to other points across the nation, the Ohio Twenty-Second printed President Abraham Lincoln’s latest speech, troop movements and war news from Missouri to Virginia, and the latest from the recent victory at the Battle of Laurel Hill, fought two days earlier barely forty miles to the east. Local affairs and national news kept Union soldiers entertained and informed of their place within the wider war effort.
Finally, the pages of the Ohio Twenty-Second gave more practical advice to its readers. Noting that serious threat posed by sickness and disease, a large column advised soldiers on the proper methods of cooking their rations, along with recipes for “Soldiers’ Soup,” “Irish Stew,” and “Stewed Salt Beef” that could feed a squad or two. More serious guidance was given on the importance of firing low during battle, lest soldiers aim too high and miss their target entirely (“One-sixteenth of an inch thus lost in correct sight, make feet where the enemy are, and the best aims are thus rendered useless).
Between politics, local affairs, war news, and war advice, the Ohio Twenty-Second furnished its readers—Ohio soldiers and Virginian civilians alike—a brief opportunity to escape the doldrums of garrison duty and appreciate the war within a wider context. For historians, the newspaper provides a window into the patriotism, fierce loyalty, and camp experiences of Union soldiers in western Virginia in 1861.
Unfortunately, only one issue of the Ohio Twenty-Second appears to have been published. When the 22nd Ohio Infantry marched away from Clarksburg, they left the printing press and the Ohio Twenty-Second behind them. The remainder of their brief service was spent guarding railroads and skirmishing with small bands of guerrillas before mustering out in October. Some went on to serve in other regiments; Capt. Hulick returned to Ohio, where he enjoyed a successful career as a judge, and later as a U.S. Congressmen. However short their service, the Ohioans left behind a legacy in the shape of the Ohio Twenty-Second, which informed and entertained readers both then and today.
Zac Cowsert currently studies 19th-century U.S. history as a doctoral candidate at West Virginia University, where he also received his master's degree. He earned his bachelor's degree in history and political science at Centenary College of Louisiana, a small liberal-arts college in Shreveport. Zac's research focuses on the involvement and experiences of the Five Tribes of Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma) during the American Civil War. Zac has published in the Chronicles of Oklahoma, North Louisiana History, and Hallowed Ground (magazine of the American Battlefield Trust). He has also worked for the National Park Service at Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park.
Further Reading & Sources:
The Ohio Twenty-Second [Clarksburg, WV] *The West Virginia & Regional History Center in Morgantown holds a copy of the Ohio Twenty-Second, and it is slated to be digitized for the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America website in the next year.
Ashcraft, John M. 31st Virginia Infantry. Lynchburg, VA: H.E. Howard Publishing, 1988.
Berkey, James. “Traces of the Confederacy: Soldier Newspapers and Wartime Printing in the Occupied South” in Literary Cultures of the Civil War. Edited by Timothy Sweet, et. al. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2016.
Cooke, James Dell. “A History of the Thirty-First Virginia Regiment Volunteers, C.S.A.” MA thesis, West Virginia University, 1955.
Haymond, Henry. History of Harrison County, West Virginia. Morgantown, WV: Acme Publishing Co., 1910.
Lessor, W. Hunter. Rebels at the Gate: Lee and McClellan on the Front Line of a Nation Divided. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, 2004.
Lutz, Earle. “Soldier Newspapers of the Civil War.” Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 46, no. 4 (1952): 373-386.
Snell, Mark A. West Virginia and the Civil War. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2011.